Guantánamo

To burn or not to burn? Guantánamo won’t answer the question about detainees’ artwork

A detainee’s greeting card was hanging on the wall at the Guantánamo Detention Center library storage trailer on Saturday, June 3, 2017. The name of the artist was already redacted on the wall in this image approved for release by the U.S. military.
A detainee’s greeting card was hanging on the wall at the Guantánamo Detention Center library storage trailer on Saturday, June 3, 2017. The name of the artist was already redacted on the wall in this image approved for release by the U.S. military. crosenberg@miamiherald.com

Troops at ​Guantánamo currently aren’t incinerating detainee art, but the military isn’t saying whether the commander has adopted a no-burn recommendation from higher headquarters as prison policy.

The U.S. Southern Command recommended soon after Thanksgiving that Navy Rear Adm. Edward Cashman, who commands the Detention Center staff of 1,500 troops and civilians, design a local policy that would allow for the archival, instead of incineration, of art created by its 41 captives. But prison spokeswoman Cmdr. Anne Leanos is refusing to say whether Cashman’s Joint Task Force specifically adopted that recommendation.

“Detainee produced items continue to be documented and catalogued consistent with established policy and procedures,” Leanos said, repeatedly declining to elaborate on whether incineration was still an option. “The JTF does not discuss specifics of security protocols.”

RELATED: “After years of letting captives own their artwork, Pentagon calls it U.S. property. And may burn it.”

The latest protocols are in response to an instruction in October by the office of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, she reminded, to suspend the releases of art from the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba. Someone in Mattis’ office was troubled by the discovery that a New York City exhibit offered some Guantánamo detainees’ art for sale, and concluded the captives’ creations were U.S. government property. The prison had routinely released art to the prisoners’ lawyers after inspecting it for secret messages.

The idea of incineration was a local one, told to a detainee by a JTF staff member, possibly improvising on the military tradition of using burn bags to dispose of classified or sensitive information. But Leanos referred questions back to the Pentagon, which beyond imposing the ban left the mechanics of local art handling up to the Detention Center.

At Southcom, on Christmas Eve, all spokeswoman Army Col. Lisa Garcia would say was: “Burning of art is not occurring. Currently, excess art is being stored at the JTF. Detainees still have access to art classes and can keep a small amount of art in their cells. When and where the art will be moved for storage is a policy decision.” Earlier, she had told the Miami Herald that Southcom was recommending to the prison that the staff archive detainee artwork rather than discard it.

The prison has a certain measure of autonomy under Southcom commander Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd. His predecessor, former Marine Gen. John Kelly, now White House chief of staff, more intimately directed policy from his perch in South Florida.

mattis
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis talks to troops at an outdoor movie theater at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on Thursday, Dec. 21. 2017. ROBERT BURNS Associated Press

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

Prison spokeswoman Navy Cmdr Anne Leanos

Detainee produced items continue to be documented and catalogued consistent with established policy and procedures. Please refer policy-related questions to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. OSD is on the record as having said that in October 2017, after becoming aware that some detainee produced items were being offered for sale, DoD established policy which prohibits transfer of detainee produced items from the detention facility.

Detainees are authorized to keep a limited amount of artwork in their cell areas — subject to security protocols that are in place for the safety of the detainee as well as the guard force. The protocols outline what items, and in what quantity, a detainee can have in his cell; the JTF does not discuss specifics of security protocols.

*JTF=Joint Task Force, the term used by the military at Guantánamo for both the Detention Center Zone currently holding 41 war-on-terror captives, and the 1,500 troops and civilians assigned to prison operations.

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