Friday, 5 June 2009

The Road to Guantanamo

An irresponsible film based on the testimony of the 'Tipton Three' - three English men, Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul - who were taken by the American army from Afghanistan to Guantanamo and held for three years. The individuals are real, and their testimony is a genuine account - but there's serious problems with the truth of their claims. And by 'serious problems' I mean 'vast gaping holes in a gossamer thin sheet of credibility'. By taking these men's account at face value, and presenting it without question, the film fails both as a fully rounded account and as well-meaning propoganda.

Here's the account. See how seriously you can take it:

One of the men goes to Pakistan, to meet his chosen bride and get married there. After a week, he decides he likes the girl and calls his friends who go to join him for the wedding. Because a hotel is too expensive, (presumably all their money spent on plane tickets and wedding presents etc...) they stay at a mosque where a radical preacher happens to turn up and urge the young men to go to Afghanistan and 'see what's happening' and 'help'. This is about a month after 9-11 and before the American invasion. The men decide to go and have a look in Afghanistan. They think that there's really 'big nan bread' there and this entices them. So (wedding now apparently forgotten, return tickets too...) they jump on a bus to the border, where all three just walk into the militarised country with no questions asked, by anyone.

As they drive on into the mountains, the bombing starts. They find it frightening, but keep going, because ... well, they don't say. They all agree, though, that the nan breads are worth the risk. One of them gets seriously ill, but they keep going, because ... well, they don't say. After hanging around for three weeks, two and half of them in Kabul, they decide they're bored with Afghanistan and want to go back to Pakistan, where, I presume, they'll beg for plane tickets back home.

But, wouldn't you know it, by the worst stroke of luck, they jump on the wrong bus. It doesn't take them to Pakistan, it takes them to one of the last major Taliban outposts in Afghanistan. No matter how much they plead with the bus driver, he just won't let them off the bus. So they end up in the compound surrounded by men with guns. Not knowing what else to do, they decide to stay. Then the Americans attack the compound and they find themselves arrested and taken to Guantanamo on suspicion of being fundamentalist fighters.

I think Occam's razor is well applied here. The simplest explanation for all of this confusion is that the men were delighted by what happened on 9-11, because of a deep-rooted fundamentalist conviction, one strong enough to make them want to go straight to Afghanistan and help the Taliban keep hold of power in the country. After they were caught, and rather than admit this, they came up with a bizarre account involving nan bread and caprice. I think too that this is clearly the single most likely explanation to arise in the mind of any thinking person. I'm not saying it's true - because I'm not placed to do that. I'm just saying it's very likely.

So - it's likely then that these guys are lying and that they're fundamentalists (In fact, one of them later admitted, under a polygraph test, that they'd spent some weeks at an al-qaeda training camp). What then are we to make of a movie based on their account, that does not question it and that shows no other opposing views? Well, it fails, clearly, as a well rounded account of an experience at Guantanamo. But it also fails as propaganda, because, since it is so clear that the account is flawed, then anything in the account concerning what happened at Guantanamo is also highly questionable. We end up with a film where nothing is credible.

Those on the American right are likely, in fact, to applaud it with the thought that, if this is the best lie that three fundamentalists can come up with on Gitmo, then it can be ignored. Fundamentalists are probably going to enjoy it - even, and probably especially, knowing that the surface account is laughable. Some English teens might like it - especially with those endless and somewhat xenophobic flashbacks of good-wholesome English kids enjoying pizza before they grow their hair long and accidentally wander into battle.

I would love to see a film about Guantanamo that really showed me, convincingly and passionately, all of the injustice, fear, disgrace and events that actually happened there. A film that shows both sides - why these things happened and to who. A film that says something about us, as humans, stuck in a dangerous world. But this is not it. This is just an insult to any intelligence, from earthworm up.

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