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'Guantanamo' Actors Questioned at London Airport

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'Guantanamo' Actors Questioned at London Airport
The stars of the controversial movie The Road To Guantanamo were questioned by police under anti-terrorism laws on Thursday upon arrival at London Luton airport. Actors Farhad Harun, Rizwan Ahmed, Shafiq Rusul and Rhuhel Ahmed were returning to their native Britain from the Berlin Film Festival in Germany, where the Michael Winterbottom-directed movie picked up a Silver Bear award. The Road To Guantanamo tells the story of the Tipton Three, a group of men from England who journeyed to Pakistan to arrange a wedding and found themselves imprisoned in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba for two years, before being released without charge. Ahmed alleges he was verbally abused by an office, his mobile phone was taken away from him, and police told him he could be in their custody for up to 48 hours without access to a lawyer. He also claims a police office asked him if he planned to star in any more "political films." Bedfordshire Police say the men were not arrested, adding, "Six people were stopped under the Terrorism Act. This is something that happens all the time and obviously at airports and train stations. There is a heightened state of security since the London bombings. Public safety is paramount."

The Road to Guantanamo

The Road to Guantanamo
Screened at the Berlin International Film Festival

BERLIN -- Four mates from the British Midlands embark on a wedding trip and side adventure in late September 2001 only to find themselves on "The Road to Guantanamo". This remarkable film by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross tracks the true story of these British citizens of Pakistani descent, using hundreds of hours of interviews so the story can come out, literally, in their own words.

The early sections are reminiscent of Winterbottom's astonishing "In This World" (2003), but the road picture soon turns into a war picture and then a prison picture as the men are incarcerated by U.S. forces convinced they are Taliban.

A tough, compelling, must-see movie, "The Road to Guantanamo" is headed for a Channel 4 airing in the U.K. As a consequence of that exposure along with its Berlin Festival competition screening and any possible honors, the film should get wider international distribution than "In This World" received. The film certainly exposes the Bush Administration's repeated assertions of their humane treatment of Islamic prisoners at extra-legal detention centers as a lie.

The film mixes staged and archival footage with recreations of the interviews with the three surviving men. Annoyingly, film does come without a writing credit, presumably because interviews supplied the stories, but clearly someone structured the events.

Just after 9/11, Asif Iqbal (Arfan Usman) sets out for Pakistan to meet the bride his mother found for him. When his best man calls to say he can't make the wedding, Asif calls another friend in England. Ruhel (Farhad Harun) agrees to be best man and he flies out with two other friends, Shafiq Rasul (Rizwan Ahmed) and Monir Ali (Waqar Siddiqui).

With some time on their hands, the four men visit a mosque and hear an Iman's call for men to travel to Afghanistan to give aid to the people. Foolishly, they jump on a bus headed for the border. They arrive in Afghanistan just in time to see the first American bombs hit. At one point during the chaos, they get separated from Monir, who is never heard from again.

The others are captured by Northern Alliance troops and shipped in containers where many die, before being turned over to U.S. forces December 28. They are beaten and tortured by American soldiers when they insist they are not terrorists or fighters. When one interrogator asks in all seriousness for the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden, this provokes laughter in the theater that makes you want to weep: Is this what has become of U.S. intelligence?

The three Britons are eventually flown to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where they are held in detention for over two years, systematically tortured and accused of all sort of crimes. A female interrogator shows them bad video footage of an old rally attended by Bin Laden and Mohammed Atta and insists she can see all three sitting in the crowd. This is another of those laugh/cry moments.

Ironically, a police record back in England clears them. Two of the youths were on parole for minor offenses while Shafiq was working at an electrical superstore at the time they supposedly were in Pakistan cheering Bin Laden. The men were freed in England in March 2004.

Working on a budget a little over $2 million, Winterbottom and Whitecross superbly recreate these experiences in locations in Britain, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. There is little time for character or relationship development as events hit these young men fast. Similarly, the bullying American and British interrogators are all interchangeable.

The film doesn't really plead a political cause or moral crusade as show in persuasive dramatic terms what happened to these lads. It makes no attempt to enlarge the story beyond these men or to verify any of their claims. Continually, President Bush refers detainees at Guantanamo as "bad people." Clearly, these three were not.

THE ROAD TO GUANTANAMO

Film Four

Revolution Films

Credits:

Directors/editors: Michael Winterbottom, Mat Whitecross

Producer: Melissa Parmenter

Director of photography: Marcel Zyskind

Production designer: Mark Digby

Music: Molly Nyman, Harry Escott

Costumes: Esmaeil Maghsoudi

Cast:

Ruhel: Farhad Harun

Asif: Arfan Usman

Shafiq: Rizwan Ahmed

Monir: Waqar Siddiqui

Zahid: Shahid Iqbal

No MPAA rating

Running time -- 95 minutes

See also

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