The Road to Guantánamo
|The Road to Guantánamo|
Original poster for US release,
rejected by the MFAA
|Directed by||Michael Winterbottom|
|Written by||Michael Winterbottom|
|Music by||Molly Nyman
|Edited by||Mat Whitecross
|Distributed by||Channel 4 Television Corporation|
The Road to Guantánamo, alternatively The Road to Guantanamo, is a British 2006 docudrama film written and directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross about the incarceration of three British citizens (the 'Tipton Three'), who were captured in 2001 in Afghanistan and detained by the United States there and for more than two years at the detainment camp in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. It premiered at the Berlinale on 14 February 2006, and was first shown in the UK on Channel 4 on 9 March 2006.
The following day it was the first film to be released simultaneously in cinemas, on DVD, and on the Internet.
It was generally well received: Michael Winterbottom won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 56th Berlin International Film Festival, and the film won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Sundance Film Festival. The Times criticised Winterbottom for accepting the men's stated reasons for going to Afghanistan at a time of danger after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, as it was known as al-Qaeda and Taliban territory.
The film portrays the accounts of Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul (the 'Tipton Three'); three young British men from Tipton in the West Midlands, who are of Pakistani and Bangladeshi ancestry. It features both actors and portrayals of actions, historical footage, and interviews with the three men.
They travelled to Pakistan in September 2001, just days after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the USA, to attend a wedding of a friend of theirs. While staying at a mosque in Karachi, the three decided to take a trip to Afghanistan to see first-hand what was happening in the region.
Mixed with interviews with the three men, and archive news footage from the period, the film portrays a dramatic account with actors of the three men's experiences: from their travels into Afghanistan to their capture and imprisonment.
Travelling by van, Ruhal, Asif, and Shafiq, with two other friends, crossed the border in October 2001 just as US warplanes began attacking Taliban positions all over the country. They made it to Kandahar without incident, and later to the capital city of Kabul a few days later. After nearly a month of "lingering" aimlessly around Kabul, the Tipton Three decided to return to Pakistan. But through a combination of bad luck and the increasing chaos, the friends took the wrong bus, which travelled further into Afghanistan towards the north and the front-line fighting between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance rebels. The convoy of vehicles they were riding in was hit by an airstrike, and they were left wandering around the unfamiliar country. In mid-November, near the town of Baghlan, the three came across a group of Taliban fighters and asked to be taken to Pakistan. Shortly afterward, all of the men were captured by Northern Alliance soldiers.
Imprisoned at a base at Mazar-e Sharif, the three were interrogated and discovered to be British citizens. As they had no luggage, money, passports or any kind of identification to support their stories, Ruhal, Asif, and Shafiq were transferred to the United States military. They were imprisoned in a US army stockade for a month with other prisoners, being regularly interrogated and occasionally beaten by US soldiers.
In January 2002, the 'Tipton Three' were declared "enemy combatants" by the US military, and flown with dozens of other alleged Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they were held for the next two years. They were held in mostly solitary confinement without charge or legal representation.
The film portrays several scenes depicting beatings during interrogation, the use of torture techniques such as stress positions, and attempts by the US Army to extract forced confessions of involvement with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The isolation continued in Camp X-Ray and another camp. During two years they were subjected to more questioning by US Army and Central Intelligence Agency interrogators.
In one incident, one US army guard at Camp X-Ray desecrated one prisoner's Qur'an by throwing it to the ground to incite a reaction from the rest of the prisoners. Ruhal witnessed a group of US soldiers severely beat up an unruly and mentally ill Arab prisoner for not obeying their orders. When Ruhal shouts out that the beatings violate the Geneva Conventions, the guards laugh and say those laws do not apply to enemy combatants.
In 2004, the Tipton Three were released without charge. They were flown back to England where, one year later, they returned to Pakistan for the wedding they had planned to attend in the first place. (It had been postponed.)
- Riz Ahmed — Shafiq
- Farhad Harun — Ruhel
- Waqar Siddiqui — Monir
- Afran Usman — Asif Iqbal
The torture depicted in the film had to be reduced from that claimed by the detainees for the benefit of the actors; according to the actor Rizwan Ahmed, they were unable to bear the pain and had the shackles on their legs cushioned. They were also unable to remain in the stress positions depicted for more than an hour. The Tipton Three claim to have been left in such positions for up to eight hours.
Filming took place in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, which doubled as Cuba. Mat Whitecross is credited as co-director. He handled most of the interviews with the Tipton Three, the three British citizens who are featured as characters in the film.
The original poster made to promote the film in the United States (shown right) was refused by the Motion Picture Association of America. They said the burlap sack over the detainee's head was considered to be depicting torture, and inappropriate for young children to see. Howard Cohen of the US-distributors Roadside Attractions condemned this as "inconsistent" when compared to the MPAA-approved posters for contemporary horror films such as Hard Candy or Hostel. The final version of the poster showed just the detainee's manacled hands.
The film premiered at the 56th Berlin International Film Festival on 14 February 2006. It was broadcast to the UK on Channel 4 on 9 March, attracting 1.6 million viewers, and released on DVD and the Internet the following day. Roadside Attractions, an independent distributor, bought the rights to show the film in the United States in late March.
Iranian authorities asked the film's distributor to release the film in Iran, which was unusual for a Western picture. According to the distributor's president, it ordered four prints instead of the usual one and offered three times the normal amount for fees. As of late April 2006, the film was awaiting official approval; it was expected to be released in late May.
The film received generally positive reviews, garnering an 86% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Michael Winterbottom won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 56th Berlin International Film Festival.
Commentators have criticised Winterbottom for not questioning the decision of the Tipton Three to enter Afghanistan in the first place; a review in The Times (which gave the film 3 out of 5 stars) refers to this gap as
"an insane lack of cool perspective...The sheer stupidity of these Brits mocks the sincerity of the film. Winterbottom refuses to ask the bleeding obvious. His unquestioning faith in his 'cast' is bewildering."
The portrayal of human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay highlighted widespread criticism of the prison and detention already made by activist organisations and politicians. Amnesty International had referred to the prison as "the gulag of our times" World leaders have criticised the US for maintaining the prison; German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "An institution like Guantánamo in its present form cannot and must not exist in the long term".
Four of the actors in the film were detained for about an hour by police at London Luton Airport after returning from the film's premiere in Berlin. Rizwan Ahmed alleged that during questioning, police asked him whether he had become an actor to further the Islamic cause, questioned him on his views of the Iraq war, verbally abused him, and denied him access to a telephone. The police tried to recruit him as an informant.
A spokesperson for Bedfordshire police said that none of the men were arrested, and that the Terrorism Act allows the police to "stop and examine people if something happens that might be suspicious." She did not clarify what the actors had done to arouse suspicion.
In May 2007, two members of the Tipton Three – Ruhal Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul – agreed to participate in the Channel 4 reality show, Lie Lab. The technology used on the show was developed by Professor Sean Spence from the University of Sheffield. It uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the activity in the brain's pre-frontal cortex to view how a subject reacts to questioning. Critics of the test have included neuroscientists and legal scholars, who have said the technique is unlikely to accurately measure truth-telling as there are too many variables affecting results. They think the technique may be useful for additional research.
Although Ahmed had earlier said that he entered Afghanistan to do charity work, on the programme he said that he had visited an Islamist training camp, where he handled weapons and learned how to use an AK-47. Rasul refused to go through with the test.
BBC Five Live interview
In January 2010, on BBC Radio 5 Live, both Ruhal Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul confirmed having visited a Taliban training camp, but said they were trapped in the province, and "we all went to the Taliban training camp on many occasions to find out what was happening. Because they were the government at the time.."
The interviewer Victoria Derbyshire observed that Ahmed had admitted handling AK-47 rifles. Shafiq Rasul responded:
Being in Afghanistan, we were at that age where… seeing a gun… you’d never seen a gun in the UK… you want to hold it. You want to see what its [sic] like. But we were never there to do any training. That’s what, that’s what, we were just there. We held it to see what it was like. That’s how we’ve explained it. But it has been taken out of context, saying that ‘Oh, these guys from the UK, they were at that age, 9/11 had just happened, and they were there for terrorist training’. But, but – that’s not the case. That’s not what happened.
- Caryn James. "At the Tribeca festival, foreign films tell tales that hit close to home". The New York Times, 28 April 2006.
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