You Don’t Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantánamo Dir. Luc Cote and Patricio Henriquez

[Les Films Adobe; 2011]

Styles: political doc
Others: Standard Operating Procedure, Taxi to the Dark Side, The Road to Guantánamo

Simultaneously a voyeuristic thrill and a horrifying peek into the shadowy world of illegal rendition that we all secretly suspect isn’t as professional or top secret as it’s made out to be, You Don’t Like the Truth is the first movie to be made out of an as-yet-unseen form of historical document: Guantánamo Bay security cam footage. In that sense, it’s a uniquely affecting documentary, landing somewhere between patchwork imitation of Errol Morris and real, dedicated political dissent.

We spend the majority of its runtime watching hidden-camera footage of an underage Gitmo detainee suffering through a stuttering, bumbling interrogation by Canadian intelligence officials: a miserable and embarrassing ordeal for all parties that nevertheless seems like standard operating procedure for Guantánamo. Occasionally, the film pulls back a level, and we’re allowed to spy on the prisoner’s family, as well as a few of his lawyers, watching the same footage. The effect is an intermittently meta-documentary, one that underscores The Truth’s commitment to its direct subject, the detainee, at the expense of its larger one, the communications politics of the War on Terror. This is a movie about the suffering of one person with aims to expand that theme into the ethics of spying, surveillance, and military justice.

The backstory: Canadian-born Omar Khadr was in an Al-Qaeda safehouse, possibly building IEDS, the day the Delta Force (among other elite soldiers) approached and were met with machine-gun fire. Khadr was in the house during the ensuing gunfight, which took four hours and resulted in the flattening of the entire structure by American bombs. Once the smoke had cleared, Khadr was laying underneath rubble next to his dead caretakers (confirmed Al-Qaeda members) when a Delta soldier checking for survivors was hit with the blast of a grenade that eventually killed him. After the grenade and another gunfight, Khadr was left with two bullet holes in his chest and one in his back, as well as a face full of shrapnel that left him blind in one eye. He was kept alive by the Americans, given surgery, and held for a few months at Bagram air base before finally being deposited at Guantánamo Bay. He’s been there since 2002, the year this all happened, and he’s currently 25 years old.

Held by Americans since well before and well after he aged into adulthood, Khadr has been tried twice by US military commissions, which are courts set up by the Bush administration to try who it deemed “unlawful enemy combatants” and offer them less civil rights than legally protected prisoners. Despite the UN’s labeling him a “child soldier,” and therefore in need of psychological help rather than a trial for war crimes, Khadr has been shuffled from commission to commission and from prison to prison.

The fact that he’s received the attention he has is partly due to a family stigma. Khadr’s father, Ahmed, was a prominent Egyptian-Canadian businessman who moved to the Middle East in the 1980s to aid war orphans after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. From this work, he was led into contact with the early murmurings of the Al-Qaeda network, which was then being funded by the US to fight the Soviets. This was the life Omar was born into, in 1986, and it’s how he ended up, at 15 years old, sitting with Al-Qaeda operatives when the Delta Force came knocking. The aim of his military commissions has been to pin him with the grenade-throwing that killed the American soldier, but no matter where you read about him, there is nothing that proves he threw it.

That’s a lot of history to back up a documentary. And it’s unfortunately necessary. This is a doc that makes you do your own research, which, though not unpleasant, is nevertheless its major flaw. Khadr, seen throughout The Truth as a trembling little digital image off a grainy tape, is a fascinating character simply by virtue of having survived eight years in Guantánamo as an accused Al-Qaeda conspirator. It seems reasonable to ask that the doc give a full report on him. Either that or sit back coolly and let the security footage talk for him. Because when it’s shown, the footage really talks: if you’re not an NSA agent, you’ve most likely never seen anything like it.

The Truth, however, tows the line. It doesn’t stick with the revelatory footage the whole way, which might have made it more like a video installation, and a particularly biting one. It instead cuts away to talking heads offering opinions, personal and political, on what they’re/we’re watching. For instance, both Navy Lieutenant-Commander William Kuebbler, who was appointed to defend Khadr during his military commissions, and Moazzam Begg, a former Guantánamo inmate and current campaigner for the release of its prisoners, are convinced that Khadr is innocent and argue that the entire system that has convicted him is a sham.

I’m fairly well convinced that it is a sham, and that Khadr, whether he was with Al-Qaeda or not, should be treated with the same rights that America gives to all children in war. And I’m not convinced just from watching this doc. What I really need is either (a) an investigative documentary with rigorous journalistic ethics to lay this all out, or (b) a radical modern doc that recontextualizes imagery as explosive as the Guantánamo footage, instead of crowding it with scattershot opinions. You Don’t Like the Truth, with its strange mix of devastating documentary work and by-the-numbers opinionating, is less a statement in itself than a jumping off point for further reading.

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