“You’re only as good as your intelligence is.”
The Prisoner or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair concerns Iraqi journalist Yunis Abbas who is arrested, along with his brothers, by American forces in Baghdad in 2003. Abbas was accused of conspiring to kill Tony Blair. After his arrest, he was carted off to Abu Ghraib where he remained for 9 months. Those at the scene filmed the arrest, and the arrest was so cheesy, I thought it had to be some sort of reenactment. No, these were real scenes, and it’s not something that makes you feel proud. As the film continues it’s impossible to connect what happens to Abbas to high-sounding words such as “freedom” and “democracy.”
Once in Abu Ghraib, Abbas, who’d already been tortured under Sadaam Hussein’s regime, finds himself the object of interrogation yet again, and even after it’s quickly established that Abbas has “no intelligence value,” he isn’t released. Instead he’s placed in Camp Ganci along with all the other low-profile prisoners. The conditions at the camp are appalling. Since the camp is vulnerable to attack, many prisoners are killed by insurgent attacks, and even more prisoners are killed while rioting against the deplorable conditions.
By presenting the case of one man, the film personalizes the travesty of Abu Ghraib. Abbas was innocent of the charges brought against him, but instead of being granted his “freedom” he was stripped of all rights to any sort of hearing. I don’t know how anyone recovers from this sort of experience, and the only thing that tempers Abbas’s ordeal is the humanity of some of the individuals he met at Camp Ganci. Abbas remembers some of the American soldiers he met who treated him with kindness, and an interview with Benjamin Thompson, who served in the army at Camp Ganci is included in the film.
The film raises so many questions not only about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, but also about the continued occupation of a country where American and British forces are not welcome. The experiences of one very mild-mannered, eloquent, intelligent man echo long after the film concludes, and by putting a human face behind the headlines, the film succeeds with its low-key approach. I heard on the radio that an insurgent attack of U.S. run Camp Bucca killed six detainees, and left fifty wounded (June 2007). This is exactly the sort of thing Abbas describes. Directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker, Abbas’s monologue is punctuated with cartoon drawings. At first, I found this a little annoying, but after a while, it seemed to fit with Abbas’s surreal, Kafkaesque experience.