Headlines, Human Rights, North America

CANADA: Documenting the ‘Truth’

MONTREAL, Canada, May 27 2011 (L’Itineraire) - “I told you the truth, you don’t like the truth”, Omar Khadr shouts at a Canadian Security Intelligence Service agent. The accused, then aged 16, breaks down: “Ya Ummi! (Mummy!)”, he cries in Arabic. This four-day interrogation, captured on CCTV at the notorious Guantánamo Bay prison, lies at the heart of the documentary “You don’t like the truth – 4 days in Guantánamo”.

Omar Khadr’s story has become well-known. The only Westerner to remain in detention at the Guantánamo Bay military prison, he was arrested by the U.S. army in 2001 at the age of fifteen. He stands accused of detonating the grenade that caused the death of U.S. soldier Christopher Speer in Afghanistan. Now 24, the Canadian of Afghan origin has spent more than a third of his life in this prison.

The public release of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) interrogation has given filmmakers Luc Côté and Patricio Henriquez unprecedented access to Omar Khadr’s story.

In “You don’t like the Truth”, viewers first see the teenager rejoicing to see the first Canadian representatives sent to see him, exclaiming “Finally! Some Canadians!” as he meets them. Little by little, we see him losing his enthusiasm as it dawns on him that these agents only want to make him confess to “their truth” by owning up to his crime.

Henriquez explains: “It’s real. These days, with reality TV culture, what’s real is often invisible. But the Guantánamo CCTV cameras were well and truly there.” Woven into these extracts are testimonies from just about everyone in Khadr’s entourage (mother, sister, lawyers, journalist, psychiatrists, fellow detainees, etc.)

The directors believe their documentary shows what they describe as blatant injustice. Henriquez reminds us that “over and above the film, there’s objective facts. In the first place, Omar Khadr was only 15 at the time the incident took place. There’s an international law about child soldiers, which Canada has signed. Secondly, the Guantánamo Bay jail isn’t recognised by any court in the world. The Pentagon has control over the judges, the military lawyers and the jury there.”

Recognition and censorship

The film has been nominated for two prestigious Canadian film awards for best documentary. It received high praise during its first screening in Canada last October, as part of Montreal’s Festival of New Cinema. Introducing the film, the Festival’s director Claude Chamberlan, criticised the refusal of other Canadian festivals to screen it.

Henriquez agrees with the criticism: “I can’t explain why but there’s definitely a tendency to self-censure. On top of that, we didn’t get any public financial backing, even though all our other films have had some. It’s a bit too much of a coincidence.”

And what does the person most directly affected think about all this? Omar Khadr has seen the film twice. One of his lawyers showed it to him, before any public screenings took place.

“He didn’t move a muscle during the entire 100 minutes of the film” reports co-director Luc Côté. “Seeing these images made him relive all the torture he’s been through. Since he hasn’t seen them for years, seeing his mother and sister on screen was really tough for him”. At the second screening, just before his trial, Khadr was better able to appreciate this public demonstration of support for him.

His trial came to an end last autumn: the young man received an eight year sentence. A transfer to Canada is anticipated for the end of the year. Henriquez highlights that,” while the trial is over, the struggle isn’t finished. Khadr will make headlines all over again when he is repatriated”.

Without taking a stance about Khadr’s role in the death of soldier Speer, “‘You don’t like the truth” aims to be a “film about human nature” through analysing the nature of truth in an interrogation that continues to cause controversy.

* Published under an agreement with Street News Service.

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