Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Four Days in Guantanamo !


Filmmakers: Patricio Henriquez and Luc Côté

Four Days in Guantanamo is a documentary based on security camera footage from the Guantanamo Bay prison.

It shows an encounter between a team of Canadian intelligence agents and Omar Khadr, who in September 2012, was repatriated to serve out his sentence in Canada. Khadr served a total of 3619 days in Guantanamo.

Based on seven hours of video footage declassified by the Canadian courts, this documentary delves into the unfolding high-stakes game of cat and mouse between captor and captive over a four-day period. 

Maintaining the surveillance camera style, this film analyses the political, legal and scientific aspects of a forced dialogue.

It is a shocking insight into psychological interrogation techniques and speaks to the fate of the facility Barack Obama, the US president, promised to close down but which, four years later, remains open.

This intense documentary is based on seven hours of CCTV material from the interrogation of Canadian-born Omar Khadr, the youngest detainee at Guantanamo Bay. In February, 2003 Canadian security agents interrogated the teenager. This interrogation and the reports of his being tortured prior to arriving at the facility raised the level of scrutiny regarding the treatment of prisoners at this detention camp.

In July 2008, the video of the interrogation was ordered to be made available in a Canadian supreme court ruling that stated in part: "Interrogation of a youth, to elicit statements about the most serious criminal charges while detained in these conditions and without access to counsel, and while knowing that the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with the US prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects."

This 15-year-old boy was taken into custody by the US authorities following a firefight in Afghanistan in September 2002. The battle between US special forces and fighters reportedly associated with al-Qaeda left Khadr severely wounded. In a sworn affidavit during his court case, Khadr testified that he was tortured after being taken into custody. A month later, Khadr was delivered to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Not long after he arrived, Canadian security agents spent four days interrogating him.

Guantanamo remembered: A personal perspective

Their primary line of questioning centred on his father's reported relationship with Osama bin Laden and any knowledge that the younger Khadr might have regarding Bin Laden's whereabouts.

In this film and over the course of Khadr's interrogation, you see a clear shift in the relationship between the Canadian security service agents and the teenager. You see his transformation from an elated youth relieved to see fellow Canadians arrive and express an interest in him and his welfare, to a distraught young man, bitter and angry at his treatment and his abrupt realisation that these men are not there to take him home.

This documentary brings together an array of people connected with this case and examines, in-depth, through this interrogation, one of the most controversial detention facilities in the world. We hear from his legal team, the reporter who fought to have the video of this interrogation released, as well a US intelligence officer familiar with US interrogation practices at Guantanamo and Omar Khadr's detention in particular.

In 2010, after lengthy negotiation, the US and Khadr's legal team agreed to a plea deal. Khadr pleaded guilty to committing murder in violation of the laws of war and US authorities agreed to his serving just one more year in Guantanamo and avoiding a 40-year prison sentence.

Director's statement

By filmmakers Patricio Henriquez and Luc Côté

In July 2008, like millions of Canadians, we watched 10 minutes of video footage of the interrogation of Omar Khadr.

This material that Omar’s Canadian lawyers had just released stunned us. We were shaken by the moment in which Omar realises that the Canadian intelligence agents who showed up at his cell in Guantanamo had not come to help and protect him as a Canadian citizen but rather to make clumsy attempts to cajole, manipulate and threaten him into making incriminating statements.  

We felt compelled to use this footage as the basis for a short film.

Our mission would be to craft a documentary in which interviews would provide the context to help us understand what the recording of the interrogation was trying to tell us.

Since there was intense public interest in Omar’s story, we would have to act quickly to put this work on line. Perhaps inevitably, the short film we set out to make quickly developed into something far longer and more complex.     

As is often the case in documentaries, the story evolved. Through contacts, we were able to obtain an additional seven hours of interrogation video, which the public had never seen. Some of the sound had been erased by the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency (CSIS), yet enough remained for us to realise that we had something special and rarely seen - the confrontation between an interrogator and a prisoner. 

Indeed this is the only footage available that shows - partially - what takes place inside Guantanamo, the prison where, in the words of Dick Cheney, the former US vice president, the "cream of international terrorists" are supposedly locked up.

Reviews of Four Days in Guantanamo:

"Painfully stark yet utterly magnetic ... the Montreal-based filmmakers Luc Côté and Patricio Henriquez have assembled an even-tempered glimpse behind a very dark curtain."

New York Times

"A waking nightmare of passive-aggressive coercion and psychological abuse. Essential viewing."

Time Out, New York

"A gut-wrenching film."

The Guardian

"If this documentary doesn't fill you with sorrow, fury and revulsion, then democracy, human rights and justice are hallow words and we belong in the same moral dead zone as fanatics who oppress and destroy in the name of faith."

Toronto Star

If you assume that documentaries reflect reality, you would also agree that reality includes segments that sit within the shadows of the invisible. Once in a while some of those segments leave their confinement to fall directly under the public spotlight. Making it public, as a documentary was, for us, a compelling though somewhat bizarre privilege.

We had a history, as filmmakers, of obtaining public funding and the support of broadcasters in Canada for the ideas we pitched. Yet Omar’s story was turned down almost everywhere.

Disappointed but not defeated, we approached Canal D, a French-language private Canadian broadcaster. The channel gave us a small licence. It was not enough to cover production costs, but we invested our time and some of our own money. There was urgency about this story, which drove us forward with strong beliefs and commitment. We started filming interviews in June 2009. 

As filmmakers we wanted to encourage a deeper dialogue over current Canadian security policy.


Since the US launched its global 'war on terror' following 9/11, there has been a corresponding shift in Canadian military and security policy. Omar’s video and other recently released documents mean that the Canadian government can no longer claim to be unstained by torture. In fact, Canada has sent several teams of interrogators to Guantanamo.  

Before the Canadian interrogators visited Omar, Ottawa knew that he had been tortured. The military lawyer defending Omar established that in 2002, before his transfer to Guantanamo, Omar was detained at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base. His chief interrogator there was Joshua Claus.


Three years later, following a court martial, Claus pleaded guilty to torturing to death a young Afghani taxi driver named Dilawar. An investigative report by the New York Times blew open the Dilawar story. It became the basis for the film Taxi to the Dark Side, winner of the 2008 Oscar for Best Documentary. 

Knowing all that, the Canadian government continued to claim that the American authorities treated Omar humanely and that he had committed a very serious crime.

International conventions that protect the rights of children in wartime, and in particular the rights of child soldiers, should have applied to Omar. But Ottawa was able to sidestep those laws. 

Released in the autumn of 2010, You Don’t Like the Truth was almost universally acclaimed. It was invited to more than 60 festivals around the world, from Amsterdam to São Paulo, from Seoul to Paris, from Buenos Aires to New York. But the Canadian government never changed its position towards Omar Khadr.

In October 2010, Omar pleaded guilty to all the charges pressed by the US. It was clearly a plea bargain that allowed the young Canadian to serve eight years in jail, rather than 40. He became the first person ever convicted as a war criminal for acts committed as a juvenile.


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Guantanamo remembered: A personal perspective


Ten years ago, Moazzam Begg was abducted from his home by Pakistani and US intelligence agents and taken to Guantanamo.

Moazzam Begg (right, with his father) has campaigned for those left behind in Guantanamo 

London, United Kingdom - "You are now the property of the United States and you have no rights" - these were the first words to greet me and other prisoners held in the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Ten years on, little has changed there. 

My life was changed irretrievably on January 31, 2002, when Pakistani and US intelligence agents abducted me from my home in Islamabad in the middle of the night, in front of my family - at gunpoint - and took me to a series of secret and military prisons that included Kandahar, Bagram and Guantanamo Bay.

After three years of an ordeal that included being punched and kicked, forcibly stripped, shaven, violated, spat upon; enduring racial and religious abuse, incommunicado incarceration in a cell smaller than an average house toilet; being subjected to more than 300 interrogations - sometimes with my wrists shackled to my ankles from behind my back; watching the Quran being desecrated; being threatened with torture in Syria or Egypt; being subjected to the sounds of screams I was made to believe were from my family members and watching two prisoners being beaten to death, I was finally returned to the UK and to my family - which had a new member, my three-old-son, whom I had never seen.

Like the overwhelming majority of the prisoners there, I was interrogated by the world's most powerful law enforcement and intelligence agencies: the CIA, FBI, MI5, CITF, US military intelligence and many others. I have also learned - since my release - that many other nations were allowed to use the Guantanamo experiment to interrogate dissidents from their own countries, such as Libyan intelligence under Colonel Gaddafi. But, despite the arsenal of weapons - both metaphoric and real - there were never any charges or trial for me.

Shortly after my return, I joined the human rights NGO, Cageprisoners, and found myself establishing strong links with former Guantanamo prisoners all around the world, in addition to their lawyers, and the families of those awaiting the return of their loved ones.

Survivor's guilt

What became evident to me early was that I was facing an internal struggle based on my faith, survivor's guilt and the natural quest for justice, which has become my resolute aim to date. 

Since then, I have, by the grace of God, travelled the world to campaign for those left behind in Guantanamo. I have toured with former US soldiers who were once Guantanamo prison guards, speaking about the evils of US foreign adventures and have sat with world leaders, asking them to take in prisoners unable to return to their countries of origin for fears, ironically, of imprisonment and torture.

Inside Story: Policy of Rendition

I've met prisoners from different suspect communities who once faced similar experiences to mine - and worse; I've met with victims of British and US rendition who have become leaders of their country after the Arab Spring and I've returned to the house I was abducted from in Pakistan to record thescene of the crime. I've also met with the family of a woman whose screams once echoed through Bagram's soulless prison. 

I've earned accolades that range from being "Mandela-like" in my lack of bitterness towards my captors, to being called a terrorist sympathiser (notwithstanding the little detail that Nelson Mandela's 27-year imprisonment was as a "terrorist" under apartheid South Africa's rule) because I advocate dialogue with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, well before deals were being brokered in Qatar to accommodate the latter.

Whatever I've seen or done in these years, the one thing I've not been able to recover is something I've been fighting to get back: normality. There's no such thing anymore. After all, what's normal about expecting your family to understand all that has transpired in the world's most secret prisons to terrorism suspects, when that is not even possible for "ordinary decent criminals"? In addition to the irrepressible sense of camaraderie that exists between us all, this is one of the resonating features that unites the former prisoners together: a hushed recognition of one another's pain.

Irreparably changed 

When men are eventually released, how are they supposed to renew their familial relationships when their internal survival mechanism told them to stop believing they were fathers, husbands and sons? How can they rebuild their lives and be part of society again, once the world's most powerful men (and media) have described them as the "worst of the worst" - terrorist scumbags who are bent on destroying, rather than building?

How do children, whose fathers are in Guantanamo, explain to their friends that "daddy is in prison" when society, by default, maintains that prisoners are bad men? 

And what of those poor, innocent children whose lost childhoods without a father for so long can never be reclaimed? What can fill the chasm created when the child needed the father most - and he wasn't there to help?

Speaking of children, the past decade in Guantanamo has witness numerous child-prisoners who have grown into adults behind the razor wire, able-bodied men's once healthy limbs amputated, perfectly sane men losing their minds and freedom gained at last, for some, in a coffin.

To mark the tenth anniversary since the first prisoners were sent to Guantanamo, as pictures of men kneeling in orange jumpsuits, masked and goggled - looking like the extra-terrestrial beings we were told they were - shocked the world, we will be hosting several events in the UK.

The 171 remaining Guantanamo prisoners, however, will be protesting their innocence via one of the few methods available to them: hunger strike. Even if that means being forcibly restrained in a chair and pumped with liquid food through the nostril to keep them alive - as the living dead men they've become in the world's most notorious prison - which is capable of destroying lives both inside and out - that we, and history, will never forget.

Moazzam Begg is a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and spokesperson for Cageprisoners.

A version of this article was first published by Cageprisoners.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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