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Swear Words: Laura Poitras’s “The Oath”

Swear Words: Laura Poitras's "The Oath"

Though the title of Laura Poitras’s exceptionally well-made new documentary, The Oath, is in the singular, there are a number of solemn vows therein. The central, capital-O oath is pledged by Nasser al-Basri—alias Abu Jandal—a formal declaration of total devotion to Al Qaeda’s leadership. But the same man later pledges to the Yemeni government, after spending years in prison and going through a jihadi rehabilitation program called the Dialogue Committee, that he will not use the country as a base for extremist operations (in return, the government helps him get back on his feet by buying him a taxi). Then there is the FBI interrogator who, hidden behind a partition, testifies before Congress against enhanced interrogation techniques, justifying his speaking out by saying that he “took an oath swearing to protect this great nation.” There are also, of course, the oaths customarily uttered in the courtroom, conspicuously absent in the film because all of the legal proceedings here take place behind closed doors. Read the rest of Benjamin Mercer’s review of The Oath.

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