Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
but the companion of fools suffers harm.
O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear 18to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.
Unlike the Harold and Kumar film, Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross’s opened at just a few art house theaters before disappearing. Again, we can be thankful for the DVD medium, now making it available to a wider audience. Part documentary, part drama, the filmmakers intersperse the actual ex-prisoners with the acted out scenes of their abuse.
At the outset, we hear President Bush solemnly telling the world that the Guantánamo prisoners are “bad guys” . Once we meet Ruhel, Asif, Shafiq and Monir, the irony becomes evident. They are ordinary young adults, not the evil terrorist jihads that supposedly fill the cells of the infamous prison. Ruhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul, Monir. Living in England, in 2001 they set off for Pakistan where Asif is to be married. In a spirit of adventure they decide to make a short trip to Afganistan to see first hand the fight against the Taliban. Traveling to Kandahar, then to Kabul and finally to Kunduz, they are mistaken by Northern Alliance soldiers for terrorists, are arrested and then turned over to U.S. soldiers. During the ensuing chaos Monir becomes separated from the others and is never heard from again.
Because so much of what follows seems like one of those films in which Nazi sadists enjoy torturing their captives, the remainder of the film is difficult to watch. With one or two exceptions all of the US soldiers verbally abuse the prisoners, who are kept in outdoor cells that resemble dog kennels. They are ordered never to look a guard in the eye, always to remain prostrate on the ground, and never to talk with their neighbor. If a prisoner tries to stand up and stretch, he is immediately ordered back down on the ground—and no praying allowed. One prisoner tries to use a sheet as a shield from the blazing sun, but is ordered to take it down. Infractions of rules are met with verbal abuse ( “m.f..” being a favored form of appellation) and then slaps and beatings. When being taken for interrogation, the guards half drag him, rather than permitting him to walk on his own. Despite the urging of the three to check with authorities back in Britain (one was even in police custody when he allegedly was engaged in terrorists activies!), the various interrogators refuse, convinced that there being a prisoner is proof of their guilt.
We do not see water boarding, but who needs it after slaps and beatings, being forced to kneel in uncomforatbale positions for hours at a time, or to be subjected to sleep deprivation while heavy metal music is played full blast in the cell? If ever I have felt ashamed of America, it was while watching this film—assuming that the account of their imprisonment is true. Fortunately for the Tipton Three, as they came to be known back in England, they were released and returned to their homes. They claim not to be embittered but interested in getting on with their lives. They also report a renewed interest in their Muslim faith, to which before their harrowing captivity the had paid only lip service.
1) What do you believe about the story told by the three? Anti-American propaganda fit only for the radical left? A true account? What are your reasons?
2) If the second opinion, did you still feel, “This can’t really be happening” ? What has happened in our “war against terrorism” to the old concept of “innocent until proven guilty” ?
3) What rules enforced on the prisoners are intended to strip them of all sense of dignity?
4) Do you believe that this is a time, similar to the WW 2 rounding up and imprisonment of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent, when extra-legal procedures are warranted? What might happen to other civil liberties taken for granted in peace time?