Humiliation at the hands of the US military

The Road To Guantanamo, 95 minutes, Rating: MA. Directors: Michael Winterbottom, Mat Whitecross, Starring: Riz Ahmed, Farhad Harun and Arfan Usman. Website.

Humiliation at the hands of the US militaryUK director Michael Winterbottom has certainly earned his reputation as one of the more confronting filmmakers of his generation. Whether his subject is the plight of refugees smuggled into the UK (In This World), the decadent rock scene of late-1970s/1980s Manchester (24 Hour Party People) or the intimate world of human sexuality (9 Songs), he hits hard and pulls no punches.

In The Road to Guantanamo, Winterbottom, with co-director Mat Whitecross, turns a didactic eye on the ordeal of the "Tipton Trio"—three British Muslim men whose two-and-a-half-year detainment under the ultimately disproved suspicion of terrorist activity, stands as one of the most dramatic examples of post-9/11 injustice.

The men (then aged in their late teens to early 20s) were holidaying in Pakistan when the US-led War on Terror broke out, after which they headed to Afghanistan to volunteer humanitarian aid. Captured in Konduz by the Northern Alliance, they were imprisoned in Sheberghan before being relocated to the US’ notorious detainment camps in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Guantanamo intersperses talking-head interviews with extensive dramatic recreations of the men’s experiences. Shot on location and using a hand-held, fly-on-the-wall approach to filming that integrates seamlessly with stock news footage, the film places viewers squarely in the Trio’s shoes.

We experience their anxiety as they arrive in Afghanistan and witness bombs exploding in the near distance. We share their helplessness as they are captured for no other reason than being in the wrong place (and of the "wrong" religion) at the wrong time. We feel their distress and humiliation suffered at the hands of the US military, and their infuriation as they are repeatedly and periodically plied with baseless allegations of terrorist involvement.

Humiliation at the hands of the US militaryThe three "unknowns" who portray the trio during the recreations (Ahmed, Harun and Usman) do so in an understated and naturalistic way that fends off any sense of melodrama. Their camaraderie as a group and, later, the emotional “realness” of each one’s individual ordeal feel so authentic that it’s easy to imagine the film as pure documentary, rather than docu-drama.

There are those, no doubt, who would write the Trio’s ordeal off as necessary collateral damage during a difficult and complicated military operation. Such people are unlikely to be swayed by Winterbottom’s one-sided focus.

But for those of us who recognise the injustice inherent in a system that could justify the imprisonment of innocent people based only on the colour of their skin, The Road To Guantanamo stands as a stark reminder that it’s not only radical Islamic fundamentalists who "terrorise" their perceived enemy.



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