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Guantanamo sketch artist describes restrictive courts

By Victoria EspinozaSPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE

Guantanamo Bay has become a notorious part of American history, yet little is actually known about what goes on inside of the prison.

Janet Hamlin has been able to give Americans their first view into the Guantanamo Bay courtrooms using what she calls “figure drawings on steroids.” She sketches high-level prisoners like Khalid Sheik Mohammad, one of the principle architects of 9/11, and Omar Khadar, one of the youngest captives ever to be held in Guantanamo.

Hamlin came to Hofstra University on Nov. 13 to discuss her time inside Guantanamo’s walls with Hofstra students and faculty.

As Hamlin began to describe her trips to Guantanamo, it became very clear that her life became one of constant chaperoning, strict rules and countless limitations.

“You were escorted wherever you went, and had to go through three screenings before you could even enter the courthouse,” Hamlin said.

After every drawing, Hamlin’s sketches had to be reviewed and given a stamp of approval by an official in Guantanamo Bay before it could be released to her bosses.

When Hamlin first went to Guantanamo, she was allowed to sit inside the courtroom and have a front row seat to record everything she saw. However, after the 9/11 trials begun, a new courtroom was built and Hamlin’s view was severely altered.

Hamlin and all other journalists watched the trials through a glass window in a separate room attached to the courtroom. They listened to the audio of the courtroom at a 40 second delay. And if anything too revealing was said during the trial, the audio would be muted or white noise would play.

As Hamlin was moved further away from the scene in front of her, she tried to give up some of her other senses just to get a better view. She offered to wear noise-muting headphones and have guards on either side of her watching her work if she could just be given a better view. The guards turned down her offer.

Hamlin had to edit out many things from her drawings. The jury was not allowed to be seen in any detail, so she drew blank faces. Then their silhouettes couldn’t be shown so she drew an empty jury box with numbers instead of bodies.

Hamlin shared as many as pictures as she was allowed with the audience. Sophomore TV major Avalon Bohunicky thought that really helped to bring her story to life.

“I loved seeing where she stayed with the other journalists and what their life was like when they were there,” Bohunicky said.

Hamlin sat through countless intense and emotional trials. She listened to victims’ families express their grief. She heard the joy, excitement and pride that detainees felt when speaking of their crimes. And she saw the regret that some guards in Guantanamo developed after treating their inmates so inhumanely.

Yet, through all of this Hamlin has remained neutral.

“I am there to simply to show a scene, to give a glimpse of what it looks like,” Hamlin said. said.

“The sentiment she had behind her work, that she is able to keep her work so unbiased, I thought was very impressive,” said Lauren Campbell, junior TV and film major, after Hamlin’s speech.

Hamlin spends between 15 minutes and 2 hours on her sketches. They are the only visual historical records, of what’s happening at Guantanamo Bay. She wants to continue to sketching trials to show people the true stories of Guantanamo.

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