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  • 15
  • Documentary, Drama
  • 2006
  • 95 mins

The Road To Guantánamo

The Road To Guantánamo


In this compelling docudrama by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, the 'Tipton Three' narrate their own experiences in America's controversial offshore detention camp


The Road To Guantánamo opens with archive footage of George W Bush, flanked by a stern-faced Tony Blair, declaring his certain knowledge that all the detainees held in Guantánamo are "bad people". Everything that follows is designed to turn these words inside out, as three young British Muslims tell the story of how they came to be in US custody at Guantánamo for over two years, and discuss the Kafkaesque horrors that awaited them there, until finally they were released without charge or apology.

The title may evoke the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope 'Road' movies of the 1940s, travel-themed musical comedies with a vaguely racist depiction of non-Americans, but the exotic journey embarked upon by the so-called 'Tipton Three' was to take them into areas that were politically incorrect in an altogether different way.

About to get married in Pakistan, Birmingham lad Asif Iqbal (Usman) invites his friends Ruhal Ahmed (Harun) and Shafiq Rasul (Ahmed) to join him there for a holiday. Accompanied by another friend called Monir (Siddiqui) and Shafiq's cousin Zahid (Iqbal), they head into Afghanistan, hoping to offer humanitarian aid to their fellow Muslims and to see the place for themselves.

After several weeks, they realise they've made a terrible mistake and try to head back to Pakistan, instead ending up under heavy bombardment near Kundun. Separated from Monir (who is never seen again), they become captives of the Northern Alliance in the notorious Sheberghan Prison. Once it is discovered that the three friends are English, they are at first relieved to find themselves handed over to American custody; but in fact their nightmare is only just beginning, as they are passed from Kandahar Airbase to Camp X-Ray, from Camp Delta to solitary confinement, facing mistreatment, injustice and endless, pointless interrogations.

In The Road To Guantánamo, the misadventures of Asif, Ruhel and Shafiq are vividly reconstructed by actors, while at the same time anchored to reality by the intercutting of extensive interviews with the real trio, as well as occasional barrages of archival news footage. The result is an utterly devastating, gripping portrayal of innocents abroad falling foul of both large-scale international events and a US policy that seems cruel, inhuman and willfully blind, with the three men's testimonies a stark reminder that the awful, often darkly surreal events unfolding on screen actually took place.

'Intelligence' comes out of this film looking almost comically stupid. The interrogators are entirely convinced of their captives' guilt, but seem less sure of (and indeed less interested in) easily verifiable details like who the detainees are, what language they speak, and whether they were actually in England (under well-documented police probation) at the time that the interrogators insist they were meeting Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

What the three actually have to say is rarely heeded, while manipulative lies, brutalisation, beatings, stress positions, and months of solitary confinement are regularly employed to persuade them of the interrogators' point of view. Of course such abuses will come as little surprise to anyone reading the newspapers, but to see them re-enacted (albeit with a certain restraint), and to hear the victims' personal accounts, has a much greater impact than the written word, putting paid to America's claims that the treatment of so-called 'enemy combatants' is, as Donald Rumsfeld puts it, "humane and appropriate and consistent with the Geneva Convention for the most part."

It would be easy to criticise The Road to Guantánamo for being one-sided (it is), and for failing to contextualise the conduct of the US (there is not even a passing mention of 9/11), but such objections miss the point. Many times Bush, Blair and other politicians have used their considerable public platforms to present a similarly partisan, at times even subsequently discredited justification for different aspects of their 'War on Terror', including the unlimited detention without trial of men like the Tipton Three. The trio, and the more than 800 prisoners who remain at America's Cuban base, were not able to communicate their version of events to a lawyer or judge, let alone to the outside world. The Road To Guantánamo gives them their day in court, and the story these "bad people" tell is one that well deserves a hearing.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Rizwan Ahmed, Farhad Harun, Arfan Usman, Waqar Siddiqi, Shahid Iqbal
  • Director: Mat Whitecross, Michael Winterbottom
  • Producer: Michael Winterbottom, Andrew Eaton, Melissa Parmenter
  • Photographer: Marcel Zyskind
  • Composer: Molly Nyman, Harry Escott

In a nutshell

Gripping, nightmarish, and at times bleakly funny, The Road To Guantánamo is far too important a personal testimony to go unheard.

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