At Guantanamo, 'Sketching' Defendants, Witnesses And KSM's Nose Janet Hamlin was the only courtroom sketch artist allowed at the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals in 2006. Her work has been collected in a new book, Sketching Guantanamo — and she tells NPR's Renee Montagne that getting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's nose right ended up being a challenge.

At Guantanamo, 'Sketching' Defendants, Witnesses And KSM's Nose

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When the secretive military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay began, only one courtroom sketch artist was allowed in. Her name is Janet Hamlin. The Associated Press sent her there in 2006. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: While Hamlin was the only sketch artist at Guantanamo from 2006 to 2012, courtroom sketch artist Art Lien attended the 2004 tribunal at Guantanamo Bay.]

Since then, Hamlin has created a rare visual record of the human drama unfolding in Guantanamo's courtrooms. Our colleague Renee Montagne spoke with Hamlin about those images now collected in a book, "Sketching Guantanamo."


The sketches are mostly of the men accused of acts of terrorism, including the 9/11 detainees. But there are also 9/11 families looking on, and courtrooms crowded with defense lawyers, prosecutors and witnesses.

Some of Janet Hamlin's most compelling sketches are richly detailed portraits of the youngest defendant, Omar Khadr, who was 15 when he arrived at Guantanamo. Born in Canada, Khadr spent much of his childhood in Pakistan, his father involved with Osama bin Laden. In 2002, Khadr was captured in Afghanistan, accused of killing an American Army medic in a firefight.

JANET HAMLIN: When I first saw him, he had that teenage look. He had civilian clothes on and hip teen tennis shoes, and I remember he had this plaid shirt. The next year, he was in a khaki uniform, and his hair had grown out, and he seemed frustrated and angry. And then, the following year, he seemed to be engaged and congenial and involved.

MONTAGNE: And there was a fair amount of emotion in Khadr's trial, both him and also the widow of the American medic who was killed. There's a couple of pages here that are pretty sad. Tell us about that.

HAMLIN: That was very, very dramatic. He was sitting down, and all of a sudden, he stood up. So, you know, I quickly tried to sketch that. So he was basically apologizing. It was a real surprise, and it was a very moving moment in that courtroom.

MONTAGNE: And she - you don't see her face. You just see her head down and thick black hair. And what does she do?

HAMLIN: She's crying and she's saying: No, no, no, no, shaking her head.

MONTAGNE: As in: No, I don't accept your apology.

HAMLIN: Right, that there was nothing. She was not going to accept it. She wasn't going to believe it. She was emphatic. I don't think there were too many dry eyes in that court, on all sides.

MONTAGNE: Omar Khadr, in the end, he pled guilty. He had been in Guantanamo for years. He got an eight-year sentence. And he was repatriated back to a prison in Canada.

Let's talk about another big case that you were sent there to sketch, to draw, the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is believed to be one of the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks.

HAMLIN: Right.

MONTAGNE: And he was known to be there in Guantanamo, but he hadn't really been seen in years. Most people would have had in their mind a photograph that was taken of him when he was first captured. And he was disheveled. He was heavy and had a big, thick mustache, and his hair was flying out. I mean, he didn't look good. Then what? He shows up in court, and what are you looking at?

HAMLIN: Well, it was June of 2008, and it was the first arraignment of all five accused. So, everybody was quite surprised the first time we saw him, because his beard had gone very grey. It was very Merlin-esque. He had lost weight, substantial weight. And I had to make a point of getting his likeness right away. And from a distance, that was a bit difficult.

And that led to this sort of awkward moment in my courtroom drawing career, because when I'd finished that portrait, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed actually did not want it to go out, saying that the nose was all wrong. And he said: Tell her to go get my FBI photo off the Internet, use that as a reference, and touch it up before it can be moved.



MONTAGNE: He thought his nose was too big, basically.

HAMLIN: Yes. It was an opportunity to do a better job. You know, it was not the best likeness. But that became almost - it felt almost as big of a story, or close to it, as the fact that the world was seeing him, was the fact that he could, you know, make such a change.

MONTAGNE: Hmm. Now, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, it's turned out to have fair amount of concern for his looks on occasion. And more recently, he showed up after having not been seen for a while, with a red beard. But my question with the red beard - besides it being so stunning - was how did he get the dye?

HAMLIN: Oh, I know.

MONTAGNE: It was top secret, apparently, for a while.

HAMLIN: It was. In fact, the first time we saw him with the red beard, it was rusty brown. It was a little odd. But, you know, it was different. And then it started getting more garish and more like a Hawaiian Punch tone. And that's when it became, you know, people were asking, OK. What's going on here? Well, and that finally the fruit juice and berries or something was the explanation for that kind of vivid color that he was getting. Between that and the camo jacket...

MONTAGNE: The camouflage, sort of, jacket he was allowed to wear.

HAMLIN: Right, right, that he vied for that, requested it. And then shortly after, it seems, you know, the other four pretty follow his lead.

MONTAGNE: Well, is that an intention to signal that they're soldiers somehow?

HAMLIN: Yes. That was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's explanation, that he felt that he was a warrior, and he wanted to appear as a warrior or a soldier, you know, representing that he was battling.

MONTAGNE: Another glimpse that we get of Guantanamo that is a little surprising is that, you know, you're able to sketch the actual prison. And, you know, you see planters. What else was out there that caught your eye enough to want to draw it?

HAMLIN: Well, there's a few things that surprised me. There was the fact that they have these soccer fields, or these recreational areas. They have Game Boys, TVs, DVDs, a library in different languages. They insisted on doing their own laundry, a lot of them, so you see laundry hanging out.

MONTAGNE: From seeing these, you realize people live there and have lived there...

HAMLIN: Right.

MONTAGNE: ...and maybe lived there for years to come.

HAMLIN: Right. There's classrooms. There's art lessons, language lessons.

MONTAGNE: These trials will go on. These tribunals go on. Will you be returning to Guantanamo anytime soon?

HAMLIN: Well, they're continuing to hold these hearings virtually every month. So any time that there's something notable visually happening, then I'm going to try to be there to sketch that.

MONTAGNE: Courtroom artist Janet Hamlin's new book is called "Sketching Guantanamo." Thanks very much for joining us.

HAMLIN: Thank you, Renee.


INSKEEP: And Janet Hamlin expects to be in the courtroom for the upcoming trials of the USS Cole and 9/11 defendants.

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. With Renee Montagne, I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene.

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