A young teenager sits in a cell with hands clasped and head down. His face suddenly brightens when three visitors enter and say that they are from his home country of Canada. They chat, give the teenager a Subway sandwich, and copiously use his first name, Omar. However, despite Omar’s enthusiasm in welcoming his potential saviors from the limbo that is Guantanamo Bay Prison, he is exhaustion personified. His eye, damaged from months of torture at the infamous Bagram prison, shuts in a lopsided slant. His English is slow and deep, and every word seeps out as if he carries a festering wound. His 19 year-old body slumps in his chair, as if it has seen twice its years.
You Don’t Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantanamo tells the story of Omar Khadr. The movie consists of clips from seven hours of declassified Guantanamo interrogation footage, interspersed with interviews from Khadr’s cellmates, lawyers, and Bagram torturer. A then-15-year-old Khadr was alleged to have killed combat medic S.F.C. Christopher Speer during an attack on an al Qaeda compound, a claim that the film dissects and largely disproves. Nevertheless, American interrogators tortured a bullet-ridden Khadr for three months, before shipping him to Guantanamo Bay Prison, a hell the film portrays not only as a Kafkaesque nightmare, but also as a symbol of American isolationism and hegemony. Yet the film’s message reaches broader than its nominal subject. While You Don’t Like the Truth wrenchingly describes the suffering of Khadr, the film cannot succeed in reconciling the fact that Americans simply do not care enough about the truth of America’s international “justice” system.
The basis of the film remains director Luc Cote’s compelling cinematography. The surveillance footage of Khadr’s interrogation could have stood alone, but the interspersed interviews incisively explain what is going through Khadr’s mind as the interrogators proceed with their games. The screen often comprises three to four boxes showing Khadr from different angles, the eeriest one from a camera hidden in the in-wall air conditioner. Through the dusty slats, the camera shows the anguish and despair on Khadr’s face; over the raucous hum of the machine, the listener can hear Khadr crying ““Ya Ummi,” Arabic for “mother”. After the Canadian interrogators repeatedly say he is lying, Khadr becomes desperate, begging them for support, imploring, “Promise me you’ll protect me from the Americans.” The interrogators leave in order for Khadr to regain composure, but their departure only sends the teenager into tears. When Khadr quietly says, “you don’t like the truth,” the fact stands as blaringly evident as Khadr’s orange jumpsuit.
The arc of the film ends with Khadr’s lawyers explaining that there was a good chance that Khadr did not even murder S.F.C. Speer. The film flashes a series of photos to make the case that Khadr was covered in rubble after Speer was supposed to have been killed. This legal argument, however, is still less compelling as one of the last lines of simple white text on a black screen: “Omar Khadr is the first child soldier to be tried for war crimes since Nuremberg.” Upon reflection on that parting note, it seems absurd to think that a boy who might or might not have thrown a grenade, after having his world reduced to rubble, could ever be compared to a Nazi who sent thousands of civilians to death in a concentration camps.
If Khadar’s case seems outrageous, it seems even more shocking that the imprisonment of countless people with neither charge nor trial has so quietly settled at the bottom of the media trench. On Google Trends, the phrase “Guantanamo Bay” spiked only as a response to Obama’s promise to close the prison, a pledge that PolitiFact has now definitively declared “broken.” In part, it may be because of the physical remoteness of the location. It may also be that Americans will never need to worry about themselves or their children being imprisoned. Anticipating this, the film tries to bridge the cultural divide by focusing their lens on Khadr, a Canadian, and Moazzem Begg, a British national, sharing their stories from behind bars and from freedom, respectively. However, with such limited release, You Don’t Like the Truth cannot hope to enter into the political dialogue, as its crafted whisper is lost amongst the shrieks on the right for “freedom” from taxes, or on the left for “freedom” from corporations. It’s easy to forget that freedom for Omar Khadr means to not be tortured.
Yet Guantanamo lives on. The facility still contains approximately 180 detainees, and American authorities have offered provisions to continue operations there indefinitely. Even if a detainee is found to be innocent of charges through the military commission system returning to one’s home country can prove to be impossible. Instead of systematically trying each detainee in a timely fashion, Guantanamo’s overseers seem to prefer to hold hundreds of prisoners for years, innocence or guilt be damned. Khadr, who recently came to trial, is now finishing an 8-year sentence at the prison. He will have entered a boy and be released in his 30s, most likely not even to his home country. Most important, Guantanamo is the secret prison that everyone knows about. There could be hundreds of Omar Khadrs in any number of the truly secret prisons hidden around the world.
On its own, You Don’t Like the Truth stands as a powerful documentary in a time where Guantanamo has been relegated to a broken Obama campaign promise. After a prolonged legal battle, centered on the naïve assumption that the American public would accept expatriation of its detainees to America, the prison continues in a legal—and moral—limbo. Yet the main theme of the film is not necessarily a policy recommendation, nor even a commentary on the political figures who created and maintained the prison’s existence. Rather, it is the story of what happens when a country abandons its citizens, as did the Canadian interrogators. It is the story of people, the American military, who essentially tortured a child. At the end of the You Don’t Like the Truth, its viewer is left with the sense that justice was not served for Khadr, even though a trial took place, that truth could only be exposed after bureaucracy let out its final gasp, and, even so, that working through the American people’s miasmic apathy is still a cause worth fighting for.
Christine Hurd ’13 is a Contributing Writer