I Am Gitmo


As a title at the end of the film attests, 86 percent of those at Guantánamo should not have been there. What happened is that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld had thousands of leaflets dropped in Afghanistan after 9/11, encouraging Afghans to rat on their rivals, getting paid a bounty to turn them in as members of Al-Qaeda. The person turned over in I Am Gitmo is Gamel Sadek (played by Sammy Sheik), an Egyptian teacher residing in Kabul. He is arrested, taken to Bagram (the U.S. military base) and later to Guantánamo. During much of the film he is tortured in numerous ways, trying to force him to confess that he is a member of Al-Qaeda and to disclose the location of Osama Bin Laden. (Yet the whereabouts question is absurd: When the USA attacked Afghanistan from the north, Al-Qaeda was in the south of the country and escaped quickly to Pakistan.)

As evidence of Sadek’s culpability, the U.S. government has a photo in which he is presumed to be standing next to Osama Bin Laden. But Sadek denies membership and any knowledge of the mastermind of 9/11. As explained later, Sammy left his native Egypt to join American forces opposing the Russian control of Afghanistan, a time when the United States was allied with Al-Qaeda. Whether he is in the photo seems unlikely to filmviewers because of the quality of the photography yet the American government believes that facial recognition technology proves their case.

Meanwhile, John Anderson (played by Eric Pierpoint) has been called upon to leave retirement to carry out an assignment of deriving intelligence from the prisoners. He is incensed by the torture, which he knows will not yield useful information, and conducts his own interrogation by seeking to befriend Sadek but continues to believe that he is guilty. Later, Bob Levin (played by Paul Kampf) arrives as a pro bono attorney prior to a court martial proceeding; he assures Sadek that he has been a victim of war crimes and will eventually be released, though he is not allowed to speak at the hearing, where Anderson sides with the U.S. government’s view that Sadek is guilty.

The film, directed by Philippe Diaz, goes beyond providing graphic details about how prisoners were tortured. Military officers claim that the order to violate the Geneva Conventions came from the White House, though Vice President Dick Cheney is featured in a TV interview, not President George W. Bush.

Some members of the military are displeased with their assignments but obey unlawful orders from General Geoffrey Miller (Sean O’Bryan), who states that he does not give a fuck about the Geneva Conventions at a time when the United States might be subject to more terrorist attacks.

Prisoners, who try to help one another verbally, decide at one point to go on a hunger strike and respond to requests for their names by saying “I Am Gitmo.”

Former British Foreign Minister David Miliband has referred to the 21st century as the “age of impunity,” referring to the fact that human rights abuses are being committed around the world with little accountability. Although Miliband has not said so, the book George W. Bush, War Criminal? The Bush Administration’s Liability for 269 War Crimes documents the launching of the age of impunity, which has been carried out beyond Afghanistan and Iraq by various countries in Syria, Ukraine, Yemen and now in Gaza.

Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated I Am Gitmo as best film exposé as well as best film on human rights of 2024.  MH

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