The Artwork of Guantánamo Detainees

The Artwork of Guantánamo Detainees

Interrogated, tortured, and held for decades without charges, Gitmo prisoners held onto their humanity by creating art.


When Moath al-Alwi found himself in a windowless steel cell in Guantánamo’s Camp 6, he asked his guards for scraps of cardboard. After experiencing years of interrogation and torture, “low-value” detainees like al-Alwi were permitted by authorities during the Obama administration to create art. As the former detainee Mansoor Adayfi describes in his 2021 memoir Don’t Forget Us Here, al-Alwi fashioned the cardboard into a window frame and hung it on his cell wall. He painted it with a view east to Mecca, with “the sun rising over a vast blue sea.”

In 2017, I curated an exhibition of artwork given by al-Alwi and other detainees to their lawyers, some of which is reproduced here. Camp authorities reacted by banning any more art from leaving Guantánamo. Al-Alwi, who has spent more than 20 years at Guantánamo without ever being charged with a crime, was cleared for release in January 2022. But he has told his lawyer that he would rather his artwork be released than himself, “because as far as I am concerned, I’m done, my life and my dreams are shattered. But if my artwork is released, it will be the sole witness for posterity.”

—Erin L. Thompson

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