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The Road to Guantanamo Reviews

Countering the Bush administration's policy that what happens at Gitmo stays at Gitmo, Michael Winterbottom's bold docudrama about the so-called Tipton Three — a trio of English lads of Pakistani descent who found themselves prisoners of the U.S. government at the infamous detainment camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — questions the efficacy and, above all, the humanity of what even steadfast Bush supporters like Tony Blair have condemned. In September, 2001, 19-year-old Ruhal Ahmed (played here by Farhad Harun), 23-year-old Shafiq Rasul (Riz Ahmed) and 19-Asif Iqbal (Afran Usman) traveled with their 22-year-old friend Monir Ali (Waqar Siddiqui) to Faisalabad, Pakistan, to attend Iqbal's arranged marriage. Three months later, Ahmed, Rasul and Iqbal are captured by U.S.-backed Northern Alliance forces in the Taliban stronghold of Kunduz, Afghanistan, and thrown into a prison camp in Sheberghan (Monir disappeared days earlier and has been unaccounted for ever since). Accused of being enemy fighters despite the fact that they were unarmed, the three young men explain that they had made the difficult journey into Afghanistan after hearing a cleric in Pakistan urge men to help their Afghan brothers and sisters, and had been trying to get back to Pakistan when they were captured. Their story is not believed. After 10 days in Shebergah, they're hustled to another prison in Kandahar, and then boarded onto a plane bound for the now notorious Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay where they're held for three months without any legal recourse and denied all but the most minimal contact with the outside world. Like clockwork, each man is dragged out of their cell and into a camp where they're questioned by an American or British interrogator, sometimes at gunpoint. The "tribunal" lasts for hours on end, during which they're offered no evidence against them and given no reason for their capture. Eventually, all three are transferred to the marginally less severe Camp Delta, but the questioning grows increasingly absurd. For two long years, the Tipton Three were held as "enemy combatants" but never officially charged with a crime. Worst of all, they allege that throughout their ordeal they were subjected to brutal interrogations, random humiliations and physical tortures ranging from punches, kicks and injections of mysterious substances to bindings for long hours in muscle-ramping positions. Winterbottom's dramatization of their account is short, fast-moving and merciless, and crucial to the authenticity of this terrible story, he allows the former prisoners themselves narrate their ordeal through talking-head style interviews. The strategy works, but leaves him with a unavoidable problem: The actors portraying them look nothing like their real-life counterparts, and keeping the right names attached to the correct faces is difficult. Unfortunately, their experiences were common enough to all of them that any resulting confusion in no way detracts from the impact of this powerful film.