Wednesday 22 February 2006
award-winning film director who reconstructed scenes of torture and
abuse at Guantánamo Bay has called for the immediate closure of the
Winterbottom's film shows prisoners in orange jumpsuits beaten,
manacled to floors and subjected to deafening music in solitary
confinement. It tells the story of Asif Iqbal, Ruhel Ahmed and Shafiq
Rasul, the so-called Tipton Three, who set off for Pakistan in
September 2001 and ended up in Camp Delta, in Cuba's Guantánamo Bay.
They were released without charge after more than two years'
Winterbottom said: "What's most shocking isn't the torture or the
shackling; it's that Guantánamo Bay exists at all. I think it should be
closed down, and last week the United Nations said it should be closed
criticized the Government's "perverse" refusal to come to the aid of
the eight British residents still incarcerated in the camp in Cuba. Mr.
Winterbottom added: "There are still 500 people in Guantánamo. They are
still experiencing all the things that we filmed."
White House appears oblivious to the growing international outcry in
recent weeks about conditions in Guantánamo Bay.
Straw, the Foreign Secretary, sidestepped an opportunity yesterday to
support his cabinet colleague Peter Hain, who called for closure last
Straw said on Radio 4: "I am absolutely clear the US has no intention
of maintaining a gulag in Guantánamo Bay. They want to see the
situation resolved and they would like it other than it is. However,
that is the situation that they have."
said the US was reducing the numbers held there, but added: "The
problem is what to do with those that are left, and that is a matter
which the US administration are going to have to take their own
decisions on, and frankly I'm not going to second-guess the decisions
Winterbottom's film, The Road to Guantánamo, mixes interviews with the
Tipton Three with dramatized reconstructions of how they ended up in US
military hands. They say that they decided to travel to Afghanistan
after hearing a preacher in a Pakistani mosque call for volunteers to
help with conducting aid work in the neighboring country. When the war
started they were trapped and ended up being captured by Northern
Alliance fighters who handed them over to US military forces.
film won the Silver Bear award for direction at the Berlin Film
Festival last week and will be shown on Channel 4 next month. Four or
five distributors are considering showing the film in the US.
was also revealed yesterday that two actors and the former Guantánamo
Bay detainees who they played in the film were stopped by police under
anti-terror laws when they returned from Berlin. Reprieve, a human
rights group, said Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Rasul and the actors who played
them - Rizwan Ahmed and Farhad Harun - were among a group of six
"detained" at Luton airport last Thursday.
charity issued a statement on behalf of Rizwan Ahmed, which said he had
been interrogated by three Special Branch officers. It is claimed they
went through his wallet and mobile phone to note personal details. Mr.
Ahmed said: "[A female officer] asked me if I intended to do more
documentary films, specifically more political ones like The Road to
Guantánamo. She asked, 'Did you become an actor mainly to do films like
this, to publicize the struggles of Muslims?'"
Police said that four people had been stopped at Luton airport on 16
February under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. It said they were taken
to a nearby room where their identities were confirmed and questions
about their journey and reasons for traveling established. They left
the airport within an hour.
100 prisoners have died in American custody in the "war on terror" in
Iraq and Afghanistan since August 2002, according to BBC Newsnight last
night. The figures were obtained from the Pentagon in Washington by the
Human Rights First organization. Of the 98 deaths, at least 34 are
suspected or confirmed murders.
The Director's View
heard about the Tipton Three, so we got in contact with their lawyer,
to arrange a meeting. Luckily they were interested in telling us their
story. What was fascinating about the way they described the experience
was that two of them were teenagers when they left, and one of them was
21, and none of them were particularly religious or political before
they left; even when they were talking about it with us, after the
event. And when they described it, it was in a matter-of-fact way, like
someone telling you about their holiday - the holiday from hell.
were just ordinary British teens who got caught up in these events. We
wanted to show the gap between what you thought people would be like in
Guantánamo and the reality of meeting them.
good that people see that these are ordinary guys; to contrast the
messiness of reality and real people's lives with the simplicity of
Bush and Blair's insistence that they know these people, they're bad
people, and that it's a fight of good against evil, it's a war against
terror. All these absolutes are so deceptive and so misleading. Things
are not like that in the real world."
Michael Winterbottom is director of The Road to Guantánamo, to be shown on Channel 4 on 9 March
'They Chained You to a Hook on the Floor'
"In Guantánamo you were sitting on your knees for ages. It was hot and
you felt the sun burning your head. For the first month and a half, we
never went out of our cells. They wouldn't let us pray; you couldn't
stand up in your cell for the first two weeks. You weren't allowed to
speak to the guy next to you.
was a hook on the floor and leg irons attached to the hook, and they
put your hands between your ankles on the floor and chained you to the
hook on the floor as well. They'd keep you there for five hours, six
hours - you couldn't go to the toilet, you'd have to urinate, defecate
where you are."
'The Camp Reminded Me of a Zoo'
"When we got to the Afghan border they came on motorbikes, we paid them
200 rupees. They took us across. When we got to Kandahar, that's when
the bombing started. You see something like that in the movies only.
US custody in Afghanistan you weren't allowed to talk, you weren't
allowed to walk, you weren't allowed to look at the soldiers. If you
looked at them, that was it, you would get punished.
Guantánamo we used to walk five minutes every week - they used to take
us out for five minutes every week. It reminded me of a zoo... there
were rats, mice, snakes, scorpions..."
'In Prison Everyone Told You Not to Say You Were English'
"My parents went to Pakistan and my mum came back and said I should go
there to get married, so I went. I didn't really want to go because I
had a job. But she was telling me it was time to go to Pakistan. The
preacher [at a Karachi mosque] was saying we should help the Afghan
people in whatever way we can. So we got a bus and off we went."
prison in Afghanistan] "At night it was so crowded we had to take turns
at sleeping. In prison, everyone told you not to say you were English."
Guantánamo Bay they wanted to say I was a fighter. The next thing was:
'Were you a member of al-Qa'ida?' Once you say you were a member of
al-Qa’ida that was it. It either destroys you or it makes you stronger.
I think it made me stronger. It destroyed me for a few weeks, after
that I was all right. It's changed my life, the way I look at things.
The world's not a nice place."