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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Road to Guantanamo: What's done in your name

I had the opportunity to watch director Michael Winterbottom's 2006 docudrama The Road to Guantanamo (see the IMDB listing for full credits), and it was as disturbing a film as I expected. Using a mixture of archival news footage, interviews, and re-enactments it portrays the story of the Tipton Three, young Brits of Pakistani and Bengali descent who were captured in Afghanistan and interred at Camps X-ray and Delta in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The film opens with a short news clip of President Bush expressing his certainty of "bad people" as Tony Blair casts a piercingly silent gaze at the man to whose cause he's forever linked himself. Although Bush, Blair and all those who follow them pretend to live in a fairy tale world easily divided into good and evil, the truth is the people who inhabit reality often find themselves caught up by forces beyond their control. Such was the case of the Tipton Three.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Asif was sent by his mother to meet a potential bride in Pakistan. His friends Ruhel, Shafiq and Monir flew out to join him and spend some time on holiday in Karachi. According to their story, they heard a preacher in a mosque asking Pakistani muslims to help Afghanis caught up in the bombings launched against the Taliban. Perhaps naively in search of adventure and to aid victims, the four young men in their 20s answered this call and got a front row seat to the confusion and chaos that enveloped Afghanistan at that time.

Things didn't go as they planned. Recognizing their mistake, they tried to return to Pakistan, which proved more difficult than they expected. Monir got separated during the evacuation of Kunduz and was never seen again. Asif, Ruhel and Shafiq were captured by the Northern Alliance forces who joined the US fight against the Taliban. They were eventually classified as non-state "enemy combatants" in the service of Al Qaeda and moved to a prison in Kandahar before being shipped to the extra-judicial limbo of Guantanamo.

The scenes recreating their time at Guantanamo are very difficult to watch, especially as an American in whose name these brutal acts are being carried out. Alberto Gonzalez and Donald Rumsfeld may not classify what goes on there as torture, but it would be hard for anyone watching this film to view it as anything but inhumane. Considering that out of the hundreds held there, only 10 men have ever been charged, it makes one wonder if the base is a government orchestrated charade to justify their perpetual war making on the US Constitution.

I don't know what the detainees still at Guantanamo have done, and that's exactly the problem. Most were probably caught up in war frenzy, possessing no strategic importance. They should be treated as prisoners of war, and accorded the rights laid out by the Geneva Convention. If they've committed atrocities, they should be publicly tried for them in a court of law.

How ironic is it for the Bush administration to use the classification of "non-state agents" to justify detaining these men outside the law, while hiring private entities to handle security in Iraq. Their use of Blackwater and others is finally getting some more attention as allegations of abuse surface (see Outsourcing Foreign Policy from the Los Angeles Times).

The Bushies like to hide behind the excuse of national security while carrying out a potentially nefarious agenda. True democracy needs open air and bright sunlight in order to thrive, and we should never allow our representatives to carry out acts of any kind in our name while cloaked in darkness.
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