National Touring Exhibition on Guantanamo Bay Coming to UMass Amherst Starting Sept. 11

AMHERST, Mass. – A touring exhibition about Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. naval base and prison in Cuba, will make its first New England stop at the University of Massachusetts Amherst from Sept. 11 to Oct. 11. The traveling exhibit was assembled by the Guantanamo Memory Project at Columbia University in partnership with students and faculty at 11 universities nationwide, including UMass Amherst.

“Why Guantanamo?” will be displayed at Herter Gallery and features 13 large panels, video testimonies and interactive features that introduce the full story of Guantanamo as a Cuban city, a U.S. military base, a humanitarian refugee center, and a controversial prison where suspected terrorists have been incarcerated, sometimes tortured, and often held without a trial or even legal counsel. The continuing debate over these prisoners, their treatment, and the very existence of the prison has been a flashpoint in American politics for a decade; the military base itself has been controversial since it opened a century ago.

“Our goal is to promote an understanding of the history of Guantanamo and provide a space for public debate around one of the most controversial issues in American politics today,” said Max Page, professor of architecture and director of historic preservation initiatives at UMass Amherst. “We think one way the campus should remember 9/11 is to have an open discussion about some of the legacies of that day.”

“We are thrilled that students from public history, architecture, and historic preservation have played a role in researching and designing one of the key panels in this exhibition,” said David Glassberg, professor of history and founder of the public history program in the history department at UMass Amherst.

The opening of “Why Guantanamo?” on Wednesday, Sept. 11, will include a panel discussion on “The Clash of National Security and Civil Liberties” with Jameel Jaffer, director of the Center for Democracy at the American Civil Liberties Union and a key legal advocate for the detainees, and Akhil Reed Amar, constitutional law professor at Yale University Law School. The event begins at 4 p.m. in the Bernie Dallas Room in the Goodell Building. An opening reception at Herter Gallery follows at 6 p.m.

Three other forums are planned in conjunction with the exhibition:

  • “Guantanamo: An American History,” Jonathan Hansen, lecturer in social studies, Harvard University, Sept. 18, 4 p.m., 601 Herter Hall.

  • “Guantanamo From Both Sides of the Fence,” Jana Lipman, associate professor of history, Tulane University; Jeff Johnston, former public works officer at the U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay (2004-09), and Alberto Jones, Cuban employee at the base, Sept. 25, 4 p.m., 231 Herter Hall.

  • “Learning from Guantanamo,” James Yee, former U.S. Army chaplain, U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay; Buz Eisenberg, attorney representing detainees at Guantanamo; Fredalene Bernhardy Dowd, former resident of the naval base, Oct. 2, 4 p.m., Cape Cod Lounge in the Student Union.

Also on Oct. 2, area teachers will have an evening workshop with the speakers, to discuss how they might incorporate the history and politics of Guantanamo into their classrooms.

Along with the Guantanamo Public Memory Project, the exhibition is sponsored by the following at UMass Amherst: Office of the Vice Chancellor for University Relations, Architecture + Design Program, History Department, Interdisciplinary Studies Institute, Middle Eastern Studies, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and the Center for Public Policy and Administration.