Jenny Holzer

THE WHITE HOUSE 2002 GREEN WHITE is a painting of a memorandum signed in secrecy by President George W. Bush on February 7, 2002. The document was not declassified until June 2004. It legally legitimated the use of torture on prisoners of war seized in response to the September 11, 2001 attack and during the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. On October 11, 2001, a U.N. High Commissioner asked the U.S. and its allies to ratify obligations to the Geneva Convention against torture. Consequently, lawyers at United States Department of Justice, CIA, and White House argued that that the Geneva Conventions were inapplicable, giving ground for the use of torture and avoiding future persecutions under international laws and the U.S. federal War Crimes Act. On January 25, 2002 a White House Counsel memorandum to President Bush argued that the War on Terror required new interpretations of old paradigms of the law of war. The letter signed by George W. Bush stated that “[..] none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or elsewhere through the world because, among other reasons, Al Qaeda is not a High Contracting Party to Geneva” and “I determine that the Taliban detainees are unlawful combatants and, therefore, do not qualify as prisoners of war under Article 4 of Geneva.” This order created a new category of detainees, legally considered neither prisoners nor accused persons, but who had lost all legal status and held no rights. Eventually, the letter justified the “enhanced interrogation” torture methods on suspects initiated in August 2002 by the Office of Legal Counsel of the Attorney General, which were revealed in the “Torture Memos” after the scandals of the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo detention centers.

The artwork is part of the Redaction Paintings and War Paintings series with reproductions of legal rulings, memos, planning maps, diplomatic cables, interrogation records, autopsy reports, and handwritten notes from detainees. The documents were released into the public realm after Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Several of these documents were still redacted and classified for reason of national security; nevertheless, they uncovered the secrecy and accountability of war crimes.

THE WHITE HOUSE 2002 GREEN WHITE makes visible the legal and bureaucratic means of war. Declassified and redacted documents as sources of evidence are utilized as forensic legal analyses of the structural secrecy and impunity of the military. The documents transformed into paintings draw attention to the materiality of the raw origin of the hidden bureaucratic violence and let the viewers experience it personally. The hand-painted canvases turn the abstract visual and verbal logic of protocols into detailed contemplations of war stories and the suffering to which they testify.

Read Can We See Torture? by Joshua Craze .

Oil on linen, two elements. 33 × 51 in. 83.8 × 129.5 cm.
Courtesy of Sprüth Magers. Copyright Jenny Holzer / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2017.