Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (July 2006)
The Road to Guantanamo is a thoroughgoing demolition of the lies and unlimited incompetence of Powell, Bush and Rumsfeld says John Patterson
“We are Americans. We don’t abuse people who are in our care.” Thus spake Gen. Colin Powell in reference to the United States’ grotesque and immoral confinement of “unlawful combatants” at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Those remarks would have been news to the prisoners who committed suicide there recently, but also to the three kidnapped and incarcerated young Britons of Pakistani descent known as the Tipton Three—if they’d had access to news of any sort at Gitmo. It turns out that, having also been deprived of access to lawyers, the Red Cross or even their own families, the Tipton Three knew as little of the outside world for two-and-a-half years as the outside world knew of the goings-on inside Guantanamo’s gruesome Camp Delta.
Not any more. Thanks to co-directors Michael Winterbottom (24-Hour Party People, In This World) and Mat Whitecross, the Guantanamo genie is forever out of its bottle. Using interviews with the three men, who were finally released from Gitmo in March 2004, interspliced with harrowingly persuasive recreations of their journey to Guantanamo via Pakistan and Afghanistan, and of their terrifying experiences in US military custody, The Road To Guantanamo constitutes the first corroborated witness account of America’s Gulag to stand a chance of being widely seen in the United States, whose populace has hitherto seemed disturbingly content to snore its way through the progressive dismantling of its Constitution.
The shattering experiences of Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rusal – which included being abducted by Afghanistan˙s Northern Alliance and sold to US Forces as Taliban members (for a cool $10,000-per-head bounty—this is where our money is going?), solitary confinement, torture, 5-on-1 beatings, hoods, shackles, blinders, sensory deprivation and being witness to extrajudicial murders—make for a thoroughgoing demolition of the lies of Powell, Bush and Rumsfeld. American viewers, long accustomed to our child president˙s characterization of Gitmo inmates as “bad guys,” may find themselves asking how their own military could be so fascistic, so cruel and, most dispiriting of all, so fucking stupid.
Named for the West Midlands town where they grew up, the three young men flew to Pakistan, the home of their parents, to attend the wedding of one of their number, but also to enjoy a holiday in their land of origin, in the aftermath of 9/11. Foolishly, they took a side-trip into Afghanistan, where they were caught up in the US bombing of Taliban bases and cities, and then captured in the confused retreat from Kunduz.
Accused of consorting with Bin Laden and the Taliban, the Three in fact had watertight, easily verified alibis. Two of them were—and how hard is it to check this out?—on police probation in Tipton for petty criminal acts, the other had a full-time job. That wasn’t enough for their captors, gut-wrenching proof that American military xenophobia extends not merely to hated enemies, but also to valued allies. Unlawful combatants: meet unlimited incompetence.
The imagery confronting us in The Road to Guantanamo suggests that the United States has abandoned its sanctimoniously proclaimed fealty to such secular gods as Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton, only to replace them with Orwell, Kafka and Koestler. Two years of nonstop torture, interrogation and physical abuse—stress-holds, strobelights, earsplitting death-metal, enforced silence, isolation cells —strongly recall Gestapo or KGB information-gathering techniques, Room 101, Darkness at Noon. All that is lacking are electrodes, waterboards and clocks striking 13. And Big Brother? He’s already here. Learn to love Him.