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The Road to Guantanamo

It Began in Afghanistan After the U.S. Invasion…

The Road to Guantanamo, a docudrama directed by Michael Winterbottom (Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, 24 Hour Party People) and Mat Whitecross, focuses on the experiences of Asif Iqbal, Ruhal Ahmed, and Shafiq Rasul, British Muslims (known as "The Tipton Three"), who spent more than two years in the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba. The Guantanamo prison was established by the United States in the aftermath of 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan for presumed Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees. The detainees were targeted for their value as sources of intel in the ongoing struggle against terrorism. Despite constant interrogation, the three men were never charged and eventually allowed to return to Britain.

Through a combination of archival footage, interviews, and lengthy dramatic recreations, The Road to Guantanamo follows Asif, Ruhal, and Shafiq, semi-assimilated British immigrants and Asif's decision to get married in Pakistan (where his father still lived), and the ill-fated decision the men made to visit Afghanistan in the interim between 9/11 and the commencement of the U.S.-led war to topple the Taliban regime and locate Osama bin laden. The three men claim they ventured into Afghanistan to observe first-hand the plight of the Afghanis and help in whatever way possible.

Their journey ultimately took them through Kabul and the Kunduz Province, the last remaining center of Taliban resistance to the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance. Eventually, the three men were sent to a crowded, makeshift prison short on water and food. Despite their protestations (and their English accents), the three men were continually mistreated, humiliated, and subject to frequent interrogations sometimes accompanied by beatings or “stress positions,” where the detainees are forced to “hold” physically debilitating, pain-inducing positions.

After several weeks, Asif, Ruhal, and Shafiq were forced into orange jumpsuits, had their faces covered in masks, blacked-out goggles, and earmuffs and shipped to Guantanamo Bay. There, the three men were among the first at Camp X-Ray, forced to live in metal cages exposed to the elements, and constantly interrogated for their involvement in Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Later, the men are moved to better facilities at Camp Delta. As one of the Tipton Three succinctly states in an interview with an interrogator, the American and British military won't believe him and he has no proof to back up his story.

The Road to Guantanamo raises several important questions that, due to the limits of the documentary or docudrama formula, aren’t answered here: (1) How should a country presumably dedicated to constitutional democracy and civil liberties deal with captured foreigners who may or may not be guerillas or members of an irregular militia? (2) What rights should captured foreigners have? (3) How long should they be held and under what conditions? Without legal representation, a fair hearing before an unbiased tribunal or access to the outside world, the detainees are left in legal limbo without being able to petition the U.S. government for redress or relief. It bears mentioning that setting up the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was an obvious attempt to circumvent the American legal system (it's worked, for the most part), as was the creation of a new status for foreign fighters as “illegal combatants” absent from international law.

Winterbottom and Whitecross leave the veracity and credibility of the three men unexplored. Winterbottom and Whitecross seem to accept that the Tipton Three’s story without reservation or doubt. It may or may not be. It’s highly unlikely, though, that the filmmakers would have been granted access to the Tipton Three’s records or the Guantanamo prison by the Bush administration, leaving us with a decidedly one-sided depiction of the treatment of prisoners there. Documented evidence from credible sources (e.g., Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union) of the mistreatment suffered by foreign detainees in Guantanamo points to the veracity of the Tipton Three’s experiences. It bears repeating that, even by the less strict standards used by the Bush administration to hold detainees in Guantanamo, there was insufficient evidence to hold the Tipton Three indefinitely.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars