Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 27, 2006

The Road to Guantánamo

Filed under: Film,Islam,repression — louisproyect @ 5:45 pm

Two docudramas that address different aspects of 9/11 were included in this year's Tribeca Film Festival. "United 93" tells the story of the doomed attempt of passengers to wrest control of one of the three hijacked planes that day. I didn't have to watch this film in order to surmise that its goal is just as futile as was the passengers' that day, namely to rally support for the universally discredited "war on terror."

Of far more interest was "The Road to Guantánamo," which originally appeared on Great Britain's Channel 4. It is a stunning artistic and political achievement. It tells the story of four young British citizens of Pakistani origin from the village of Tipton near Birmingham who were swept up in the US-supported Northern Alliance offensive in Afghanistan and charged with being members of al Qaeda. After spending two years in Guantánamo, they finally won their freedom and returned to England on March 7, 2004.

In September 2001, Asif Iqbal, who was 19 at the time, traveled to Pakistan to get married to a woman his mother had picked out for him. After arriving there, he invited three friends to join him at the ceremony. The group included Monir Ali, Shafiq Rasul and Rhuhel Ahmed. For all of them including the groom, this was as much of a vacation as anything else. Monir disappeared in Afghanistan and is presumed dead. After their arrest became a cause célèbre, Asif, Shafiq and Rhuhel became known as the Tipton Three.

Once they arrive in Pakistan, their time is divided between sightseeing, shopping and horseplay. Despite being observant Muslims, they seem no different than any other late adolescent males. Two of them actually were actually convicted of petty crimes, a fact that would ironically help to win their eventual release.

While in Karachi, the youths visit a mosque with Shafiq's uncle Zahid, where they hear an Imam call for solidarity with the Afghan people. Without a clear idea of what this actually means and probably motivated more by wanderlust than any kind of Islamic radicalism, they board a bus for Afghanistan.

Once in Afghanistan, things turn sour almost immediately. The water makes them violently ill and wartime chaos surrounds them. They can't even communicate effectively since Urdu is their third language and know not a word of Pashtu or Dari. After boarding a minibus that supposedly will take them back to Pakistan, they find that the vehicle has instead traveled north to Konduz, one of the last Taliban strongholds now surrounded by Northern Alliance troops.

After being captured by the US-backed army, their lives are turned upside down. They endure constant beatings from Afghan soldiers and round-the-clock interrogation from the British and American spooks attached to the Afghan units. No matter how many times they assert their innocence, they are accused of being on a jihad.

On January 13, 2002 Asif and Shafiq are flown to Guantánamo Bay in Cuba where they are detained in the open-air cages at the notorious Camp X-Ray. Ruhel joins them on February 10. For the next two years, they endure beatings, humiliation and "soft" torture all designed to extract confessions to a crime they never committed. No matter how much they are punished, they refuse to give in to their oppressors. If simple youths such as these without any background in political revolt have the internal resources to stand up to the cop-torturers at Guantánamo Bay, one can easily imagine why the US has not been able to impose its will on the Iraqi people who have first began resisting colonialism over 80 years ago.

The Tipton Three are played by nonprofessionals, including the one playing Shafiq (Rizan Ahmed) who did attend acting school in London. In addition, the actual Tipton Three provide commentary throughout the film.

Ultimately, the three are released when it is discovered that two, who were closely monitored during the time of the probation in 2000, could not have attended a rally for Osama bin Laden that year. A comprehensive report on the Tipton Three can be read at the Center for Constitutional Right's website. It was obviously used as a primary resource for the uncredited screenplay. Shafiq's testimony included the following:

I was taken into a room and short shackled. This was the first time this had happened to me. It was extremely uncomfortable. Short shackling means that the hands and feet are shackled together forcing you to stay in an uncomfortable position for long hours. Then they turned the air conditioning on to extremely high so I started getting very cold. I was left in this position on my own in the room for about 6 or 7 hours, nobody came to see me. I wanted to use the toilet and called for the guards but nobody came for me. Being held in the short shackled position was extremely painful but if you tried to move the shackles would cut into your ankles or wrists. By the time that I was eventually released to be taken back to my cell I could hardly walk as my legs had gone completely numb. I also had severe back pains.

The 2005 Amnesty International Report included the observation that "Guantánamohas become the gulag our times, entrenching the notion that people can be detained without any recourse to the law." This comparison, according to the pro-"war on terror" Euston Manifesto, is "grotesque." After watching "The Road to Guantánamo," one would conclude that Amnesty International was not exaggerating at all.

"The Road to Guantanamo" was directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross. Winterbottom was also the director of "Welcome to Sarajevo," a film that incorporated all of the demonizing tendencies that were at work in the run-up to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. One might assume that this film represents new clarity on his part. If "The Road to Guantánamo" is eventually released in the USA, it should be seen by anybody interested in alternatives to the present course of war, illegal detention and torture. In other words, everybody.


  1. You know the makers of those films were detained in England and America, one overnight, missing his film; the other deported back — despite both of them having written invitations to the film festival. Did you read about it? I’ll send you a link, if not.

    Comment by Kevin — May 2, 2006 @ 10:15 am

  2. […] Last night I watched "Baghdad ER," an HBO documentary about the 86th Combat Support Hospital in the Green Zone. It is 63 minutes of unrelenting and graphic depictions of amputations, etc. While it was given official benediction by the Pentagon initially, there are signs that it is pulling back. Both this documentary and "The Road to Guantanamo," a film I reviewed a while back, are facing censorship: […]

    Pingback by Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist » Baghdad ER — May 30, 2006 @ 4:14 pm

  3. The minute anyone – and I mean anyone – on the Left says a word even mildly condemning the atrocities committed on an almost daily basis by the Islamofascists (beheadings of POWs, abuse of women, blowing up innocent civilians), I will begin to pay attention to the hysterical shreiks about the “abuse” of Guantanamo.

    I’m sure I’ll be waiting a long, long time.

    Comment by jgb — June 22, 2006 @ 11:45 pm

  4. Don’t stop blogging about this, please. I’ve created a little minimalist Guantanamo logo, feel free to use and circulate it, if you like. Best wishes from Austria.


    Comment by anaj — March 28, 2007 @ 7:14 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: