Political Film Society - The Road to Guantanamo

PFS Film Review
The Road to Guantanamo


The Road to GuantanamoDirected by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, The Road to Guantánamo dramatizes the American roundup of alleged terrorists in Afghanistan in order to identify members of Al Qaeda, ship more than 750 of them to Guantánamo for questioning, and subject them to torture, with particular attention to the Tipton Three, British citizens of Pakistani origin who were interned in 2002 but released in 2004. Beginning with video quotes from George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the movie acquaints filmviewers with young British citizens from Tipton, a working class town near Birmingham, and their reasons for traveling to South Asia in fall 2001 --to participate in the marriage of one of the men in Pakistan and to go to Afghanistan to help those harmed by the bombing. After the war ends, Americans seek suspected Al Qaeda followers, so there was a roundup by the Northern Alliance, which we now know was paid on a per person basis. Aware that some of those arrested might not be Al Qaeda operatives, the Americans detain prisoners at Kandahar Air Base to sort out those thought to be terrorists for transfer to Guantánamo. The Guantánamo portion of the dramatization shows the initial placement into isolated outdoor cells, and transfer to communal cells and later indoor cells. Interrogation of the Tipton Three and efforts to force their confessions are featured, and ultimately all three are released, though a fourth who accompanies them to South Asia remains unaccounted for. In contrast with a video quote from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, assuring that Guantánamo detainees have been well treated, the film demonstrates the rough treatment that the captives suffer from the beginning of their detention in Afghanistan, though the abuse escalates considerably at Guantánamo. Some of the specific methods used are enforced motionlessness and silence, verbal abuse, handcuffing and legcuffing in uncomfortable and often unsustainable positions, beatings, threats to kill them, good cop/bad cop roleplaying, falsely telling prisoners that friends have confessed and implicated them, sleep and food and light deprivation, subjection to loud music and strobe lighting, isolation, headshaving, repeated questioning that pretends to find them inconsistent, phony documents and photographs that purportedly connect them with Al Qaeda, mishandling of the Koran, throwing clothing into latrines, noncontact with the outside, exposure to severe heat and cold, and promises to release if the prisoners will work for the CIA/military to spy on other prisoners. The number of Geneva Convention violations, in short, is astronomical. Testimonials from the Tipton survivors (Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul) are interspersed throughout the film, though the roles of the four are played by actors (Rizwan Ahmed, Farhad Harun, Waqar Siddiqui, Arfan Usman). All three admit that they were weakened in the first month, but afterward grew stronger; now they have bad memories indeed, but they want to move on with their lives. Voiceovers supply some facts, and titles at the end add information. When The Road to Guantánamo was released, only ten of the detainees at the naval base in Cuba had been charged with crimes, and some 250 had been released, leaving about 500 in limbo. The facts and dramatizations in the film have been corroborated by other detainees who have been released, so the film is on solid factual ground. Last month, the Tipton Three filed suit against Rumsfeld and ten American military under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Six days after the commercial release of the film, the U.S. Supreme Court indicated that the lack of due process afforded to the detainees amounted to a violation of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions; in effect, George W. Bush was identified as a war criminal. Unfortunately, the film quality is not the best, and accents of the Tipton Three may be difficult for American ears to discern. The Political Film Society was formed to recognize films that bring to light facts that raise political consciousness for the general public. Accordingly, The Road to Guantánamo has been nominated for best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2006. MH

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