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The innocents who sit in Guantánamo

Review by Elizabeth Lalasz | July 14, 2006 | Page 13

The Road to Guantánamo, directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross.

THE ROAD to Guantánamo is a gripping and graphic film about the capture, imprisonment and torture of three British nationals of Pakistani descent at the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Ruhel Ahmed--known as the "Tipton Three" for the Northern England town where they grew up--were held for two years without charges.

The base--built as the main prison for suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan, Iraq and other fronts in what Bush calls the "war on terror"--has been rocked by allegations of abuse and complaints that prisoners have been wrongfully detained for years with little or no explanation or evidence.

The film's U.S. release couldn't come at a better time given the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling that rolled back the sweeping powers the Bush administration assumed after September 11.

The ruling states that the president can't order military trials for the Guantánamo detainees without the protections of the Geneva Convention and American law, thus rejecting the idea that, as a "wartime" president, Bush has legal authority that exceeds the powers of international treaties, the U.S. courts and Congress.

The court reaffirmed the rights of hundreds of inmates, held without charges for years, to challenge the legality of their detention.

This movie further confirms why the camp should be shut down immediately. Filmed in a "docudrama" style, it combines actual interviews with newsreel footage and re-enactments by nonprofessional actors to tell how these three young men got caught in the chaotic whirlwind of the U.S. war against Afghanistan in late 2001.

It retraces the Tipton Three's trip to Pakistan for Asif's arranged marriage to a woman in his father's village. Once there, they heed a call from a Karachi mosque to cross the border to help ordinary Afghans. This is how they end up in the middle of war zone in Afghanistan.

In one scene, they flee a village that the U.S. is bombing to discover there is nowhere to escape, so they crouch in an open field all night as the explosions go off around them. Soon after, they're captured by the Northern Alliance and placed in container cars, where they nearly suffocate to death until their guards shoot holes through the metal, killing many people inside.

Then they're interrogated at the infamous Shebergen prison camp, which was condemned by the Red Cross for overcrowded, inhumane conditions. Once it's discovered that the three speak English, they're labeled "al-Qaeda" and transferred to the U.S. military base in Kandahar.

Here they undergo intense interrogation. Their treatment during this part of the film is extremely difficult to watch, as the U.S. and British military use every form of physical and psychological torture. They're made to live and sleep outside, woken every hour, surrounded by dogs, and dragged into interrogation sessions in shackles with bags over their heads.

This only becomes more intense once they arrive at Guantánamo, at Camps X-Ray and Delta, where they are chained to the floor in interrogation rooms.

Nothing depicted in The Road to Guantánamo is exaggerated. British journalist David Rose published interviews with the Tipton Three soon after they were released, and former interrogator and intelligence officer Erik Saar confirms the horror of conditions at the camp in his book published last year, Inside the Wire.

The Road to Guantánamo depicts the Tipton Three as Muslims, but in the same way that many people in the U.S. would consider themselves religious. They're not the hardened zealots trained to rain "jihad" on the U.S. as their interrogators accuse them of being, but young men who have a level devotion to their faith and struggle to implement their beliefs in their everyday lives.

This portrayal cuts against the anti-Muslim racism that has been whipped up since September 11.

The most astonishing part of the film comes through the actual interviews of Shafiq, Asif and Ruhel and the actors who play them. It's obvious during their interviews that they have been completely altered by their harrowing experience at Guantánamo, but what also comes through is their resolve not to be broken under the incredible circumstances. The film concludes with Asif going back to Pakistan to finally get married.

The Road to Guantánamo confirms that innocent Arabs and Muslims are being unjustly held at Guantánamo Bay. We need to use this film to demand not only that they are released but that this torture prison is shut down once and for all.

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