Guantánamo Exhibition Opens in Capitol

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UC Riverside collaborated on the project about the 100-year history of the naval station and prison

By Bettye Miller on June 19, 2014

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UC Riverside students and faculty participated in a collaboration of 15 universities to produce the Guantánamo Public Memory Project. The traveling exhibition will be on display on Capitol Hill on June 23.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. —   The Guantánamo Public Memory Project, a collaboration of 15 universities that includes the University of California, Riverside, brings a unique exhibit to the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Monday, June 23. The traveling exhibit reveals the 100-year history of the U.S. naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The project includes interviews, images, documentary material, video footage, and artwork about the naval base from the 19th century to today. It seeks to build public awareness of the long history of GTMO, as the U.S. military calls the base, and foster dialogue about the future of the place and the policies it shapes. UC Riverside’s Public History Program was a founding member of the consortium.

The exhibit will be open for one day only and will be open to the public at no charge. It is part of a national tour involving 17 cities. One of the early stops was in Riverside at UCR ARTSblock in summer 2013. The tour will continue to Miami, New Orleans, Providence, and Boston after its stop on Capitol Hill.

Students from around the country as well as people who lived through GTMO will be on hand throughout the day to give tours of the exhibit and share their stories.

The exhibit is accompanied by a free evening program that begins at 6 p.m. featuring:

  • Virgilio Franqui, who was held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba from 1993-94, one of over 30,000 Cuban refugees in a massive tent city.  After being admitted to the U.S., he joined the Navy, and returned to GTMO, as the prison is known, in 2004.
  • Judge Sterling Johnson, who “closed Guantanamo” in 1993, releasing over 200 Haitian refugees with HIV held indefinitely in what he called “HIV prison camps.”
  • Retired Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert, commander of the refugee camps in 1995 who returned in 2002 to build the first detention facilities for the War on Terror.
  • Carol Rosenberg, an award-winning Miami Herald reporter who has covered the prison since 2002.

Led by Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, students from UC Riverside and 14 other universities worked for two years with hundreds of people who served, lived, or were held at GTMO to unearth the naval station’s hidden histories, and discuss what insight they offer today. The result is the Guantánamo Public Memory Project.

Over the last year, over 400,000 people have visited the exhibit, participated in community dialogues, and “Shaped the Debate” by voting on tough questions.

“People tend to forget that Guantánamo was open long before 9/11. In fact, it’s been closed and reopened before,” said Project Director Liz Sevcenko. “As GTMO is increasingly pushed back into the spotlight, it’s vital to remember the many ways it was used before, and the many lives it shaped.  We’re hoping to use this new perspective to open a national dialogue on what GTMO’s past suggests for how it could – and should – be used now, and long after the end of the ‘War on Terror’.”

The exhibit was invited to the Rayburn building by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).

At UC Riverside, the Guantánamo Public Memory Project accompanied an exhibition — “Geographies of Detention: From Guantánamo to the Golden Gulag” — curated by history professors Catherine Gudis and Molly McGarry. The UCR exhibition examined the architecture of authority of California prisons and the U.S. military prison in Cuba.

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