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Sketching Guantanamo & KSM's nose job


Artist Janet Hamlin sketches accused Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  MICHELLE SHEPHARD PHOTO  


Janet is well-known in Guantanamo.

Family members of Sept. 11 victims often compliment her sketches as they peer over her shoulder in the courthouse's visitor gallery. Lawyers stopping by the media hangar for news conferences admire her work and ask for copies.

Even Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind who is now on trial, knows Janet — if not by name, then by her drawings. He once famously criticized her work, demanding via a court security officer that she make his nose smaller.

What makes New York-based Janet Hamlin's Guantanamo work so special is that she has covered the war court hearings since 2006, thereby capturing a piece of history. That is especially important in a place like Guantanamo, where access is limited.

Her job has never been easy. In addition to the time and personal expense that such trips to the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay require, Janet faces restrictions on her work. When she started in 2006, she was not allowed to draw the faces of the men on trial — a rule since lifted. For years Janet fought for the right to use stadium eyeglasses to better see the accused, as she does in U.S. courts. Three years ago she was granted permission. In June it was revoked without explanation, other than citing a new rule that "ocular amplification" devises were forbidden in the courtroom.  

Now Janet has put Guantanamo's war courts — the history-in-the-making — in an extensive book, "Sketching Guantanamo." A large section of the book is devoted to the case of Canadian Omar Khadr, from his first days before the military commission as a teenager, to his guilty plea in October 2010.

Each of Janet's sketches must be approved by a court security officer before she is allowed to run back to the media hangar (art pad and box of charcoals in hand), where she coats the sketches with hairspray to prevent smudging and transmits those exclusive images to the world.

To hear more, Janet talks about her book with the CBC's Anna Maria Tremonti: http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2013/03/26/sketching-guantanamo-janet-hamlin/index.html#igImgId_66000

And in Arabic, here's an Al Arabiya feature: http://bit.ly/16aRSMv

(Full disclosure: Janet is a good friend. As part of her book's release, we will be speaking together on a panel: "(Un)Covering Guantanamo, along with the Guardian's Spencer Ackerman and Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald at New York's Law School Nov. 13.)

Michelle Shephard is the Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recipient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm


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