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Guantanamo Bay Prison Conditions Discussed; Interview with Artist JR

Aired May 17, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the special weekend edition of our program, where we bring you some of the big stories that we've covered this week.

Chief amongst them, the ongoing crisis at Guantanamo Bay prison, where more than 100 desperate detainees have been on hunger strike for 100 days now. They would rather starve to death than remain in legal limbo.

It all began back when President Obama promised to shut the prison down. It was one of his very first acts in office, more than four years ago. And now the president is under mounting pressure to make good on that promise. And despite obstruction in Congress to use the executive powers he has to immediately repatriate 86 detainees already cleared for transfer.

The continued stalemate is not just legally wrong, but it is morally wrong, according to Col. Morris Davis, who was the U.S. government's chief prosecutor at Guantanamo under President Bush. He has just launched an online petition drive signed by more than 200,000 people so far to get President Obama to close down the prison.

And I spoke with him about this earlier this week.


AMANPOUR: Thank you for joining me. Welcome.

The military is trying to say that these people have got tubes being shoved down their throats, but they're not being force-fed.

COL. MORRIS DAVIS, FORMER CHIEF PROSECUTOR AT GUANTANAMO BAY: Right. Well, it's a standard military tactic. When I was a chief prosecutor, I couldn't use the term "torture." It was called "enhanced interrogation techniques."

AMANPOUR: Were you actually told that, that you used certain language?

DAVIS: We couldn't talk about -- you know, there were some suicide attempts. But we couldn't say "suicide attempt," so it was called "self- injurious behavior." So we try to repackage it to make it sound more antiseptic and nicer than it really is. But you know, being strapped in a chair and a tube shoved down your nose into your stomach is being force-fed by any definition of the term.

AMANPOUR: Do you think the pressure is reaching a critical mass right now whereby something will be resolved or not?

DAVIS: It seems to be. And I hate to get overly optimistic, because I've been optimistic in the past and, you know, here we sit in 2013, it's still going on. But there does seem to be momentum building behind it.

And it's unfortunate, I mean, it says something about America, that people have to risk their life to get us to pay attention to them, because the majority of the men at Guantanamo, 86 of the 166, are people that the FBI, DOJ, Department of Defense, CIA have looked at and said, didn't commit a crime; we're not going to charge them. They're not a threat and we don't want to keep them. They're --



DAVIS: -- yes, and they're still there. And many of them are having to risk death in order to get us to pay attention. And after a decade.

AMANPOUR: And now very powerful senators, Senator Levin on the Armed Services Committee, Senator Feinstein on the Intelligence Committee, they have asked the president as well to have these people transferred. That's within his executive power.

DAVIS: Yes. I think he's got to -- to use a Sarah Palin term -- he's got to "man up," because there's a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, where he can certify or the Secretary of Defense can certify that these people can be transferred out. But nobody wants to be left holding the bag.

It's inevitable: someone is going to screw up. Someone is going to do something bad. But if we're waiting till the risk is zero, we're never going to get there, and these guys are going to die.

AMANPOUR: So what are you saying on your petition? And you've got an amazing number, nearly a quarter of a million Americans have signed your petition.

DAVIS: Yes, I'm really pleased. The support has just been really surprising to me. It's on And we've had over 205,000 people have signed it. We're asking the president to do this, to keep his word.

I mean, I think -- you know, I'm disappointed that he didn't follow through on hope and change, but there are 166 men that are even more disappointed than I am, that, you know, he promised before he became president.

He was going to close Guantanamo. It was a non-partisan issue for a while. John McCain said he wanted to close it, yet it's still open because it became a political football and people are paying for it with their lives.

AMANPOUR: Now it is a real political football and the Congress has actually cut the president's funds to be able to actually transfer them. You're saying there are ways he could get around that, having the countries in question actually pay for it.

But let me ask you this. Some say, you know, you couldn't -- well, this lot have not been charged. So they are cleared for transfer. You actually prosecuted people inside Guantanamo, in those commissions.

And you got them convicted.

DAVIS: Well, and oddly enough, the ones that were convicted aren't at Guantanamo. They've been sent back to their home countries. Salim Hamdan, you mentioned, is a free man in Yemen. David Hicks was the first military commission case. He's a free man in Australia.

So it's a bizarre, perverted system of justice where being convicted of a war crime is your ticket home. And if you're never charged, much less convicted, you spend the rest of your life sitting at Guantanamo.

AMANPOUR: What has brought you to where you are right now? You're uniformed military; you were doing the Pentagon and the Justice Department's job of trying to prosecute, trying to take these cases to trial.

You were a good soldier. You said yes, sir. And now you're saying my country is wrong.

DAVIS: Right. Well, it makes no sense. I mean, fiscally, it's totally irresponsible. If you just look at the detainees that have been cleared at $800,000 or $900,000 per year per person, that's $75 million wasted on people that we don't want to keep. Policy wise our adversaries and our allies alike condemn Guantanamo.

Legally, every case that's come out of Guantanamo, from Rasul to Hamdan to Boumediene, has been a black eye for the government. It's a recruiting tool for the other side. Federal courts have worked very effectively. Our federal prisons have been very secure.

So I just -- it's hard to see the upside to Guantanamo other than right-wing talking points to try to make the president look like he's weak on terrorism.

AMANPOUR: Well, you say right-wing talking points. Let me draw your attention to what you yourself wrote in 2007 at the height of your prosecutorial presence there in Guantanamo.

You said, "Guantanamo Bay is a clean, safe and humane place for enemy combatants. It is worth keeping." You also said it's a model prison; standards rival or exceed other prisons.

What happened?

DAVIS: Well, that's true. I was a bail bondsman before I went to law school. So I've seen a lot of jails and a lot of prisons, and there are a lot of Americans that are incarcerated, that, if they saw Guantanamo, would change places. Because as a facility, it's about as good as it's going to get.

You know, they sent 40 medical personnel down to attend to 100 hunger strikers. You don't see that in most prisons. But it's not the physical conditions. It's the underlying legal basis that led to Guantanamo.

I mean, we went there because we thought it was outside the reach of the law. We've kept people there beyond the reach of the law for more than a decade. Our whole justification that we're at war and we're detaining the enemy is running out. You know, as we pull the troops out of Afghanistan in 2014, whatever credibility that argument has completely evaporates.

And we've got to live like Americans. We used to be known as the good guys. In the first war with Iraq, they surrendered by the tens of thousands rather than fight because they knew who we were. We need to regain that reputation.

AMANPOUR: Again, it's such a political football it's sort of not in my back yard; people here in the United States, certain governors and congresspeople won't allow them to come into supermax prisons here, even though people say that that would be just plenty secure.

And also there is this idea of recidivism, the idea that if you send them back, despite the rehab facilities in places like Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, this is not a guarantee that they won't go back into the field and battle against Americans.

How do you answer that?

DAVIS: Well, a couple of ways. First off, we have never taken a detainee into the U.S. We've begged and bribed other countries to do it. Bermuda took some of the detainees.

We're supposed to be the home of the brave. We could at least be as brave as Bermuda and take a few ourselves. There have been no incidents; Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's nephew has been successfully incarcerated without incident. So it can be done. I think it's just fearmongering on the other side that want to use this as a political football.

But just to continue this charade of keeping Guantanamo open on this pretense that it's necessary to keep the country safe is a false narrative. So we used to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. We've been the constrained and the cowardly. And we need to act like Americans and lead by example.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it'll take a death to change this? Do you think someone will be -- will manage to starve themselves to death there?

DAVIS: It certainly looks that way, but it's totally unnecessary. I mean, the president right now is faced with two bad choices, force-feeding or letting someone die. The viable option is that third choice, is to land a plane -- the Yemenis want their 56 detainees back.

AMANPOUR: Back to Yemen.

DAVIS: Yes, if you started sending some people home and there's some light at the end of the tunnel, and these guys felt like that they're not just abandoned and forgotten, I think the hunger strike would be over before dark.

AMANPOUR: And let's be clear that we're talking about people who've never been charged.

DAVIS: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: Col. Davis, thank you very much indeed for joining me.


AMANPOUR: The storm over this legal black hole at Guantanamo is sure to gather more strength. And we'll continue to follow it.

But after a quick break, we will look at a cultural phenomenon with 130,000 faces, a portrait of the artist when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And turning now to the power of art as a means of self-expression, protest and celebration.

My guest tonight is an artist who's helped people across the globe become artists as well. JR, as he's known, is an artist in public spaces, where you can interact with passersby. He started with graffiti art as a teenager in Paris, and then he began pasting huge photographs that he had taken, literally anywhere, on buildings, billboards, vehicles and doors.

In 2011, he received the prestigious TED prize in California and he won $100,000 to fund a special wish -- a way to change the world. So JR decided that his wish was to create a project called Inside Out. The photographer handing the camera to his subjects and letting them post their work wherever they want.

More than 130,000 of these photos have been popping up in more than 100 countries. And JR recently came into the studio to talk about his own story and his latest project, now the subject of a coming documentary on HBO called "Inside Out: The People's Art Project."


AMANPOUR: JR, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Welcome to your pictures, welcome to this amazing set.

What is this all about? Why did you decide to poster huge pictures all over the world?

JR: You know, I started from graffiti. As -- when you do graffiti, you write your name to say, "I exist." When you paste a photo of someone, you put up his face to say, "He exists." And then the journey started.

AMANPOUR: It's really fascinating. And I was fascinated by what you did in Sierra Leone because you were in this slum area -- again, I've covered Sierra Leone. I saw it during the worst of the civil war. And you always feel so sorry for those youngsters who are condemned to being beggars, being robbers and feeling that they are nothing.

How did they feel when you then made them somebody?

JR: You know, Sierra Leone or Liberia, the different (ph) place I went for that project in "Women are Heroes," was really amazing, because I was -- I was waiting for people to tell me, this is not a place for art. This is not a place for photos on walls.

But I found the exact opposite. People were like, "Please, do it here. Please." We want to show the images (ph). We want to, you know, show some dignity on the wall. And it was about women there, that most of the time, suffer from conflict but survive the conflict. And so I wanted to highlight them.

AMANPOUR: I'm going to play a little bit of the documentary, which is about to air on HBO, about Sierra Leone.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lion Base in Freetown.

A group of boys that lived under a bridge. The community called them robbers, thieves, outlaws. They didn't even know their names.

We pasted their faces along the bridge. It had a very strong impact. For the first time the boys had an identity.


AMANPOUR: And I just think that's so important, this issue of identity that you keep bestowing on these faceless, nameless people.

JR: So you know, in this case in Sierra Leone, I went there in 2007 when I started Inside Out, it's people themselves who did the project.

So what we just saw is actually the people there in Sierra Leone who heard about my project and who's like, all right; he came here in 2007. But now we want to do it ourselves. That's the issues we want to highlight. And I've never been back since that they've done it. And I'm amazed to see that.

AMANPOUR: So tell me about Inside Out, because that is your campaign at the moment, your project at the moment. You brought it here to New York City in Times Square and people are just, you know, amazed to be walking over the sidewalk with these huge, giant, poster-size faces on the ground.

What is Inside Out?

JR: Inside Out is basically a project where you can express yourself. You don't have to wait for me to come in your community to do it. I've done that for more than 12 years and then I realized that if I switch the concept, I could let the people take their photos, print it for them -- I don't have a photo booth truck like here in Times Square -- I do that.

I would send it back to them, whatever they are in the world. And that's how the project in Sierra Leone even, Sierra Leone, for example, happened.

AMANPOUR: This -- so your brought your own sort of printing --

JR: Exactly. And then people, you know --

AMANPOUR: -- lined up for hours.

JR: Yes. When it's the case of the booth here, when it's online, you can send it and wait for it to come back. Then it prints in a couple of seconds and either we ship it at your home, directly, and then you paste it. So here in Times Square we had authorization by Times Square Alliance to cover the entire ground, look at this sign --


AMANPOUR: It's incredible.

JR: -- (inaudible). People were like, no way, I can paste this?

Yes, of course. And it's all about the interaction when you look at it --

AMANPOUR: And you got onto the biggest billboard there, too.

JR: Yes. The amazing thing is that there was an empty billboard, and the owner said, you can have it. And this is not selling anything. It's not sponsored by any brand or any corporation. It's just about people's message (ph).

AMANPOUR: It seems to be a joyful project, people want to help you, want to be involved.

JR: It's true because I get like amazing group of volunteers, people coming from all around the world and people, New Yorkers who came in, helped us every day. You know, it's not about how beautiful is the photo. It's about the interaction.

We'll even award a social media, where all the interactions social media, but when we are back to a real interaction, I was like, hey, let's paste together. Can you pass me the brush? Wait, I want to paste here. Oh, look at my face. Can you take a photo? Then you're back into interaction --

AMANPOUR: Human relations.

JR: Exactly. Imagine that in Sierra Leone, I can just mention all the hundreds of countries that Inside Out have been in in less than a year and a half.

AMANPOUR: Some of the places that really struck me were some of the most troubled places. For instance, you posted a lot of pictures up on the dividing wall between Israel and the West Bank, between Israel and the Palestinians.

What was that? Was that sort of like the cliche of here's a wall and we're just going to show how we're all together or not?

JR: So that was when I was still photographing myself. That was -- I was putting (inaudible). That was in 2007. And basically this was photos of Israeli and Palestinians doing the same job. So I pasted the wall on both sides, but I also pasted in cities.

And people would come to it and say, what are you doing? And I would show them like look, and said, no, this is -- no, this is just in our project. Oh, OK, OK. But who are those people? This is two taxi drivers. One is Israeli; one is Palestinian. And they would always be there silent.

AMANPOUR: Because they couldn't tell the difference.

JR: Exactly. And so basically where people told me, you're going to get, you know, kidnapped or arrested or killed for doing that, people were laughing because they couldn't see who was who. And then they will, you know, they will say, OK. Let's try on another one, and I would paste another couple of portraits. And they wouldn't recognize those.

So by the regions who are then a little bit of naiveness maybe, you achieve certain things that, you know, shows you that the limits is not necessarily what you think they are.

AMANPOUR: It is remarkable. And then, you know, a lot of joy, a lot of cooperation in places like this, but a little bit of resistance in Tunisia, for instance, after the Arab Spring, the Inside Out went to some of those countries. And I was struck by the one in Tunisia, whereby, sure, they put up these fabulous posters of young, ordinary Tunisians and --


JR: (Inaudible).

AMANPOUR: -- yes, Ben Ali is replacing the dictator.

Tell me about your description of the space that they had for these pictures.

JR: You know, it was amazing because this was the first big Inside Out. So I went there to witness it. But I was not part of it. I just went there, look at those young Tunisians pasting their photos everywhere, covering the portraits. And they had a lot of reactions from the community, from the people because people, you didn't know how to interact with those photos.

Who are those portraits? Are those new dictators? We never saw up on walls. What is that? What do you mean by that? So their first reactions were to take it down. But what was really interesting, I thought this was a failure.

But men came and said, look, guys; you have the right to paste on the walls. Sure. They have the right to take it down. That's democracy. And we're just enjoying it for the first time. And he was right.

AMANPOUR: Well, it's interesting that you're explaining to me, because I was like, what is wrong with you guys? Why do you care whether pictures of ordinary Tunisians are up there? Why were people pulling them down?

JR: That shows you how much powerful is in -- you know, is in an image in the street. And out there, people -- it was the revolution just happened, people, there was no control in the street. People, they were just hopeful that something happened. They had one face for, you know, years. And now that they could get back their wall, they at least had the freedom of speech of saying who should be on it.

And you know what, they're completely right. And that interaction was beautiful. It was really like interesting, this picture. And they managed to continue pasting, but they had first to explain to everyone in the streets. So it was really interesting how you have -- without you have to find the time to explain and do it with the people.

AMANPOUR: What touched you the most? What made the biggest impression on you in this project?

JR: You know, for years, I have been going into those places and people would tell me, yes, but you decided to go there; maybe they want it; maybe they didn't want it. By not going there, I'm just sitting at home and I'm like, look, it's happening in 10,000 cities as we're talking, in 100 countries.

And it's the people who decided where in really which places and really (inaudible) in school, in the conflict zone (ph), a guy in Iran would go in jail for that, again Russia (ph) would get arrested. They really took those images to another level. It became their project. And I'm just the enabler. So Inside Out became like a platform. That's what's really amazing to me in it.

AMANPOUR: And I have to ask you, because you're sitting inside, in my studio. Why are you wearing glasses? And why do you go by the name JR, which is not your real name?

JR: Exactly, because you know, when I started, I started as a graffiti writer. So you have to hide. And most of the project I've done throughout the years was without authorization. And when I started putting faces of people, I was like why would I put my name in front of it? It's about their name. So I stayed in the shadow.

And when I'm in Times Square, everyone can come to me; I take photos, I walk with people even in the communities. But I don't see what I would gain from being recognized in the streets when I walk outside so --


AMANPOUR: Can I see your eyes?

JR: You can see them right after.


AMANPOUR: All right, JR. Thank you.

JR: Nice to meet you.

AMANPOUR: You, too.


AMANPOUR: And after we take a break, the man who fell to Earth, but not before he became an international superstar. The world's most famous singing astronaut when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally, the world's most entertaining astronaut has fallen safely back to Earth. For five months, Chris Hadfield commanded the International Space Station. He also commanded attention of millions of us back here on terra firma by posting jaw-dropping images of Earth on social media, like this photo of the Black Sea, which, from outer space, looks incredibly blue.

He also endeared himself to his avid followers with YouTube clips of daily life in space, such as showing how astronauts brush their teeth in zero gravity.

But perhaps his finest hour was creating the first music video in space, his rendition of David Bowie's classic, "Space Oddity."


AMANPOUR: Mixing our albums, not our metaphors, Ziggy Stardust would be proud. Commander Hadfield and his crew touched back down in Kazakhstan and he is now recuperating in Houston, Texas. Now whoever replaces him as the new commander will have huge space boots to fill.

And that's it for the weekend edition of our program. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.