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Gitmo – The New Rules of War

GITMO – The New Rules of War (Erik Gandini and Tarik Saleh)

At this year’s LA Film Festival that ended earlier this week, one of the festival’s poolside chats included “Global Crisis: Can Films Save the World?” that brought in filmmakers from “Paradise Now,” “The Hunting of the President,” and the soon to be released, “Who Killed the Electric Car” (look for our interview with director Chris Paine in next week’s issue), among others, to discuss how political cinema can be a force for change.


Well, if our media continues to gloss over critical issues in our world or ignore them all together, we will have to rely on films like the ones mentioned above, and GITMO, which comes to theaters this Friday and is focused on getting to the bottom of “what’s really going on” in Guantanamo Bay.

Swedish filmmakers Erik Gandini and Tarik Saleh were called to make this film after seeing the father of Swedish detainee, Mehdi Ghezali, who re-created the wire cell within a city square, blindfolds himself and covers his head, telling anyone who will listen of the conditions within the Cuban territory where prisoners are detained under different rules than those that were established under the Geneva Convention.

Beginning on September 11, 2002 and filming until June 1, 2005, the two and their crew ventured around the world in search of the truth. Their first stop is the prison camp itself. Met by an eager military tour guide, the visit resembles something closer to a summer vacation jaunt than a place that has become a center for controversy and interrogation practices, which have been questioned by every corner of the globe. There are golf courses and the conveniences of home provided to the soldiers and MPs, including fast food joints like Subway and McDonalds.

Their view of the camp is from a distance on a boat, which becomes a metaphor for the movie itself, as military interviews and political speeches from officials dance around pointed questions, using the cloned sound bytes derived from the same Bush Administration chip planted into their brains.

We learn that earlier in 2002, the administration created their own international paradigm on February 7, stating that because of terrorists threats, the Geneva convention could not be applied to terrorists, and a new name for those captured and targeted were now “unlawful combatants.”

Now these unlawful combatants are in cells at Guantanamo Bay with no real evidence to convict them, only circumstances that led to their imprisonment. In the case of Ghezali, it was believed that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is a circumstance that comes up quite often when discussing the fate of prisoners.

After being held for six months with no hope of being released and answering every question thrown at him by the interrogators, Ghezali became silent. Other prisoners have done the same, which led to a whole new list of interrogation methods to break the silence, from using phobia tactics like a fear of dogs, to lowering temperatures to below freezing.

But some were talking, including released prisoners that had much to say about their treatment, which was in direct contrast to the “democracy,” “humane” and “fair treatment in line with the Geneva Convention” that has been consistently stated by military and government officials. To add bite to the evidence, which includes a document listing commonly used practices, a private contractor confirmed the list to be true, but stated that the tactics were ineffective because not only do they not get any information, but any they do get is limited.

Another key appearance is made by Janice Karpensky, who was demoted from her post as Chief of the Military Police at Abu Ghraib after an apparent shoplifting incident. Unlike General Rick Baccus, the former commander at Guantanamo Bay who was dismissed to a desk job for being too nice and questioning interrogation practices, Karpensky didn’t sign a Non-disclosure Statement. She was free to talk about how the practices from Guantanamo spread to Abu Ghraib, all under the direction of General Miller, who replaced Baccus and has played a central role in both camps and how things are run.

We see Miller, Rumsfeld and even our president stating blatant lies from their lips, making the soldiers at Abu Ghraib, along with Karpensky, the fall guys in the scandal that hit the media via the pictures of those being tortured and the part that we played in it.

Again, there is no reason why this story should have stopped when the soldiers were sentenced. GITMO is still open for businesses and just last month, two Saudis and one Yemeni committed suicide by using sheets to hang themselves. They had been held there since 2002 when the camp first opened, and 41 other suicide attempts have taken place since that time.

Another documentary, “Road to Guantanamo,” premiered in New York on June 23, created by filmmakers Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitescross who follow the path of three British men and their trip to Pakistan for a wedding, which ends with their imprisonment in GITMO.

So to find out what’s really going on, switch off the TV and head to the movie theaters. That seems to have become today’s way, aside from the Internet, of staying informed.


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