This play presents a series of recitations by various public officials
(such as Donald Rumsfeld), attorneys, and family
members of both 9/11 victims and of the (British origin) prisoners
themselves. The stage shows a number of bunks surrounded by wire cages, with
prisoners, sometimes in orange jumpers, sometimes in underwear, lying around,
sometimes getting up to answer prayer calls, which are quite impressive – in
the amount of music sung by the prayer cantor or mullah, and in the mental
religious discipline shown by the prisoners during their Islamic prayers.
Letters from the prisoners are presented (sometimes interrupted by a
voice-over “Censored!” The
international politicking deals with the power Britain
has in affecting the treatment of prisoners that the US
has interned in Guantanamo.
The power of the military and of the president to declare prisoners enemy
combatants, order military tribunals and eventual executions is presented.
Many of the actors sound British. It is easy to imagine this becoming a
documentary film. Watching a stage with layers of depth like this one gives
one the impression of watch a 3-D movie.
This is probably a good place to mention Andrew Sullivan’s essay “The
Abolition of Torture: Saving the United States from a Totalitarian Future,”
in The New Republic, Dec. 19, 2004, p. 19.
Sullivan dismisses two arguments by Charles Krauthammer that would justify
torture in exceptional circumstances, one of which is when interviewing a
terrorist with knowledge of an impending domestic WMD
attack, and another is with a “slow-fuse” detainee. The exception should not
swallow the rule.
The Road to Guantanamo
(2006, Roadside Attractions/Film Four, dir. Michael Winterbottom
and Mat Whitecross, 95 min, UK/Pakistan, Urdu and
In my career I’ve worked with a number of men from Pakistan
(“The Land of the Pure”), who left early in life and led, to all appearances,
relatively secular lives in the United States,
sometimes growing up in European countries like Britain
In some cases, the individuals have converted to Catholicism or other faiths.
I’ve known of other people to leave totalitarian environments, as one
graduate student in England
who had fled East Germany.
Many Muslims, however, as we know, have settled into Islamic communities in
European countries, and some have remained radical.
The “Tipton Three,” a triplet of British Muslims Shafiq,
Ruhel and Monir (Riz Ahmed, Farhad Harun, Waqar
Siddiqui) seem to have no such intentions. They
leaved peacefully in Britain.
They return to Pakistan
so that one can get married. They travel around, from Karachi
(on the ocean, in the flat coastal regions), to Lahore,
then into the border areas. They make a side trip to Afghanistan,
but it is October 2001 and it is not clear why they do this. One of them, Shafiq, who narrates the film and gives it the style of a
docudrama, actually gets left behind at the border but walks over. They
travel to Kabul, and then to a
remote area. All the while the movie shows fascinating on location shots of
the poverty of much of the Islamic world. (Some of the film is shot in Iran,
too.) Eventually, they get admixed with the Taliban, and are trapped when the
Northern Alliance overruns a camp. They are turned
over to the Americans, transported by air cargo to Kandahar and then to Guantanamo, Cuba,
“Camp Xray” or “Gitmo”. Much of the second half of the film details
interrogation techniques by the Americans and British, and of course the
Marines do what they can get away with. Rumsfeld
and George W. Bush make their cameo press conference appearances, as George
W. says “they have different values than us.”
In time they are transferred to slightly improved situations in Camp
Delta. Nevertheless, the story is
always the same. Even the British Embassy sends interrogators, and in time
there are female interrogators. The men are humiliated, with their heads
shaved on camera, and at least one is placed in solitary confinement. At one
point he is held in leg irons in an awkward position and must defecate and
pee in his pants, while loud random hip-hop music sounds crash into his ears (similar to what the FBI used in the siege of Waco in 1993). The British come up with photos and purport to identify
them at meetings where Osama bin Laden was present. The men remain steadfast
and eventually win unconditional release. The questions are sometimes blunt.
“Where is Osama bin Laden?” (I dare not be too specific, but I am pretty sure
that there are some individuals who do. However accidentally, have some
personal knowledge of Osama bin Laden’s movements
over the years; at least two people have claimed to me to have met him some
years ago.) “Are you a faggot?” (Oh, yes, that one; I guess DADT applies to
It is not quite clear why they went on the journey, and at least the movie
is a terrifying moral fable about guilt by association or by appearances, by
“what people think,” by the appearance of subversion. Yet, we find ourselves
rooting for the young men and believing them.
In regular 1.85 to 1 aspect, the movie is technically a tour de force,
with the on location video (often with a brownish tint) that shows the
shabbiness of that part of the world. The dolby
digital DTS soundtrack is so pinpoint with the
battle sounds, that at one point I could not distinguish the battle sounds
from a thunderstorm outside the theater.
This movie will be noticed at Oscar time. It’s easy to imagine this
winding up on PBS soon, too.