There's an old saying that "no good turn goes unpunished," and the events
alleged in the new docu-drama THE ROAD TO GUANTÁNAMO seem to reinforce
that notion. That is, if you accept the version offered by the "Tipton Three," as
they came to be called in the press. If I sound like I'm hedging a bit, well, I am.
The story in and of itself is upsetting and depressing. But lingering questions
arise as to the real reason these young men were in the place they were. It was
either a terrible stroke of bad luck or something else. If -- and that's a big IF --
it is the latter, then the events take on a whole different tenor. According to
their stories (which we get partially narrated by them in documentary footage
shot by co-director Mat Whitecross), the trio of South Asian Britons ventured to
Pakistan just after September 11, 2001 for the arranged marriage of one.
Co-director Michael Winterbottom dramatizes the events that took them from
Tipton (near Birmingham) to Pakistan to Afghanistan to Cuba.
19-year old Asif (portrayed by Afran Usman in the dramatizations) is the
groom. When his best man suddenly becomes unavailable, he invites his pal
Ruhel (Farhad Harun), also 19, to Pakistan. Ruhel brings along Shafiq (Riz
Ahmed), the eldest at 23, and Monir (Waqar Siddiqui) 22. Pretty soon the four,
joined by Shafiq's cousin Zahid (Shahid Iqbal), are treating the whole thing as a
lark. They sightsee, shop, eat naan, and attend a mosque where the Imam
preaches about the need for humanitarian aid in nearby Afghanistan, then under
attack by American forces.
Moved by the plea -- whether out of altruism or naiveté or both -- the
quintet sets off for adventure and crosses the border. Winterbottom doesn't
question their motives, but merely presents the events as the young men have
described. Here is the first point where the audience needs to employ a healthy
dose of skepticism. Should the story be taken at face value or is there more
going on? Answers are not forthcoming, so it's left up to the viewer. Because
the young men seem to end up whereever there is trouble -- they arrive in
Kandahar as it comes under attack -- and they head on to Kabul just as the
bombardment of that city begins. At this point, they allegedly decided to return
to Pakistan. Yet the man they trusted to secure for them safe passage ends up
sending them to the north where they meet up with other foreign supporters of
the Taliban. The camp at which they are staying comes under attack by the
Northern Alliance and soon four of the men have been captured. The fate of
one -- Monir -- is never discovered; it is presumed he was killed.
Once in custody of the Northern Alliance, the men are herded into trucks
and the caravan heads back to Kandahar. Asif has the misfortune of being put
in a container truck and the crowded conditions resemble the cattle cars of the
Holocaust. When the armed forces open fire on the truck to create air holes,
many are killed and Asif is wounded. But this is just the beginning of what
devolves into a Kafkaesque nightmare that echoes MIDNIGHT EXPRESS. First
in Afghanistan and later in Guantánamo, they are subjected to conditions that
make a mockery of the Geneva Convention. Chained up and caged like animals,
they are not allowed to speak and they have insults and beatings showered on
them at the whim of the guards. Suspected of being members of al-Queda, they
are tortured, questioned and forced to endure inhumane experiences. Eventually
they capitulate and confess, even though they have viable alibis for not being
at a rally run by Osama bin Laden. (One was working at an electronics store in
England, another was on probation.) These sequences are difficult to watch and
one has to believe that there is at least some truth to the events depicted.
The treatment these men underwent clearly violated some laws.
While THE ROAD TO GUANTÁNAMO treats the men's tales with respect,
astute viewers will question the nature of the youth's visits. Once released
from prison in 2004, Asif eventually does marry before returning to England.
And the Tipton Three have won the right to sue U.S. Secretary of State Donald
Rumsfeld and ten U.S. military commanders claiming their treatment in the
prison violated their rights to practice their religion under American laws. So
this tale remains an unfinished one.
MPAA Rating: R for language and disturbing violent content
Running time: 95 mins.
|The Road to Guantánamo
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.