The Collegian
Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Sketches from 9/11 Guantanamo Bay trials come to campus

Contemporary artist, author and illustrator Janet Hamlin spoke Thursday in the T.C. Williams School of Law to kick off the opening of University of Richmond Museums' newest exhibition, "Janet Hamlin: Sketching Guantanamo."

Hamlin, a courtroom sketch artist at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, has been documenting the trials of the base’s detainees since 2006. This exhibition specifically features various sketches from the 9/11 hearings.

Hamlin’s sketches, now displayed in the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, are the only visual documentation of the trials, as cameras and recording tools are prohibited in the courtroom. “It is gratifying for me as an artist to make art into historical document,” Hamlin said. “I consider myself a visual journalist.”

Malcolm Savage, a second-year law student who is also the nephew of the artist, introduced the idea for the exhibition. He spoke with retired law professor John Paul Jones about his desire to travel to Guantanamo Bay to experience the trials. This sparked conversation about Savage’s aunt and her work, Jones said.

Jones brought the idea for the exhibition to various university professors as well as Richard Waller, executive director of University Museums.

“We have been working on this exhibition, picking out the sketches and planning events since early this year,” Waller said. “We wanted to pick a selection of the drawings that were of great importance to the trials, with widely known prisoners, and we also want beautiful drawings,” he said.

Hamlin’s drawings in the exhibition show the trials of famous prisoners connected to the 9/11 terrorist attack including Omar Khadr, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and various others.

Although Hamlin is the only artist to document these proceedings, she is still required to stand behind soundproof glass in a separate room designated for media only. Her sketches are highly censored and must receive a stamp of approval before she leaves the courtroom at the end of each day, she said.

As a result of the censorship, she has often had different detainees request to see her artwork and even force her to change parts of it. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who claims to be the principal designer of the 9/11 attacks, was offended by the way Hamlin drew his nose, and as a result she was forced to re-create the sketch. “The original, offending nose is buried under layers of pastel on this reworked sketch,” Hamlin said.

Hamlin has now traveled to Guantanamo Bay more than 27 times. “Familiarity is one of the reasons I’ve been constantly attending,” she said. “The troops are rotated every six months…the people that know the best of what’s going on are journalists and lawyers.”

During the next two months, University Museums will host a variety of programs to continue to attract students, faculty and community members to the exhibition, Waller said.

There will be a talk by Brigadier General Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, as well as a talk by a retired U.S. Marine, Major General Michael Lehnart.

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The last event will be a talk called “The Rule of Law in an Age of Terror” by Dennis Edney Nov. 10.

"Janet Hamlin: Sketching Guantanamo" will run until Nov. 21. The Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature is open from 1 to 5 p.m., Sunday through Friday.

Contact Collegian reporter Juliana Sorrentino at

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