The Road To Guantanamo

 
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Farhad Harun, Waqar Siddiqui, Afran Usman, Shahid Iqbal, Sher Khan
Released: November 23, 2006
Grade: A-

Since 2002, roughly 775 “enemy combatants” have been brought by the United States government to a prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Most were suspected as having links to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.  Many in Australia will know of the prison given the publicity of David Hicks, who has been imprisoned for over four years.

The Road To Guantanamo is the true story of four friends, Ruhel, Shafiq, Asif and Monir, who travel to Pakistan in September 2001 so that one can be married (to a bride selected by his mother).  Whilst in Pakistan, they cross the Afghanistan border and travel to the capital city of Kabul to help with the human aid effort.

They find the country in a state of confusion.  There’s very little they can do to help and given the constant bombings and the language barriers, they decide to return to Pakistan.  They mistakenly board a mini-bus which takes them to Konduz, one of the last remaining Taliban strongholds.

The Northern Alliance soon takes control of the city and Ruhel, Shafiq and Asif are taken prisoner under the belief that they are members of the Taliban.  Within a month, they are transported to Guantanamo Bay.  The fourth member of the quartet, Monir, was separated from the others in Konduz and was never heard from again.

At the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, Ruhel, Shafiq and Asif were treated worse than animals (at least in my opinion).  On arrival, they were locked in small cages, were not allowed to talk, were not allowed to pray and were not allowed to even stand up.  They were tortured hundreds of times in an attempt by the United States government to have them confess.  They were never allowed a lawyer and could not contact their families.

In all, the trio spent over two years in Guantanamo Bay.  In March 2004, the U.S. government realised they had no evidence with which to charge them.  After a few more dramas, they were handed over to the London Anti-Terrorist Squad and subsequently released.

Your first reaction to this tale may be one of scepticism.  Were these four young men really in Pakistan for a wedding?  Are they conning us just like they did the U.S. government?  Each will have their own opinion but I’m 99.9% confident in their innocence.  The arrogance of the foolish interrogators only increased my sympathy towards their plight.

The film is part documentary and part drama.  It is filmed like a documentary but the people in the film are actors.  The real Ruhel, Shafiq and Asif were interviewed extensively and their comments helped director Michael Winterbottom create the film’s structure.  The end result is a mix of re-enacted scenes and interviews with the actors (where the intimate thoughts of the real characters can be revealed).

Whilst I haven’t enjoyed all of works, I am a fan of Michael Winterbottom.  He brings stories to the screen which simply must be heard.  He won the top prize at the prestigious 2003 Berlin Film Festival for In This World and he won the best director award at the same festival in 2006 for this film.  Other credits include Welcome To Sarajevo, 24 Hour Party People and 9 Songs.

I didn’t know a lot about the Guantanamo Bay prison before seeing this film.  Michael Winterbottom has changed that.  The sub-standard conditions at the facility had been reported in the media but it wasn’t a problem I concerned myself with.  I mean, the prisoners are all in there for a reason, right?  They wouldn’t be locked up without some suspicion of guilt, right?  Right?