The Road to Guantánamo

UK release date: 9 March 2006

cast list
Farhad Harun
Arfan Usman
Rizwan Ahmed
Waqar Siddiqi
Shahid Iqbal

directed by
Michael Winterbottom
Mat Whitecross

Almost two years ago to the day, three young British Muslims were released from the US Army detention facility in Gauntánamo Bay, Cuba. When interviewed they complained of the mistreatment they had received from their captors.

Beaten and humiliated, the men endured months of solitary confinement. Commanded to kneel before the US troops guarding them, rifles forced their foreheads to the floor. Shaved, shackled and administered with full cavity-searches, these inmates of Guantánamo claimed abuse and mistreatment was rife within the camp.

After enduring two years of imprisonment, the three were returned to Britain, without charge or apology. When questioned about this treatment by a British television programme, the then US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, claimed, “We don’t abuse people who are in our care.” The next hour and a half serves to ridicule this statement.

Following the marriage betrothal of one of the group, the four set off from the Midlands to Pakistan. However, arriving during the imminent US invasion of Afghanistan, the young men are inspired to cross the border; driven by a desire to help and wanderlust to see this almost-mythical country.

The road-movie clich seems to be shaping up nicely. They fantasise about the ‘giant naans’ to be found over the border and, when one of the group is left behind, beset by “Delhi-belly”, he berates the others with a foul-mouthed tirade. Soon winding their way through the foothills of the Sulaiman Mountain range, the group enter Afghanistan as the American bombs begin to rain down.

It is with this border crossing that the approach begins to change. Humour and jocularity replaced by fear and bewilderment, as one of the four are lost forever during a nightmarish bombing raid. As the trepidation and discomfort is cranked up with each passing scene, it is easy to forget that this is no script but testament.

The directors splice library footage with their own scenes to create the newsreel sentiment which pervades throughout this docudrama, establishing a further veneer of authenticity. The apparent news sequences prove particularly poignant. Recalling the ubiquitous broadcasts of the time, picturing cattle-trucks laden with prisoners, it is terrifying to consider how many of these allegedly “very bad people” of George Bush’s War on Terror were, much like our protagonists, simply in the wrong place at the worst possible time.

Now under US custody, the detainees are transported between makeshift prisons, before finally reaching Guantánamo Bay where, clad in the now infamous orange boiler-suits, they enter the steel-wire cages which serve as their beds, their bathrooms, their lives, for the next two years. The litany of maltreatment is shocking, as each of the three friends are lied to and coerced towards signing a false confession. When their captors methods of verbal persuasion are met with steadfast refusal, they are forced to undergo both sensory deprivation and psychological tortures of an alarming nature.

As the film draws to a close a voiceover reveals that today, two years after the release of the ‘Tipton Three’, there still remain an estimated 500 detainees situated in Guantanamo Bay. Of these, 10 have been charged. None have been tried, none have been found guilty of any crime. While far from objective, and possessing a clear ideological agenda, this film must be seen as the voice of the voiceless, the rallying cry of the 500 who remain.

Donald Rumsfeld has claimed Guantánamo Bay is “humane and appropriate, and consistent with the Geneva Convention for the most part.” If such spurious statements are allowed to be filtered and consumed through the mass-media, then acceptance of these ‘truths’ will become second nature. However, The Road To Guantánamo provides these speechless men with a voice; and it is loud, incessant and compelling.

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