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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In The Oath, American director Laura Poitras tells Salim Hamdan's story
largely from the perspective of his friend Nasser al-Bahri, a.k.a. Abu
Jandal. A taxi driver in Yemen's capital city of Sana'a, Jandal is a
former member of al Qaeda, chief bodyguard of Osama bin Laden, and
"guesthouse emir" in charge of new arrivals to bin Laden's camp in
Afghanistan. It was Hamdan's fateful association with Jandal that set
him on the course that eventually placed him in the middle of America's
War on Terror.
Abu Jandal was dedicated to the protection of Osama bin Laden and to the reliability of new arrivals to bin Laden's Afghanistan training camp, including many if not all of the 9/11 highjackers. On the day of the 9/11 attacks, Jandal was in a Yemeni prison where he was in dialogue with a state-sponsored religious committee formed to engage with extremist fundamentalists.
After the 9/11 attacks, Jandal identified many of the hijackers to FBI agent Ali Soufan and became a significant source to link the attacks to al Qaeda. He was later freed from custody, and found work as a taxi driver.
For The Oath, Poitras interviewed Jandal, followed him to meetings with Yemeni youths, and joined him in quality time with his young son. She placed a video camera on the dashboard of his taxi to record his observations and encounters with passengers during his work day.
The Oath grants us an extraordinary perspective on al Qaeda's management and leadership. Most importantly, the film introduces us to the human beings who are our enemies and the unfortunate souls who get caught in the undertow of conflict.
Salim Hamdan is the silent protagonist at the heart of the film, represented by a voice-over reading from his letters home while captive in Guantánamo, a grainy video of his first interrogation, a recording taken by ABC's John Miller while Hamdan drove Miller to an interview with bin Laden, and a report from Hamdan's military trial.
The Oath is the second documentary in a trilogy Poitras is developing about post-9/11 America. The first, My Country, My Country, tells the story of the U.S. occupation of Iraq from the perspective of an Iraqi doctor. A planned third film will focus on the 9/11 trials.
If you think that the wave of fine documentaries dealing with just how bad the Bush administration royally screwed up the aftermath of September 11,even with Bush out of the White House has ceased,guess again. 'The Oath',the second part of a trilogy of films,tells yet,another story of what we don't know (but should). Two life long friends,Nassar al Bahri, and Salim Hamdan,long before the events of 9/11,found themselves introduced to Osama Bin Laden,and some of the chief members of Al Qaeda, and went to work for them (with Nassar having his name changed to Abu Jandal by Osama Bin Laden,himself). When America was attacked by Al Qaeda,both were arrested,and put in prison,with Abu Jandal released some time later,while Salim found himself detained in Guantanomo prison in Cuba (where he still remains today). In a series of interview footage,and news stories from the major American television networks, documentary film maker,Laura Poitras ('Flag Wars',and one episode of P.O.V.:My Country,My Country-the first film in the series)attempts to make sense of a nonsensical situation. This is a documentary that like 'My Country,My Country',is sure to touch it's share of raw nerves, in both the left,as well as the conservative far right. Spoken in Arabic with English subtitles,and English. Not rated by the MPAA,but contains some disturbing spoken testimony.
Laura Poitras has crafted a brilliant piece of film that tells the
complex and many faceted story of the film's 2 central characters.
Frankly I was shocked to see such a layered, nuanced and complex film from an American filmmaker; as opposed to the flaccid, sterile one dimensional pablum be usually see from American media; there is no subject so important to mankind that we can't dumb down into 30 minutes of Melba toast.
Although the story itself is deep, shocking and sad on so many levels ... I felt strangely uplifted at the end.
Encouraged that there are still filmmakers out there willing to go beyond the simplistic and pathetically uninformed fabrications of events from a very narrow good or bad points of view. To get to the dark, complex underbelly of events where things are not as crisp and clean and clear as we would like, but far more relevant and important.
We felt compassion for the former body guard/cab driver for the predicament he is now in, clearly a man who wanted to do what he felt was right and to stick to his word that he told The Dialogue he would.
Well done, I will seek out t her work in the future. Whether or not I will agree or disagree with her position I do not know, but I know I will like how she gets us there.
In 2001 Afganistan, Salim Hamdan is captured and sent to Guantanamo
Bay. Abu Jandal is his brother-in-law, Osama bin Laden's former
bodyguard from 1996 to 2000 and now a taxi driver in Sana'a, Yemen. He
left to fight Jihad in Bosnia as a 19 year old from Saudi Arabia. He
had recruited many including Salim Hamdan. He pledged an oath to Bin
Laden. Hamdan wins a suit against the government to get his day in
The scariest thing about Abu Jandal teaching Hamden's son is the smile of the innocent. Abu Jandal has the crazy eyes of a true believer or a pathological liar. This is a showcase of just how intractable these enemies of America truly are. The missing element is a more in-depth investigation of Abu Jandal other than his own words. They need to dig to confirm everything. By his own words, his intentions are to influence people depending on his audience and it's questionable to trust everything he says.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
druid, you need to watch the movie again, having gotten some of the
facts confused. eg Salim is not still at Guantanamo, nor was he at the
time spanned by the film's beginningmiddleandend.
anyway, this is a profound little documentary, it doesn't grab ya the way many do with the hooks it might have brought to bear on the subject, but in the end what's reeled in is something so lucid in complexity - there is an absolutely irresistible vortex of realism yielded from this project the result of which is that an enormous amount of complicated material is presented in such a way that it rings authentic with great clarity, dimensions missing in your typical polemic piece of filmmaking come to life vividly via the blurry edges of the main character and the great panorama of historical contest here documented! beautiful, very rewarding watching.
Sadly, once again, we are confronted with a film crafted by a director who loses sight of the most important consideration: what does the viewer see? Story line, audio levels, camera angles, editing considerations are trivial details if the viewer has no way of understanding what is being spoken. This movie is spoken in Arabic, with English subtitles. The problem is that the subtitles of the translated Arabic are one quarter of the size of the subtitles of the SDH English subtitles. And, if that weren't bad enough, the subtitles are in white, often white on white, nearly impossible to read. And absolutely impossible to read at the speed necessary to keep up with the rapid dialogue and the rapidly changing subtitles. I was so looking forward to hearing what these Al Qaeda members had to say. It's too bad that the director wasn't sufficiently interested in allowing me that opportunity.
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