News of the military’s decision was first reported by the Miami Herald. The detainees’ lawyers discovered this change in policy after a recent visit, when, without explanation, prison authorities did not release any new artwork. One attorney told the paper that authorities planned to burn artwork created by prisoners, while another said her client was told art could still be created but in limited numbers, with additional works to be “discarded.”
Navy Commander Anne Leanos, spokesperson for the military, refused to confirm or deny that work would be burned in a comment provided to the Herald. “Transfers of detainee-made artwork have been suspended pending a policy review,” she told the paper in a statement.
Major Ben Sakrisson, spokesperson for the Department of Defense, told Artsy that the art classes at Guantanamo Bay are continuing, but reiterated that the work is U.S. property and that “the appropriate disposition of this property has been clarified with our staff at Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay and will be accounted for according to applicable local procedures in the future.”
The military also has questions about how proceeds from any work sold in Thompson’s exhibition are being used, as Sakrisson previously told the Herald. Thompson noted that only work by detainees tried and released by a military tribunal is available for sale. One former inmate, for example, wanted to use proceeds to send money to his sick mother in Yemen, the Herald reported.
That authorities would raise questions about released prisoners selling work made while being held without trial is “an illustration of how these men can never escape,” Thompson said. “They’re always under suspicion.”
Formal art classes began at Guantanamo Bay in 2009. The courses became highly popular among detainees, though even sanctioned artwork could be confiscated during cell searches. Originally, authorities were strict about which images could leave Guantanamo Bay, with censors even blacking out doodles in detainees’ letters out of concern that they contained secret messages. But the policy loosened over time, with the military creating a dedicated form for applying to have artwork cleared, according to the Herald. Still, access to art materials and classes is entirely at the discretion of military authorities, who could halt or curtail these liberties at any time and without explanation, as they have in the past.