A Witness Against Torture activist holds a sign designed by artist Shepard Fairey on a hill overlooking Guantánamo Bay in Cuba (photo by Justin Norman via Flickr)

Yesterday, January 11, marked 20 years since the opening of Guantánamo Bay, the infamous US detention camp in Cuba that has faced allegations of torture, abuse, and indefinite detention without charges of Muslim foreign nationals. Despite widespread international condemnation, and the promises of US Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden to shut down the facility, it continues to operate, holding dozens of detainees with no prospect of a fair trial. On this grim anniversary, Amnesty International and the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) launched the Guantánamo 20th Anniversary Youth Poster Contest, an open call for artists below the age of 30 to submit designs for a poster about Guantánamo for a top prize of $1,000.

“Art is a powerful medium for telling a story and inspiring others to take action,” the human rights organizations said in a statement. “Guantánamo has now been open for 20 years. President Biden needs to hear from you!”

The two organizations accused President Biden of dragging his feet on closing Guantánamo, saying he “doesn’t seem to be making it a priority.”

A graphic for the Guantánamo 20th Anniversary Youth Poster Contest (courtesy Amnesty International and the Center for Victims of Torture)

The contest is seeking original digital artwork that corresponds with the theme “Closing Guantánamo: 20 Years Too Long” and educates the public about the detention facility. The submissions will be evaluated by a panel of judges including representatives from Amnesty International and CVT, as well as Sabri Al Qurashi, an artist from Yemen who was detained in Guantanamo for over 12 years.

Submissions for the contest are due on February 9. The winning design will be announced on February 12 and will be used widely in Amnesty and CVT campaigns. Second and third place winners will receive $500 and $200 respectively, and runners-up will be shared on the social media accounts of both organizations.

Created in the wake of the September 11 attacks of 2001, Guantánamo was fashioned as a facility that operates outside of normal US laws or judicial oversight. In the past two decades, 780 Muslim men and adolescents have been detained in the facility, and 39 remain behind bars, according to recent disclosures from the US government’s interagency Periodic Review Board. The board recommended the release of 12 of the remaining prisoners, but the transfer is pending security agreements with destination countries, according to the New York Times.

Over the years, Guantánamo detainees have described harrowing torture, sexual degradation, forced drugging, and religious persecution committed against them by US forces at the facility’s grounds. A new report released by Amnesty International yesterday details ongoing human rights violations at Guantánamo. According to the report, two of the current 39 detainees have been held at the site since its first operational day on January 11 of 2002. The rest have been held there for at least 12 years.

“This is about more than just the 40 people still held at Guantánamo — it is also about the crimes under international law committed over the past 19 years and the continuing lack of accountability for them,” Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International USA’s Director of Security with Human Rights, said in a statement. “It is about the future, too, as we move towards the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and strive for enduring justice.”

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...