You Shall Have the Body: When Justice Is Gone, There's Always Force

You Shall Have the Body: When Justice Is Gone, There's Always Force

Despite last week's release of Shaker Aamer, protests at prisons and refugee camps that summon up its abuses, and ongoing if enfeebled Administration attempts to close it, the black hole that is Guantánamo is still there, and so are its now-112 so-called "forever prisoners." Among recent art and actions against Gitmo was last month's multi-media installation by performance artist Laurie Anderson at the incongruously posh Park Avenue Armory in New York. Dubbed "Habeus Corpus" - for the legal precept, "You shall have the body" - the project merged dramatic visuals with ominous surveillance-and-drone-like sounds to present at its center the sixteen-foot-high video "apparition" of Mohammed el Gharani, a Chadian imprisoned at Guantánamo for eight years, starting when he was 14. Interrogated and tortured for years, he was released in 2009, and now lives in West Africa. Effectively declared a non-person - someone for whom the elemental protection of habeas corpus does not exist - he is banned from the U.S.; echoing rendition while utilizing technology, he is beamed into the work sitting in a large chair, in a stately pose purposefully reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial.

Anderson had imagined the project as "a work of silent witness." But through the U.K.-based, human-rights group Reprieve, she ultimately contacted el Gharani, visited with him over several months, and found he was willing to speak about his ordeal. She recorded many of those conversations, which played in hourly clips in the installation. "As the project moved from silent meditation toward language and stories," she says, "it came to rest on the most basic of all questions: What is truth? What is suffering? What is justice?" She also sought to explore "what happened when the camera and the gun got welded together,  when adding lenses to guns increased the deadly aim of drones, (when) a culture increasingly operates on remote, at a distance - friendships, shopping, and even war," and we live within a fear-driven politics in which “Your silence will be considered your consent.” Responses to the work ranged from the right-wing charge of the "betrayal"of her "insidious performance" about el Gharani's "alleged poor treatment" from military who were there, to the ambivalence of activists, to praise for any raised awareness of a too-long-ignored horror. From a current inmate left dying slowly in "this hell on earth" for 13 years: "For us at Guantánamo, this place is not fit for any living, breathing, human being...The world may turn a blind eye (but) for each of us here, the cost of our indefinite and unfair imprisonment is beyond immeasurable."

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