Tuesday, March 07, 2006


A good piece from David Aaronovitch on Michael Winterbottom's film about the Tipton Three. Channel 4 are showing it later this week.
’ll start with the Michael Winterbottom’s film, because, despite its many virtues, it exemplifies a problem in the way many have come to look at the War on Terror. Mixing dramatised sequences with interviews, and cutting to news footage, The Road to Guantanamo tells how three young Midlanders went off to Pakistan to organise a marriage, soon after 9/11. The film suggests that, after having arranged things, they were at a bit of a loose end and, walking along a Karachi road one day, were swept up by a crowd entering a mosque. There they were moved by a spirit of adventure — and a desire to eat very large naan breads — to volunteer to go to Afghanistan to help in aid projects. A few days later they departed by bus.

They make it, via Kandahar, to Kabul, where they sit around for a fortnight doing nothing, and then get a lift in a van going back to Pakistan. Except it isn’t going to Pakistan, it is heading in the exact opposite direction, and they wind up in the last remaining Taleban stronghold of Kunduz, alongside lots of foreign fighters. They are captured by the Northern Alliance, appallingly treated, then handed over to the Americans who eventually fly them to Guantanamo. There they languish until finally being released last year.

If this account is to be believed then these three are either the luckiest or unluckiest men in Britain, and certainly among the stupidest. Winterbottom, asked about their reasons for going to Afghanistan, replied: “If you’re talking about people’s motives, it’s very difficult . . . It’s very hard to pin down your motives to one thing. But what they say in the film is that they were interested to see Afghanistan, and wanted to help the people there.”

What the film doesn’t tell you is that the Karachi mosque that the three boys happened across, the Binori Mosque, had already, in 2001, been described as “the alma mater for jihadis”. The most militant elements in the battle for Kashmir studied at the Binori madrassa — a centre of the extreme Deobandi ideology — as did many members of the Taleban. It was thought to be the spiritual home of the Harkat ul-Ansar terrorist organisation, and in the autumn of 2001 the mosque and seminary were openly recruiting fighters to go to the aid of the Taleban.

There is also a curiosity in the timeline of the film. The boys left Karachi on the October 12, crossing the border on the 14th. They hadn’t, they told the film-makers, really expected that a war would actually happen. That’s how innocent they were. But the bombing of Kabul and Kandahar began at 7.45pm local time on October 7, and the battle was already five days old before they left Karachi. The film glosses over this fact, too.

Finally, though the Tipton lads are shown as having been lovable rogues back home, there are no interviews with those who have claimed that, by September 2001, they had already become religiously zealous, and anxious to listen to the preaching of men like Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal, the imam later jailed in Britain for calling upon Muslims to murder Jews.
Why let the facts get in the way of a good documentary?

On the subject of Camp Delta, Scott Burgess was combing through the Guantanamo hearing transcripts and struck gold:

Finally, and in all honesty, it's my duty to add that another former detainee, Feroz Abbasi, is not nearly as happy with the treatment that he received. In lengthy handwritten statements, included with the newly-released documents, Mr. Abbasi - who "left Britain to either join the Taliban or fight for Allah in [Indian-occupied] Kashmir", being driven by "pure hate" for Americans - details the extent of the torture to which he was subjected.

The list of abuses (set 5, page 14) makes for unpleasant reading, to say the least - but the whole thing must be included, for the sake of completeness.

During his time in Guantanamo, Mr. Abbasi (writing in the third person) alleges that he was:

  • subject to [unspecified] "mental stress and pressure"

  • "willfully misdirected ... to pray north"

  • deprived of "comfort items"

  • subjected to an [apparently failed] "attempt to withdraw Qur'an"

  • able to hear two guards having sex, while they "assumed he was asleep"

  • distracted from his prayer by the "sharp intake of breath" of a female MP who'd been "sexually fondled".

  • offered a plate of pork

  • the object of a conspiracy "to keep detainee ignorant of detainee's allotted Tuesday recreation"

  • subjected to a "partially successful" attempt to administer injections "under the guise of immunisation", designed to "unhinge detainee's mental and emotional stability"
While all of these acts are undeniably horrifying, being on a par with the worst excesses of Torquemada, even their totality pales in comparison with the most extreme of the tortures to which Mr. Abbasi was subjected.

Of course, countless abuses have been committed against war prisoners throughout the ages - no one denies that. But, while not downplaying their suffering, it must be admitted that even the most unfortunate of these victims can only breathe a sigh of relief that he was not subject to what Mr. Abbasi was forced to endure when he:
  • had his peanut butter eaten by a guard "right in front of him".
One needn't be a bleeding heart to shudder at the inhumanity thus displayed.


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