Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Road to Guantanamo (2006)

Road trip to hell exposes moral failings of War on Terror

The Road to Guantanamo has a very limited release in the United States, apparently because it dwells on topics too hot for movie distributors to handle. Maybe it’s the image of prisoners decked in orange straitjackets and shackled in leg irons and goggles 24 hours a day. Maybe it’s their torture and beatings by the US Army. Maybe it’s their indefinite detention and denial to any judicial proceedings, or the insistence by GW Bush that these prisoners are all evil and guilty anyway, Maybe it’s their detention in prison camps that incidentally aren’t liable to international law anyway. Maybe the American public would rather remember the War on Terror through the rash of 9/11 propaganda films United 93 and World Trade Centre – where they are always victims and never perpetuators of evil.

The rest of the world, though, is more than ready for this documentary.

The Tipton Three, as they have been dubbed by the media, were originally four English lads of Pakistani descent. Boisterous, goofy, and close-knit friends, they keep dropping into street slang like the Bhangra Muffins duo from TV comedy show Goodness Gracious Me. When one of the boys returns to his hometown in Pakistan after 15 years in the UK for an arranged marriage, he invites his 3 close friends over, and they decide to make a side trip to Afghanistan – it’ll be good, clean fun. Never mind that American and UK forces began bombing the Taliban in Afghanistan a few days before our lads cross the border; the huge naans are worth the trouble.

What ensues can be described as a comedy of errors in their road trip to hell. The extreme budget travellers lodge in free rooms in mosques, get downed by food poisoning, are stranded by the round-the-clock bombings in the capital, then get spirited to a Taliban stronghold city when they request safe passage back to the Pakistan border, get captured by the Northern Alliance army when the Taliban surrenders, and are delivered to the American Army, sent to various detention camps and winding up in Guantanamo Bay, where their captors, exhibiting true American hospitality, welcome the prisoners by telling them “From now on, you’re the property of the US Army!” and insist they confess their crimes as terrorists, Al Qaeda soldiers, and provide the location of Osama Bin Laden.

As a documentary, The Road to Guantanamo is a dispassionate film that never descends into angry denouncements or disrespectful jibing of the architects of the war. The experience of the Tipton Three (the fourth is missing and presumed dead after an airstrike blows up one of the convoy vehicles in Afghanistan) is very simply re-enacted by actors, interspersed with interviews with the 3 real-life survivors and news reports from the Afghan war and Guantanamo Bay. There is simply no need for polemics, since the depiction of life in the detention camps, as accounted by the trio and corroborated by reports from the Red Cross and Amnesty International, are enough to send any sane person into anger and despair. Shot in a mixture of grainy film stock and handheld video cameras, there is an authenticity that prepare the audience for how the young men’s lives change once their road trip ends in the detention camps.

I’m not going to spoil your enjoyment of the movie by giving away the horrifying details, but they do highlight the malevolence, incompetence, disconnection from reality, and sheer mendacity of George W. Bush and his administration in their prosecution of the War on Terror, and how this behaviour has lost them the respect of people around the world. It’s a wonder that the 3 men – victims of injustice and a Kafkaesque system – managed to survive their 2-year imprisonment intact and emotionally stable.

First published at incinemas on 22 June 2006

No comments: