Road to Guantánamo
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom,
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Farhad Harun, Waqar Siddiqui, Afran Usman
Released by: Roadside Attractions
Short: A stark, straightforward journey
through the injustice, hypocrisy and paranoia
of the war on terror.
Long Way Home
Docudrama Challenges Americans' Perceptions
Road to Guantánamo" succeeds in two significant
areas. It shines a bright light on the elephant in the
room: the American government's hypocrisy in maintaining
a prison camp that flagrantly disregards the Geneva Conventions.
And it effectively raises questions. Along with the issues
that surround the arguments for torture, we wanted to
know how three young British Muslims, Asif (Afran Usman),
Ruhel (Farhad Harun) and Shafiq (Riz Ahmed), wound up
captured with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and as a result,
how the United States justifies holding the world to standards
that it is insolently unwilling to adhere to.
Because this movie sidesteps rationalization—these
guys aren't guilty, and they don't have to explain themselves—we
were left wanting by the events that set this story in
motion. Why did these friends, who came to Pakistan for
Asif's wedding, cross into Afghanistan just as the United
States began its 2002 bombing campaign? We are told they
wanted to join humanitarian aid efforts and we believe
this. Backpacking kids do stupid things in the name of
idealism and adventure all the time. But the movie never
satisfyingly depicts the kind of bewilderment and fear
one would expect in such a situation, especially when
a fourth friend, Monir (Siddiqui) vanishes—presumably
killed—somewhere along the way.
Dressed in traditional skullcaps and strategically product-placed
GAP sweatshirts, the young men reach Kabul just as the
big bombs start falling. Soon, they’re ready to
hightail it back to Pakistan. But the truck they hop onto
takes them farther into Afghanistan, where in the company
of rebel fighters they are captured by the Northern Alliance
and turned over to the Americans, who send them, ultimately,
to Guantánamo Bay. While the first part of the
movie could benefit from more emotional insight, the rest
of the story speaks for itself, and the impact is powerful.
have seen the episodes in other movies: psychological
harassment, degradation, stress positions, beatings and
solitary confinement. But even though this film entwines
dramatic reenactments with documentary interviews and
archival footage, this is no E! True Hollywood Story.
This is as real as it gets, and it’s horrifying.
Even if you’re one of those the-war-on-terror-justifies-everything
types, who don’t care that these kids are imprisoned
for two years without ever being charged of a crime, the
treatment of Asif, Ruhel and Shafiq cannot, under any
circumstances, be excused.
it’s possible that the very approaches that make
this movie successful—its lack of melodrama, its
stark portrayals, its refusal to make the trio out as
angels—might also work against it in convincing
the American public that Guantánamo Bay is bad.
There are no cutaways to their wailing mothers. The young
men are, in fact, released because two of them have alibis
for an Osama bin Laden rally: at the time, they were on
parole for petty crime.
Americans have never come round to the Balzacian way of
thinking. They continue to insist that good things happen
to good people and bad things happen to the bad. While
these kids certainly aren’t bad, they don't—with
their defiantly unruly beards, stoic declarations that
the experience made them stronger and unshakable faith
in Islam—fit the one racial profile that would make
them sympathetic to the American public: the all-American
hero. Like the three young men, “Road to Guantánamo”
is honest, raw and unapologetic. Which raises a final
question: Are we, as a country, ready for that?