The Road to Guantanamo,
95 mins, rated MA 15+, opening in cinemas on 9 November 2006.
By MICHELE ASPREY, Lawyer
(A slightly edited version of this
review was published
in the November 2006 issue of the New South Wales Law Society
This is the story of the “Tipton 3”: 3 Muslim boys from the English
Midlands, who say they set off to attend a wedding in Pakistan, but
ended up spending 2 1/2 years in prison in Guantanamo Bay. They were
tortured and badgered to sign false confessions, and finally released
without ever being charged.
This film has 2 co-directors. There’s Michael Winterbottom (Tristram Shandy (2005), In This World (2002), 24 Hour Party People (2002), and
Mat Whitecross, who has worked with Winterbottom as a film editor. It
is an unusual mix of documentary and drama. There’s newsreel footage,
mixed with interviews with the real Tipton 3, and there’s dramatised
recreations of the story told by the Tipton 3. In these recreations,
actors play the parts of Ruhel (aged 19 in 2001, when their journey
began), Asif (also 19), Shafiq (23), and the unlucky fourth member of
the group, Monir (22).
All this makes for quite a complicated melange, liable to confuse the
viewer. Who is whom? How much is “objective truth” and how much is the
viewpoint of the victims? How reliable is their story? Are they as
innocent as they are portrayed? If they are “guilty”, what crime have
they committed? These questions make for a fascinating film. And of
course for the Australian viewer, the parallels with the plight of
David Hicks make the film all the more compelling.
It is not giving away the story to reveal that the Tipton 3 returned
home. When we see them interviewed at the beginning of the film, it is
clear they are home. They tell their own story, and the directors fill
in the gaps with newsreel footage and recreations. The pace of editing
is fast and furious, supporting the story of the Tipton 3 absolutely.
There is no attempt to question some of the fuzzier parts of their
story. Yet I had plenty of questions.
If Asif was going to Pakistan to organise his wedding to a woman he had
never met, why did he call only the 3 friends to join him? Why was
Monir invited, when he seems to be a vague acquaintance? Why wasn’t
Asif’s family involved in the wedding preparations? Why did they all
ignore the bride and her family, and go off to Karachi? Did they really
go to Afghanistan on impulse? Why did they continue on, even though
several of them fell ill? How did they end up in a truck of Taliban
prisoners surrendering to the Northern Alliance? Is this just a story
of naïve kids caught up in things beyond their understanding? Or
did they know what they were doing?
The directors aren’t interested in probing the story for loopholes.
They simply want to tell the boys’ story in order to expose the horrors
of Guantanamo. Of course, once the boys end up in Guantanamo, their
experiences can be fairly well verified. This section of the film is
horrific: scenes of humiliation and torture, of inane questioning
sessions, where prisoners are confronted with grainy videotapes of
crowds and bullied into confessing to being there, and therefore
plotting with Osama Bin Laden or belonging to al Quaeda. It would be
absurd if it weren’t so appalling. Why isn’t their government helping
them, we think? And then we remember David Hicks.
In fact the Tipton 3 have an alibi that will eventually clear them.
They were in Tipton when they were accused of engaging in terrorist
acts. Of course they weren’t in Tipton when they were arrested in
Afghanistan, but that did not figure in the allegations of the US
military. So they were released, came home, and Asif was able to go
back to Pakistan in 2005, to get married.
Meanwhile, David Hicks is still in Guantanamo, facing a new set of
charges, and possibly years of constitutional challenge to the validity
of the new Military Commissions which will prosecute him. If the
British Government could bring home the Tipton 3, why can’t our
government bring home David Hicks? As the final credits remind us, no
one imprisoned at Guantanamo has ever been found guilty of a crime.