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Photos of Guantanamo Detainees Put Faces to Story



HOUSTON - Time and again, citizen photography - or its absence - has shaped world opinion in the global war on terror. Shaken New Yorkers captured some of the most enduring images of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

An alarmed soldier slipped souvenir snapshots under a commander's door to blow the whistle on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

The Pentagon still bans photography, official or otherwise, of flag-draped coffins bringing home America's war dead.

So, when independent lawyers offered to help skeptical Guantanamo Bay captives, held in shackles and largely isolated at the detention center at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba, they, too, turned to photos to forge trust and build attorney-client relationships.

Some lawyers posed with family in Arabia to vouch for their veracity. Others brought images of home to connect with the men whom the Pentagon portrays as caged terrorists, enemy combatants.

In crude, cell-side chats, some lawyers used photos to find common ground.

Now, a foundation called FotoFest has mounted an extraordinary exhibition - right here, in Texas, President Bush's state - that offers a sympathetic view of some Guantanamo captives, and the lawyers who have taken up their causes, free of charge.

"There are real individuals and real people there," says curator Wendy Watriss, as she walks along the exhibition. "They're not just faceless terrorists, and we need to understand more."

Part crude snapshots, part home-style travelogue, the 88-image exhibit with accompanying audio-video installations, on display until June 2, is called Guantanamo: Pictures from Home, Questions of Justice.

And the display is timely: It comes just as the Justice Department is seeking to curb attorney access - after the U.S. Supreme Court decided to pass on review, this year, of Congress' decision to strip these lawyers of the opportunity to argue their clients' cases in U.S. District Court.

The exhibit ranges across two floors in a cavernous, renovated former railroad warehouse beneath a highway in downtown Houston, at FotoFest, a two-decade-old photographic arts center whose themes have for years spanned the planet - offering portraits of everything from Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution to New Yorkers' snapshots from Ground Zero on Sept. 11, called Here is New York: A Democracy of Photographs.

Now the lens is turned on Guantanamo, but without a single image from the remote U.S. Navy base itself.

Rather, it focuses on three dozen Guantanamo detainees using pictures before their capture or portraying them as absent fathers and sons - and the American lawyers who have shuttled between big-city firms, the remote U.S. prison compounds in Cuba and Afghanistan and the Arabian Peninsula in a quest to set them free.

In one photo, a New York lawyer sits on a couch with a client's family, in Yemen.

Another shows attorneys meeting a client's father over a traditional meal, in Bahrain.

In another, the daughters of one Guantanamo captive pose with paper flowers - fashioned from toilet paper inside Camp Delta and carried half a world away by a lawyer.

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