An art exhibit in New York City of cell block art made by detainees at Guantánamo is raising questions about ownership of intellectual property.
Who owns the art? The government or the artist?
According to The Miami Herald, the U.S. military has decided that art made by wartime captives at Guantánamo is government property and officials have stopped releases of security-screened prisoner art to the public.
U.S. military officials declined to explain to the Herald what caused the abandonment of the years-long practice of releasing detainee art after inspection by Guantánamo workers schooled in studying material for secret messages.
Ramzi Kassem, a professor at City University of New York School of Law whose legal clinic represents many Guantánamo prisoners, told the Herald that all the artwork that has come out of Guantánamo “so far has gone through rigorous censorship and contraband review.”
This change — which the Herald reported was at the direction of someone not at Guantánamo — comes amid an exhibit at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice featuring paintings and other artworks by current and former captives at Guantánamo.
According to the exhibit’s website, the art show, which is on view through the end of January, “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.”
A Pentagon spokesman told the Herald that all Guantánamo detainee art is “property of the U.S. government” and “questions remain on where the money for the sales was going.”
The spokesman added in a statement: “The appropriate disposition of this property has been clarified with our staff at the detention facility and will be accounted for according to applicable local procedures in the future.”
Attorney Ramzi Kassem told the Herald that one captive was told “art would not be allowed out of the prison.” Now, the Herald said, if a captive gets to leave Guantánamo “their art would not even be allowed out with them and would be incinerated instead.”
Art classes were first offered to the Guantánamo captives in the later years of the Bush administration, as officials explored ways to keep detainees who had spent years in single-cell lockups occupied and preventing them from getting into fights with the guards.
Fox News previously reported that the support for Guantánamo now from the Trump administration represents a complete reversal of eight years of efforts to close it. The Obama administration sent no new detainees there, and though it didn’t fulfill a promise to shut it down, whittled the population from 242 to 41.