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Guantánamo Detainee Seeks Right to Make, Share Artwork

Attorney Alka Pradhan, who is representing Ammar al-Baluchi, a Pakistani man detained at Guantánamo Bay for allegedly helping to orchestrate the September 11 terrorist attacks, is petitioning a military judge to order the release of art made in her client’s cell, according to the Associated Press. Pradhan claims that the Department of Defense infringed on Baluchi's rights by making it more difficult for him to paint and draw, and by refusing to let him give his artwork to his attorneys.

Last November, the Pentagon halted the release of artworks by prisoners following an exhibition of art made by Guantánamo detainees held at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. On view there was a watercolor by Baluchi titled Vertigo at Guantánamo that was made to express the aftermath of torture while in custody of the CIA. Following the exhibition, the US government declared that inmates no longer own their work and threatened to destroy their art if they were released, a policy that has sparked controversy and led to a petition to “Stop the Destruction of Art at Guantánamo” that has garnered nearly two thousand signatures.

Pradhan said that Baluchi should be able to continue making and sharing his paintings because of their therapeutic aspect. She also believes that art made by her client could provoke empathy in the courtroom, where a military tribunal will decide whether or not he will be put to death. “You cannot discount every possible method of humanizing these men to the public when they have been so dehumanized by the government for so long,” she said.

Family members of those killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks expressed anger and disapproval at the idea of Guantánamo prisoners making and displaying art. “My son doesn’t have a right to breathe. They shouldn’t have a right to draw,” said Jim Riches, a retired deputy fire chief whose son, a firefighter, was killed at the World Trade Center.

Baluchi is accused by US military prosecutors of helping to send the September 11 airplane hijackers to the US, but the defense claims there is no proof that he financed their trips or knew the hijackers intended to carry out acts of terrorism. There is no trial date set, and the next hearing will begin on April 30.