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Monday, September 11, 2006


Why do they hate us? If the Americans are still looking for answers to that elusive question, then they need to take a closer look at the searing docu-drama 'The Road to Guantanamo'.

I know I'm rather late on this one, but I finally sat down to watch Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross's gripping account of how three young Muslim men from Tipton, in the UK, ended up in the world's most notorious prison - Guantanamo. Though the movie showed us prisons far worse than Guantanamo along the way.

I wasn't entirely convinced about the beginnings of the Afghan misadventure for the friends though. A friend's wedding brings them to Pakistan. If that was the reason why did they end up staying in a mosque? Then was it the Afghan food or the imam's call for men to travel to Afghanistan to give aid to the people that makes them go a road trip that ends up pulling them deeper and deeper into the recesses of a war that has only just begun.

Those key missing dots made it a little hard for me to believe that they simply stumbled into a war. However, haven't we been repeatedly told that one is innocent until found guilty.

Not so in this account. Brilliantly shot and edited, it juxtaposes filmed and archival footage together with interviews of the the Tipton Three. Their fateful journey began in the days after 9/11 when Asif Iqbal (Arfan Usman) sets out for Pakistan to meet the bride his mother has selected for him. His friends from England, Ruhel (Farhad Harun, Shafiq Rasul (Rizwan Ahmed) and Monir Ali (Waqar Siddiqui) fly to Pakistan to be a part of the wedding.

Only to embark on a messy misadventure. They go right into Kunduz, Kandahar - the names that are associated with some of the worst US air strikes. They end up losing one of their friends Monir, never to see him again. The three survivors are rounded up by American forces. The brutal bullying that is to follow defies all norms of the Geneva Convention. Things get no better when they are put on a flight to Camp X-Ray, then to Guantanamo.

The three are repeatedly tortured by American soldiers when they insist they are not terrorists or fighters. When a female interrogator shows them a grainy video insisting she can see the three at a rally led by Osama bin Laden, you wonder about the current state of US intelligence. At the time they were supposed to be rallying behind Osama, two of the three were on parole doing time for minor crimes.

It is that bit that eventually clears them and they are freed in England in March 2004, clearly putting in doubt President Bush's earlier claim "these are people who don't share our value system."

Despite its sketchy start, the film is a must watch if only for understanding in part what the civilizational clash is all about. Beyond the excesses, this is a story about the triumph of the human spirit.

Asif, Ruhel and Shafiq show us all how a bitter past can still pave the way for a better future.