Making Guantanamo History

posted by Mike on January 14th, 2014

Justin Norman/Witness Against Torture

Saturday was the twelfth anniversary of the first detainees arriving at Guantanamo.

I went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History with my crazy friends from Witness Against Torture.

One small group, dressed as detainees in black hoods and orange jumpsuits, formed a tableau in a second-floor atrium. Then more than 100 people (from WAT and other groups) entered the museum from outside and, mic-check style, explained to hundreds of surprised museum-goers what was going on with this “temporary exhibit” of recent American history. They went on like this for some time, mic-checking and singing about Guantanamo, indefinite detention, and torture. Two banners were briefly hung from the railings on the balcony above.


Shortly before that started, another group in jumpsuits entered an “America at war” exhibit on the floor above and tried to “install a temporary exhibit” there. Guards quickly cleared the area, sending a flood of tourists to the third-floor balcony overlooking the other tableau just as as the action in the atrium began.

Justin Norman/Witness Against Torture

Most of the group planned to be arrested for all this, but nobody was. For reasons none of us understand, after maybe 20 minutes (at which point the atrium group went silent), the war exhibit was reopened, and the upstairs demonstrators were able to establish a “temporary exhibit,” with one member giving a marathon teach-in about freedom and the War On Terror while others stood silently or chatted with tourists.

The downstairs “exhibit” remained for two hours, and the upstairs group for more than three, at which point the museum was about to close, and they left.

Some tourists loved this spectacle. Others hated it. In my role as videographer, I overheard a lot of conversations, not all of them supportive but all of them thoughtful.

It was a grand and weird experience.


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One Comment Leave a comment.

  1. On January 16, 2014 at 16:40 Jon Benedetti said:

    It makes you think. No matter which side of the argument you are on , it’s not an easy situation to think about. Where does the war on terror end and oppression begin? How can we be safe and still be totally fair? A very thought provoking demonstration. It is comforting to know we live in a country where people can voice these opinions openly. Both the protestors and museum security personnel seemed to show respect for the other side.

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