“The Road to Guantánamo” (2006)

The famous fiction director Michael Winterbottom (Tristram Sandy: A Cock and Bull Story, The Killer inside me) and the TV series and documentary director Mat Whitecross (The Shock Doctrine, Supersonic) joined their forces to direct the docu-drama The Road to Guantánamo (2006).

This film is based on a true story. It portrays the trip of Ruhal Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul (the “Tipton Three”), three young British men from Tipton in the West Midlands, who are of Pakistani and Bangladeshi ancestry. They travelled to Pakistan in September 2001, just days after the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA, because one of them was going to get married with a Pakistani.

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Shafiq, Ruhel and Asif

They decided to take a trip to Afghanistan to help the population who was victim of Taliban positions. But when they wanted to return to Pakistan, they were captured and imprisoned to Guantánamo Bay detention camp, where they passed two years.

“My name’s Shafiq Rasul, and I’m from Tipton, I tell them I ain’t Taliban, but they don’t wanna listen. You won’t believe I just came out here, for my mate’s wedding, do you? I never thought my ass, would be heading for Cuba.”

Shafiq (rapping to an American guard)

The film is mixed with interviews with the three mens, archive news footage from the period and fiction sequences. The interviews are not really necessary. They are just a pretext to make the story more credible.

The main problem with this movie is its sensationalist aspect. Even if the first part of the film (the travel to Pakistan and Afghanistan) is interesting and shows a well-done reconstitution of the context, in the second part (captivity at Guantánamo) the directors are very complacent by having no really reflection about the subject. This part is a simply succession of interrogations of the detainees.

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Furthermore, the fact that the actors do not play well is pretty inappropriate. The actors who play the prisoners have difficulties to express suffering, so it gives the sensation that they not really suffer… which is a paradox when we know how the detention conditions are at Guantánamo.

The Road to Guantánamo is a good road movie, but not a good prison movie. There is a lack of attention about the dialogues. There is no depth reflexion about the detention conditions of Guantánamo Bay detention camp as we could have expected but just a demonstration of what it happens there, with bad actors and bad dialogues… The directors should have chosen between documentary and drama rather than mixing both genres to make an incomplete movie. What a pity…

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The Road to Guantánamo (2006)
Directors: Michael Winterbottom, Mat Whitecross
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Farhad Harun, Arfan Usman, Waqar Siddiqui…
Running time:
1h35
Genre: Documentary, Historical


Guantánamo Bay detention camp

The Guantánamo Bay detention camp (GTMO) in Cuba was established in 2002 by the president George W. Bush’s administration during his War on Terror. The camp is divided into four different sections : Camp Delta, Camp X-Ray (closed in 2002), Camp No and Camp 7. The camp was established to detain extraordinary dangerous people, to interrogate them and to prosecute detainees for war crimes.

In practice, the site has long been used for indefinite detention without trial… Furthermore, the detainees are severely tortured and malnourished. A lot of them commit suicide.

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Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding arena at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, on January, 11, 2002 © Shane T. McCoy / DoD via Reuters

Since January 2002, 779 men have been brought to GTMO. About 50 nationalities are present at the camp. Afghans are the largest group, followed by Saudi Arabians and Yemenis. Top Department of Defense (DoD) estimed that eight men have died in the prison camp, six were suicides. 17 to 22 minors under the age of 18 were detained at Guantánamo Bay, and it has been claimed that this is in violation of international law.

President Barack Obama promised that he would close the camp but he had difficulties to complete his task. However, his administration succeeded in reducing the number of inmates from about 245 to 41. Most detainees were freed and transferred to other countries.

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