The Road to Guantanamo is a British docudrama film directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross about the incarceration of three British citizens who were captured in 2001 in Afghanistan and detained by the United States there and for more than two years at the detainment camp in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.
Directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, The Road to Guantanamo dramatizes the American roundup of alleged terrorists in Afghanistan in order to identify members of Al Qaeda, ship more than 750 of them to Guantanamo for questioning and subject them to torture with particular attention to the Tipton Three, British citizens of Pakistani origin who were interned in 2002 but released in 2004.
The Road to Guantanamo
Beginning with video quotes from George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the movie acquaints filmviewers with young British citizens from Tipton, a working class town near Birmingham, and their reasons for traveling to South Asia in fall 2001 to participate in the marriage of one of the men in Pakistan and to go to Afghanistan to help those harmed by the bombing. After the war ends, Americans seek suspected Al Qaeda followers, so there was a roundup by the Northern Alliance, which we now know was paid on a per person basis. Aware that some of those arrested might not be Al Qaeda operatives, the Americans detain prisoners at Kandahar Air Base to sort out those thought to be terrorists for transfer to Guantanamo. The Guantanamo portion of the dramatization shows the initial placement into isolated outdoor cells, and transfer to communal cells and later indoor cells. Interrogation of the Tipton Three and efforts to force their confessions are featured, and ultimately all three are released, though a fourth who accompanies them to South Asia remains unaccounted for. In contrast with a video quote from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, assuring that Guantanamo detainees have been well treated, the film demonstrates the rough treatment that the captives suffer from the beginning of their detention in Afghanistan, though the abuse escalates considerably at Guantanamo. Some of the specific methods used are enforced motionlessness and silence, verbal abuse, handcuffing and legcuffing in uncomfortable and often unsustainable positions, beatings, threats to kill them, good cop/bad cop roleplaying, falsely telling prisoners that friends have confessed and implicated them, sleep and food and light deprivation, subjection to loud music and strobe lighting, isolation, headshaving, repeated questioning that pretends to find them inconsistent, phony documents and photographs that purportedly connect them with Al Qaeda, mishandling of the Koran, throwing clothing into latrines, noncontact with the outside, exposure to severe heat and cold, and promises to release if the prisoners will work for the CIA/military to spy on other prisoners. The number of Geneva Convention violations, in short, is astronomical. Testimonials from the Tipton survivors (Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul) are interspersed throughout the film, though the roles of the four are played by actors (Rizwan Ahmed, Farhad Harun, Waqar Siddiqui, Arfan Usman). All three admit that they were weakened in the first month, but afterward grew stronger; now they have bad memories indeed, but they want to move on with their lives. Voiceovers supply some facts, and titles at the end add information. When The Road to Guantanamo was released, only ten of the detainees at the naval base in Cuba had been charged with crimes, and some 250 had been released, leaving about 500 in limbo. The facts and dramatizations in the film have been corroborated by other detainees who have been released, so the film is on solid factual ground. Last month, the Tipton Three filed suit against Rumsfeld and ten American military under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Six days after the commercial release of the film, the US Supreme Court indicated that the lack of due process afforded to the detainees amounted to a violation of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions; in effect, George W. Bush was identified as a war criminal. Unfortunately, the film quality is not the best, and accents of the Tipton Three may be difficult for American ears to discern. The Political Film Society was formed to recognize films that bring to light facts that raise political consciousness for the general public. Accordingly, The Road to Guantánamo has been nominated for best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2006.
12th Guantanamo Anniversary
12 years ago, on January 11, 2002, the first prisoners were airlifted into the prison complex at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba following then US President George W. Bush’s November 13, 2001 order which authorized the establishment of the prison and detention of US-captured "terror suspects". While the claims and counter-claims bounce back and forth, the situation continues to deteriorate. Here’s 6 facts everybody should know about Guantanamo Bay and the ongoing act of protest most of the prisoners are participating in.
1. US Medical Reinforcements Have Arrived to Force-Feed Prisoners
One of the latest news items is that “medical reinforcements” from the US Navy have arrived at Guantanamo Bay to cope with the growing hunger strike. The Naval nurses and specialists are there to help facilitate the process of force-feeding the detainees.
“We will not allow a detainee to starve themselves to death, and we will continue to treat each person humanely,” Guantanamo prison spokesman Samuel House told the New York Times. But the practice of force-feeding has been criticized by human rights groups.
When detainees are force-fed, they are shackled to a “restraint chair”. Then, US military officials force a tube into their nose to pump nutrients into their body. The American Medical Association has come out strongly against the practice. “Every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions,” AMA President Jeremy Lazarus wrote in a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the Miami Herald reports.
In a harrowing New York Times Op-Ed, Guantanamo prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel described the process of force-feeding. “I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up,” he wrote. “I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.”
2. Hunger Strike Sparked By Raids, Fueled By Indefinite Detention
Detainees began the hunger strike in early February after they said personnel at the camp raided cells, confiscated personal items and treated the Qu’ran disrespectfully. The military disputes this narrative. But what is clear is that, as the New York Times reported, the strike is being driven by “a growing sense among many prisoners, some of whom have been held without trial for more than 11 years, that they will never go home.”
“The men are not starving themselves so they can become martyrs…They’re doing this because they’re desperate. They’re desperate to be free from Guantanamo. They don’t see any alternative to leaving in a coffin. That’s the bottom line,” Wells Dixon, an attorney for five Guantamano detainees, told AlterNet earlier this month.
3. 86 Detainees Have Been Cleared for Release–But They’re Still There
There are currently 166 detainees at Guantanamo. And over half of them–86–have been cleared for release out of the hellish prison camp. But they’re still there, a fact that is helping to drive the hunger strike.
The US government has effectively put release efforts on hold. The last time a prisoner left Guantanamo was September 2012. Part of the problem is that 56 of the cleared men are from Yemen, a strong US ally that also has a problem with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group that has plotted attacks against the US After a 2009 terrorist plot that purportedly originated in Yemen was halted, the Obama administration decided to halt repatriation of detainees to Yemen.
Now, there is renewed pressure to continue transferring detainees to Yemen. Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote a letter to Obama in which she said, “I believe it would be prudent to re-visit the decision to halt transfers to Yemen and assess whether President Hadi’s government, with appropriate assistance, would be able to securely hold detainees in Sana’a.”
4. Obama Can Help Change the Situation
President Obama has vowed to redouble his efforts to close Guantanamo. He has also noted that Congress had interfered with his ability to close the prison camp. This has a lot of truth to it, though it was Obama that signed the bills that restricted his maneuvering ability on Guantanamo.
But there is a mechanism that he can use right now: asking the Secretary of Defense to sign off on the release of detainees by using what’s called a national security waiver. It’s true, as Mother Jones’ Adam Serwer notes, that the waiver includes a provision that requires certifying that the detainee cleared for release “won’t ever pose a threat in the future, which is ultimately not something the administration can control.” Still, human rights advocates say the time has come to use the waivers, since leaving innocent people there forever is untenable.
5. Clashes at Camps
Clashes have broken out at the camp both before and after the start of the hunger strike. On January 2, a non-lethal bullet hit the throat of an Afghan detainee. The military spokesperson told Truthout’s Jason Leopold that the incident started when a detainee climbed a fence and other prisoners began throwing rocks at a guard tower.
But a prisoner had a different account, which was relayed through his lawyer David Remes. “Detainee started shaking door (very common),” the Yemeni prisoner Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, told Remes, according to Leopold’s reporting. “Guard in tower pointed rifle at him. Brothers in yard started shouting. Guard swung around with his rifle and started shooting at them – just one bullet, which hit a detainee in the throat.”
Another intense clash between prisoners and guards occurred in mid-April. They broke out as guards moved the prisoners into solitary cells, a break from the communal atmosphere the prisoners were living in. Prison guards fired a few “less than lethal” rounds at the prisoners, who were reportedly wielding “improvised weapons”.
6. Torture Was Endemic
While Obama has failed to successfully shut the prison, he did end the most brutal forms of interrogation practiced there, though some human rights groups say the current force-feeding is a form of torture. Still, the Bush administration’s torture program is no longer employed on prisoners there.
But when the prison was first opened, the torture of detainees at Guantanamo was widespread. This torture was characterized by psychological abuse, sleep deprivation, sound and light manipulation, and physical beatings.