Guantanamo Won't Answer Question About Burning Detainees' Artwork

Exhibit of art by Guantanamo terror suspects sparks outrage
People look at an exhibit of artwork by detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, Monday, Nov. 27, 2017. The artists, current and former terror suspects at the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention center, drew protest and prompted the Pentagon to bar the further release of works created at the military-run prison. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Troops at Guantanamo 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."

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 Guantanamo 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.

--This article is written by Carol Rosenberg from Miami Herald and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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