Don’t know if you heard, but there’s still a little place on the coast of Cuba called Guantanamo Bay, where there’s a prison run by the U.S. military. It’s not been closed, as a certain U.S. president had promised, and ten years after its founding, some of its inmates have still not been charged with any crime. A humiliating reality of post-9/11 America and a physical reminder of U.S.-sanctioned torture, Gitmo remains a national embarrassment, and powerful fodder for documentary exposes.
Over the years, I’ve seen and written about a number of films that focus on America’s unjust policies, from Michael Winterbottom’s “Road to Guantanamo,” to Rory Kennedy’s “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib,” Errol Morris’s “Standard Operating Procedure,” Alex Gibney’s “Taxi to the Dark Side,” and Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein’s “The Prisoner; or, How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair.”
In a piece I wrote four years ago called, “Can Abu Ghraib Torture Docs Make A Difference,” I wrote: “A few good documentaries may not be enough to change policy, but at least they’re a start.”
So here we are in 2011, with the release of a new documentary on Gitmo called “You Don’t Like The Truth: Four Days Inside Guantanamo,” (playing at Film Forum this week), which was put together by Montreal-based filmmakers Luc Côté and Patricio Henriquez. And while you might think another film on Guantanamo is unnecessary, “Truth” offers something that no other film before it has shown: Real-time surveillance footage of a young man falling apart at the seams in the detention center. The sequences reminded me of a phrase spoken in “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”: “We listened as his soul cracked.”
For all the talk of torture and fictional reenactments I’ve seen in those previous films, it is particularly harrowing to actually see an actual interrogation take place, as it goes from banal empty promises (like offers of McDonalds’ fast food) to endless and accusatory questions that dismiss the facts.
Made simply and elegantly, “Truth” intercuts the recently declassified surveillance tapes with interviews from those familiar with the case of 16-year-old Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who appears to have been mistakenly accused of killing an American soldier during a firefight in an Afghan village.
It’s a vivid reminder of what went wrong–and continues to go wrong–with the West’s “War on Terror.”