Combatant Status Review Tribunals, pp. 002954–003064: A Public Reading


Combatant Status Review Tribunals, pp. 002954–003064: A Public Reading, is a four-hour public reading of unedited transcripts from 18 Combatant Status Review Tribunals held at the U.S. military prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, between July 2004 and March 2005. A part of the larger collaborative work, 9 Scripts from a Nation at War, which premiered at Documenta 12 in 2007, this performance stages a 118-page excerpt from a massive collection that documents 558 tribunals, all of which were released on the Internet in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Defense in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The Combatant Status Review Tribunals, or CSRTs, were established in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hamdi v. Rumseld, which determined that Guantanamo detainees must have the opportunity to contest their status as “enemy combatants,” providing the appearance of due process.During each tribunal, the U.S. government would present unclassified accusations against thedetainee, and the accused would be permitted to rebut these specific charges. The detainee would begiven “personal representation” but not legitimate legal counsel; he would not be allowed to see—or therefore contest—any classified information, which comprised the majority of information justifyingtheir imprisonment.

This public reading utilizes a unique staging in which 9 readers rotate through 8 roles, including that of the Detainee, the Tribunal President, two Tribunal Members, the Recorder representing the U.S. government, and a Personal Representative acting as an advisor to the Detainee. As a gesture toward making these tribunals public, this event simply and powerfully presents the transcripts word for word, offering insight into the complicated geo-political landscape in Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2001 and 2005, and exposes the contradictory and problematic processes the U.S. military has used in capturing, detaining and classifying so-called “enemy combatants.”

The event was originally held at Judson Memorial Church in New York on March 11, 2007, in collaboration with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics; followed by a German language presentation at Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany in the summer of 2007, with another at the Tate Modern in June 2008, at REDCAT Theater in Los Angeles, CA, January 2009, and two consecutive performances at MoMA, New York City, April 27-28, 2012.

The reading takes approximately four hours, including three 10-minute breaks. Readers are assembled from the local community and have included lawyers, journalists, television news anchors, legal activists, artists, community organizers, students and ordinary citizens.

Combatant Status Review Tribunals, pp. 002954–003064: A Public Reading, was originally conceived as a part of 9 Scripts from a Nation at War—a collaboration between David Thorne, Katya Sander, Ashley Hunt, Sharon Hayes and Andrea Geyer—which is a multi-channel video installation that respondsto the conditions and questions that have arisen during the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, considering how war determines and “scripts” the roles we are asked to play, including that of a “citizen,” “veteran,” “blogger,” “detainee” and others. Drawing on the artists’ extensive research, the work presents material sourced from people involved in, responding to or explaining the war. A central theme considers how the language specific to institutions, professions and positions in societyaffects identity, and once altered by war, how these languages extend and limit the ways we situate, understand or speak for ourselves. The installation presents a constellation of videos that stage the speaking of scripts by actors and non-actors alike, some re-speaking their own words, others rehearsing the words of others.