Of the approximately 760 people who have been incarcerated at Guantánamo Bay as part of the so-called Global War on Terror, only 10 or so have been formally charged with crimes and none have been convicted. There are many reasons to be outraged and appalled, and upon viewing Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross' The Road to Guantánamo, one persistent question may be, "Whose idea was all this? And just when did the U.S. military start putting S&M-style fetish hoods on prisoners?"
Sadly, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and all the others responsible will never have to answer for what they've done to America's image, to the notion of universal human rights, to hundreds of wrongly held men. Thankfully, the Supreme Court has begun to intervene, while Bush has let it be known that he is sick of Guantánamo. Due to the memorializing effects of movies like The Road to Guantánamo, however, he won't be able to wash his hands of it so easily.
Close followers of Winterbottom's career (Welcome to Sarajevo, 24 Hour Party People, A Cock and Bull Story) will immediately notice the similarity with In This World, his brilliant but underseen 2002 film about young Afghans making an illegal and dangerous journey to Britain for work. Like that film, The Road to Guantánamo practically teems with the dust and decay of Southern Asia.
The new film is a blend of documentary and reenactment, with the participation of three actual detainees (who were released last year). Called the Tipton Three, they were a trio of young British Pakistanis who made a fatefully mistimed trip to Pakistan for a wedding, from where they were persuaded to join a humanitarian mission into neighboring Afghanistan. Pinned down by the bombing, they were arrested by the Northern Alliance and handed over to U.S. custody.
While their behavior under the circumstances warranted scrutiny, they were given no opportunity to demonstrate their innocence as they were subjected to beatings, starvation, sensory deprivations and stress positions--the whole inhumane menu is on display in The Road to Guantánamo. While the outrage we feel as viewers is justified, it will be to our everlasting collective shame that we allowed these evils to exist.