'The Road to Guantanamo' is a fast, cheap docudrama about the horrors of America's war on terror
By Richard von Busack
MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM and Mat Whitecross' fast and cheap docudrama The Road to Guantanamo seems virtuous in a season of overproduced tripe. But there are a lot of ineptly made movies around, and this particular one can only be recommended for its political content. In fall 2001, Asif (Afran Usman) left his post-industrial England town of Tipton for an arranged marriage in Pakistan. Three of his friends (one was lost along the way) accompanied him. In Pakistan, they were exhorted to go to the aid the Afghans, then under siege by most of the world.
They went, and later all three were captured, along with many Taliban irregulars, by the troops of Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. They were stuffed into freight containers for days and used as target practice by soldiers. Eventually, all three were hooded, bound and sent by plane to Camp X-Ray and, later, Camp Delta in the Marine-operated facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Outside the laws and scrutiny of the people of the United States, these three British citizens—"the Tipton Three," Ruhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal, and Shafiq Rasul—were tortured for the duration of two years.
The first half is in the Globe Trekker style: snapshots of First Worlders bowled over by gross food and bad water. Throughout the journey from Asia to Cuba, the filmmakers create the easiest possible patch: actors explaining what happened to them straight to the camera, interspersed with staged sequences of the prisoners in their kennel-like cages. Why did the intelligence services of the Coalition of the Willing fail to recognize these three as mere embittered young denizens of England's Black Country, as opposed to master terrorists? Did they know something we're not being told? I had a touch of sympathy for the MI5 man who says to a prisoner, "I can explain why I'm here. You, unfortunately, have a little more difficulty doing that."
The Road to Guantanamo is cinematically slapdash, fitting in with Winterbottom's chaotically prolific career. Still, the film awakens viewers to the continuing horror story on our own little Devil's Island. Today, there are some 500 prisoners rotting there and still not enough evidence to get them tried. Prison gulags like Gitmo spawn radicals and create martyrs, and as always, information obtained by duress is unreliable. More frightening, even, is the thought that the methods used at Gitmo—isolation and torture through exposure to the elements, muscle-cramping confinement, sleep deprivation—must have been devised long before Sept. 11. The prison must have been a drastic remedy waiting for a disease. David Denby of The New Yorker reported that this movie left him "in a foul mood—[sic] headache, tightness of the chest, erratic pulse." I would suggest that these symptoms are not the results of viewing The Road to Guantanamo, or even the approach of a summer cold. Denby is blaming the messengers for the feelings millions have, induced by the criminal arrogance of the Bush regime. Both Bush and Rumsfeld are seen in news clips defending their methods at Gitmo on the grounds that they're dealing with uncivilized opponents. There's no quicker way to turn barbarian than to pronounce other civilizations uncivilized.
The Road to Guantanamo (R; 95 min.), directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, photograhed by Marcel Zyskind and starring Riz Ahmed, Farhad Harun and Afran Usman, opens Friday at Camera 12 in San Jose.
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