Road to Guantanomo (2006)

“Treatment is proper…it is humane and appropriate and consistent with the Geneva Convention for the most part” (Rumsfeld)

Co-directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, the film Road to Guantanamo is based on the true story of the “Tipton Three”–three young Muslims from Tipton, England, who traveled to Afghanistan a few weeks after 9-11, and were subsequently rounded up as Taliban fighters and send to Guantanamo. The Tipton Three were some of the first released detainees to reveal the conditions at Guantanamo.

The film is part documentary and part drama–in other words, segments include footage of the real Tipton Three, and these segments blend with a dramatization of the events that took place in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta in Guantanamo. The film begins with a young British Muslim taking off with three of his mates to Pakistan where he is to meet his potential bride. For reasons that are never fully explored, the four men end up in Afghanistan and bounce around to various cities until they are more or less shanghaied and end up in a Taliban stronghold.

After the Taliban fighters surrender to the Northern Alliance, Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal, and Shafiq Rasal are placed in the custody of U.S. forces. Ironically, they’re initially relieved to be ‘saved’ by the Americans. The men end up being shipped to Guantanamo, and here they spend over two years before they are finally released–after being charged with exactly nothing.

The two years spent at Guantanamo Bay depict the sort of goings on taking place in this facility. And it’s shocking. For those who laugh and joke about the conditions at Guantanamo and argue that the tactics used are perfectly acceptable, I’d like to see them endure those same conditions for 2 years and see how they feel about it afterwards. The lock-up facilities are best described as something seen at an under-funded dog pound. Each of the ‘detainees’ is given a dog-run type area with two buckets–one to be used as a toilet and one to be used for water. Over the course of the two years spent there, they are subjected to brutal treatment, various periods of sensory deprivation, and continual questioning. Most of the handling of the ‘detainees’ is gratuitously violent, and again it’s shocking to realize the complete and utter breakdown of any sort of legal system to provide structure and coherence to the situation. For the most part, the American military personnel are depicted in a less-than-flattering light–although there are a few positive notes and sporadic moments of humanity.

Camp Delta is an abomination, and the irony of its motto–Honor Bound to Defend Freedom–cannot escape the viewer. The film itself can be faulted for not adding skepticism to the murky reasons for the side trip to Afghanistan, but at some point during the film, this becomes a moot point. Perhaps the men were there to join the Taliban–perhaps they weren’t. But for this viewer, at least, the main focus of the film is Guantanamo itself, and it’s extremely disturbing to see that some of the very best elements of American society (freedom of religion, the rule of law, and The Bill of Rights for example) simply do not exist in this brutal, bizarre and barbaric limbo land. In English and Urdu.

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