Movie review: 'Road' is highway to hell

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 7, 2006 - 4:01 PM

Aharrowing docudrama follows the tale of three Englishmen caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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A scene from "The Road to Guantanamo"

How does a democracy balance the imperatives of national security with a respect for the rights it cherishes?

The question posed by the harrowing English docudrama "The Road to Guantanamo" couldn't be more vital or more timely. The film arrives here a week after the Supreme Court ruled against the Bush administration's plan to try the interrogation center's detainees before special military commissions. But at Guantanamo, "innocent until proven guilty" apparently does not apply. In the opening sequence of the film, we see news footage of President Bush saying, "The only thing we know for sure is that these are bad people."

"The Road to Guantanamo" follows three English Muslims through a mistaken two-year imprisonment. Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Ruhel Ahmed were Westernized Muslim adolescents, comfortable in baseball caps and hoodies, but still connected to old-world customs.

In September 2001, Iqbal's mother had found her 19-year-old son a girl to marry in Pakistan, and he invited his buddies to attend the wedding. Several days after the wedding, curious about the war in neighboring Afghanistan, they made an excursion into the battle zone in the naïve hope they could somehow help the Afghans. Blundering their way into a Taliban stronghold, they were captured and sent to Guantanamo for as long as it would take them to confess to being jihadist warriors.

Their captors produced photos and videos that supposedly showed the three at a Mideast al-Qaida rally in 2000. The pictures were fuzzy and indistinct, and the men insisted that they were in England at the time. Just let us talk to a lawyer or our families, they asked. But they had no legal representation or constitutional rights. Instead, they told of being held in outdoor cages, bound in "stress positions," subjected to sleep deprivation and threatened. The line between questioning and torture was dangerously blurry. Two years later, indisputable proof of their innocence surfaced. They were released without apology or an official admission of wrongdoing and returned to Britain.

The film has a gut-wrenching urgency, alternating riveting reenactments of mistreatment with the real-life Rasul, Iqbal and Ahmed, offering direct-to-camera testimony.

The crucial weakness is that the only talking heads or eyewitnesses are the subjects themselves. "The Road to Guantanamo" captures their perspective and no other, and your view of its accuracy depends entirely on how truthful you feel the narrators are. I found it easy to believe the general outlines of their stories. In times of war, bad things don't happen only to bad people.

  • The Road To Guantanamo

    *** out of four stars

    The setup: A docudrama about three nonpolitical English Muslims vacationing abroad who were swept up in the Afghan war and imprisoned in the military interrogation camp.

    What works: The film has a convincing feel of authenticity.

    What doesn't: It offers no independent evidence to support the subjects' version of events.

    Great scene: An agonizing sequence in which one detainee is shackled in a squatting position and made to listen to earsplitting rock music for hours.

    Rating: R for language and disturbing violent content

    Where: Edina

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