Redacted Drawings


Janet Hamlin began working as a sketch artist at the Guantanamo Bay hearings in 2006. Her drawings – collected in a new book, Sketching Guantanamo: Court Sketches of the Military Tribunals 2006–2013 – form one of the only visual records of the trials, since cameras and video recorders were not permitted in court. An excerpt from the book:

Guantanamo tribunals differed from the other court drawings I’ve done. For instance, there were faces I was not allowed to draw, and each drawing could not leave the courtroom until a Pentagon official reviewed it. He would examine the art, occasionally have me erase some of the details, then sign and stamp the art once approved. Then I carried the sketches back, uploaded them to the media pool with descriptions, grabbed lunch, and got back for the afternoon session, going through three levels of security every time we entered or left the court area, always with an escort. Time is precious.

In a review of the book, Jillian Steinhauer emphasizes the unusual conditions under which Hamlin sketched:

When it comes to the larger of the two Guantanamo courtrooms, where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 conspirators are being tried, Hamlin isn’t even allowed inside.

She and other journalists must sit in a separate room at the back, separated from the proceedings by three panes of thick, soundproof glass. Not only that, but sound from the trial is broadcast into the room on a 40-second delay, to allow an officer who sits near the judge to censor classified material, if need be. In Hamlin’s words, “What we are seeing looks like a badly dubbed movie.”

Given these circumstances, Hamlin’s animated, colorful, and detailed sketches constitute a nearly heroic effort. The fact that she’s been able to give us thoughtful close-ups of everyone from Canadian Omar Khadr, the youngest convicted war criminal in modern history, to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed attests to her perseverance and skill as an artist. Her portraits and scenes breathe life — including that most familiar quality of human existence, tedium — into an operation shrouded in political secrecy. When Hamlin draws Khadr’s clenched, angular shoulders and his tired, weary face, he becomes a real person. Mohammed appears in the sketches alternately impassioned, disinterested, and, when he shows up one day in a camouflage vest, menacing — until we read the accompanying caption, in which Hamlin explains that the item “is a hunting vest and can be found at Sears.”

(Caption via NYRB: “Khalid Sheikh Mohammed wore a camouflage vest to court. Army Col. James L. Pohl, the judge, is shown in back with a court security officer at his left. Both Pohl and the security officer have buttons to mute, with white noise, testimony they suspect may be classified; the security officer also reviews my sketches before releasing them, October 17, 2012.” More drawings from Hamlin here.)