Pentagon uneasy about college selling terrorists' artwork

John Jay College of Criminal Justice is facing backlash after hosting an exhibit featuring artwork by several current and former Guantánamo Bay detainees.

The exhibit, which is titled “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” features a total of 30 artworks and is slated to run until January 26, 2018.

According to The New York Post, the event catalog also features an email address for people who are “interested in purchasing artwork made at Guantanamo by artists who have since been cleared by military tribunals and released.”

One former captive who currently resides in Oman wanted the proceeds from his artwork to go toward medical care of his sick mother, The Miami Herald reported earlier in November.

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“Detainees at the United States military prison camp known as Guantánamo Bay have made art from the time they arrived,” the description of the event states. “The exhibit will display some of these evocative works, made by men held without trial, some for nearly 15 years, who paint the sea again and again although they cannot reach it.”

Shortly after opening the exhibit, the New York City-based school sparked a flurry of criticism for its decision to display the art, including from some U.S. officials who reportedly called for the removal of the featured artwork.

A Pentagon spokesperson, Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson, told The Miami Herald earlier this month that the artwork is “property of the U.S. government” and that the Department of Defense still has questions “on where the money for the sales was going.”

The department also reportedly scrapped its long-standing policy of releasing some artwork of Gitmo detainees after an extensive review process designed to detect elements of violence or other hidden messages.  

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According to Independent Journal Review, four of the eight featured artists are currently detained at the facility, one of whom is charged with sending money to the 9/11 hijackers.

Over 500 people, however, have signed a petition in favor of preserving the artwork and opposing the Pentagon policy on detainee art.

“The Pentagon has declared that all Guantánamo-made art is ‘property of the U.S. government’ and says that no more art can leave Guantánamo,” the petition states. “If a detainee is released, his art will be burned. Current detainees will only be able to keep a limited number of artworks; whatever the guards deem to be ‘excess’ will also be destroyed.”

The petition also argues that “current detainees, most of whom have never had charges filed against them, much less fair trials, would be drastically affected by this policy.”

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“Taking away their ability to find and create beauty and communicate with the outside world through their paintings, drawings, and sculpture is both incredibly petty and incredibly cruel,” the document states. “Help us send a message to the Pentagon by signing this petition. Let them know that burning art is something done by fascist and terrorist regimes—but not by the American people.”

One of the curators of the exhibit, Professor Erin Thompson, told Campus Reform that students at the college “study terrorism, de-radicalization, and the effects of detention,” stressing that regardless of what others think about the detainees, their work “is an important source of information about them and about these issues.”

Thompson also added that she has “not been contacted by any authorities” in relation to the display.

The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.

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