The Road to Guantanamo (2006)




Director:  Michael Winterbottom, Mat Whitecross (co-director).

Starring:  Riz Ahmed (Shafiq), Farhad Harun (Ruhel), Waqar Siddiqui (Monir), Afran Usman (Asif Iqbal), Shahid Iqbal (Zahid), Sher Khan (Sher Khan), Jason Salkey (Military Interrogator Sheberghan), Jacob Gaffney (Kandahar Interregator #1), Mark Holden (Kandahar Interrogator #2), Duane Henry (Guard #1), William Meredith (Guard #2), Payman Bina (Guard #3), Adam James (SAS Interrogator), Ian Hughes (MI5 Interrogator), James Buller (MI5).

three Pakistani-British citizens in Afghanistan are tortured by American soldiers


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

President Bush says:  "The only thing I know for certain is that these are bad people."  But can he be so certain?  Might not some innocents be among these "bad" people? 

Ruhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul and another friend, Monir travel to Pakistan for a wedding for one of the group. 

October 5, 2001.  Karachi, Pakistan.  The four go to a Mosque.  Outside crowds are marching in support to the Taliban. 

October 11, 2001.  They go into the Binorl Mosque.  They meet cousin Zahid from Multan. 

The four discuss helping the Afghani people.  They also just want to see what Afghanistan is like.  They jump onto a bus headed for Afghanistan.

October 13, 2001.  They change buses.  Stopped at a mosque just before the border.  Shafiq is having diarrhea and he gets left behind while in the bathroom.  He later walks across the border (with no one stopping him at all).

Kandahar, Afghanistan.  The bombing starts.  It is terrifying.  After spending one day in Kandahar, they go to Kabul.  The journey is some 10-12 hours of driving. 

October 16, 2001.  Kabul, Afghanistan.  The chums start a two-and-a-half weeks stay in Kabul.  At the end of it the guys want to go back to Pakistan. 

Kunduz Province.  The Northern Front (allies of the Americans) are advancing on the Taliban and the boys realize that they are trapped.  Now things really get scary.  One of them even believes he is facing "my last few days."  The fellows are thrown onto trucks.  But they can't find Monir.  (In fact, they never fund him.)  They are taken to the outskirts of Kunduz.  There is more scary bombing.  The fellows start walking away, but find they just walked in a big circle.  They missed the trucks, but later don't regret it because the realize they "would have been killed if they had made that truck." 

The chums have to deal with horrible death.  Almost all the bodies are mutilated with arms or legs missing.  They also realize that it is a terrible feeling of powerlessness when "someone is in agony and you can't do anything about it."  They find the cousin completely covered in blood. 

They are forced into another truck.  They travel three or four miles.  And they have to worry about death again.  They see the Northern Front soldiers making mass graves and later they see them throwing into the graves both the dead and the wounded but still alive.  The friends have their arms tied behind their backs so tightly that they lose circulation. 

They are now in Mazar-E-Sharif.  Ruhel and Shafiq get into a canvas container, whereas Asif lands in a enclosed metal truck.  After five minutes Asif finds that it is really humid and hard to breathe.  They shout and bang for air.  Asif becomes aware that bodies are beneath him.  And it is wet and really cold.  The soldiers respond by shooting air holes into the truck, which kills a lot of the men inside.  Asif was hit by a bullet.

December 2001.  Shebergnan Prison, Northern Afghanistan.  The guards are being extremely tough on the prisoners because at Kala Jangi Prison the inmates had overpowered their guards.  Things get a bit better when the Red Cross arrive.

December 30, 2001.  Ruhel is being interrogated.  He says he's from Tipton, Birmingham, England.  They are now in U.S. custody.   They think that the Americans will be like the British and thatt things will be much better.  But they were very wrong.  Terrorizing the prisoners, many think that the Americans are going to hang them. 

Kandahar air base.  No talking and  no walking.  It is hot during the day and freezing at night.  Every hour the guards wake them up and take a head count.  And the interrogations goes on.  The fellows are subjected to such idiotic comments as: "I want to know where Bin Laden is."  But anything that the chums say that is not what the Americans already decided they want to hear is ignored.  They are not interested in hearing their true stories.  They only want them to cooperate and confess. 

And the harassment goes on all the time.  What really makes the prisoners angry is when the Americans disrespect the Koran.  For instance, the guards would throw the Koran into the area where the prisoners urinate.  They try to terrorize the prisoners.  Asif is interviewed by an American interrogator pretending to be a sympathetic British interrogator.  He makes a lot of false claims based on made-up "evidence".  And he says that a new law has been passed where Britain can deport any family member with any kind of terrorist ties.  Asif has a sister at Exeter University and she may have to be pulled out of the university, says the interrogator.

They shave the prisoners heads.  They put black hoods over their heads and run them around taunting them.

January 13, 2002.  Guantanamo, Cuba, Camp X-Ray.  Constant harassment again.  For one and a half months they are not allowed to leave their cells (really open wire cages).  They cannot pray or stand or speak.  If anyone gives the guards a little trouble, an Extreme Reaction Force composed of five guys comes into the cell and beat the prisoner. 

One of the Tipton three says he thought he was in a zoo.  (But animals in a zoo are not usually deliberately abused, taunted and harassed.)  The American guards constantly insult the prisoner's religion.  The guys say that the experience will either break you or make you stronger.  One of the Tipton three said it made him feel stronger. 

The prisoners are now getting five minutes a week to walk.

Asif and Shafiq have been at Camp X-ray for three months.  Ruhel has been there for six weeks.  Asif and Shafiq are transferred to a new facility, Camp Delta.  They are in Camp Delta for a month before Ruhel arrives.  When they were in for about a year, everything changed.  The Americans started using isolation as a punishment.  They would place the men in leg irons and then chain them to the floor.  They would blast extremely loud music at them for from one to six hours.  The prisoners had to urinate and defecate where they knelt.  The men were put into stress positions and they would scream in pain while being taunted.

The interrogators constantly asked them to confess to being a "fighter."  Once they admitted to that, they were asked to confess they were Al Qaeda.  But if they admitted to being Al Qaeda then instead of things getting better for the prisoner, they really got worse. 

And then one day, out of the blue, an interrogator says to the Tipton Three "O.k., we've made a great mistake."  The guys are taken out of isolation and are treated well.  But they still cannot speak to their families or any lawyers. 

As of the time of the movie production, out of 750 prisoners at Gitmo, 500 were still there.  Only 10 had been charged with any offense and none have ever been found guilty of any crime. 

The Tipton Three were released. 

June, 2005.  Pakistan.  The Tipton Three return to Pakistan. 

July 2, 2005.  The marriage finally takes place.


I am afraid that President Bush is a very sick man.  A TV commentator said he has a "Messianic complex."  He thinks he is absolutely right and will tolerate no suggestions or hints of the opposite.  He sees himself as some kind of "onward Christian soldier marching off to war."  He also seems to have a Napoleonic complex thinking he is entitled to set his own rules of the game on how to treat prisoners.  And he has decided that these are bad people who actually deserve to be tortured.  Of course, the President lies and says the USA does not torture, but the many who have been through the American system testify differently. 

And perhaps what is worse is the millions of Americans who make either denials of or apologies for the use of torture.  The American intelligence services have behaved more like the Gestapo than decent men who follow the Geneva Convention.  

The movie is excellent.  It puts the lie to all the denials and apologies from conservatives that the USA does not torture.  (I just wish we could put some of these conservatives through just what the prisoners had to go through and then ask them if it was good treatment or plain torture.)

With the power of the money of the Republicans in over-advertising their messages, we may have gone along with all their lies.  But the Iraqi people would not cooperate.  They have kept fighting us, disproving all those wonderfully optimistic statements put forward by the conservatives. Just as in Vietnam, the lie would have been accepted, but the United States was defeated.  An enemy can lose all the battles and still win the war.  And the USA in the end is defeated regardless of the fact that they won each and every battle. 

Good movie with an important moral message, particularly for Americans.  We can even say it is an important movie.  It may help lessen the use of torture by Americans.  The movie kept the attentions of my wife, my son and me through the entire ordeal of the Tipton Three plus one.  It also made us feel righteously indignant.   It's just too bad there are so many would-be fascists in the United States of America who will turn a deaf ear to the movie.  


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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