The Guantanamo Trap (2011) dir. Thomas Sellim Wallner
Starring: Murat Kurnaz, Diane Beaver, Matthew Diaz, Gonzalo Boye
By Greg Klymkiw
“Inverted totalitarianism, unlike classical totalitarianism, does not revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader. It finds expression in the anonymity of the Corporate State. It purports to cherish democracy, patriotism, and the Constitution while manipulating internal levers.” - Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle
America - the real America as promised in its constitution, as exemplified in its (mostly) great people and in the vision of Abraham Lincoln to build an economically powerful empire within its borders (thus rejecting the insane expansionism of Manifest Destiny) and to tirelessly serve the world as a genuine defender of the tenets of democratic human rights - that America is dead.
Currently operating as one of the most corrupt oligarchies in the world, insanely going to war under the guise of Lincoln's great dream but in reality enhancing the economic power of the rich, America has duped millions of its own citizens and both foreign and domestic lenders out of billions of dollars - sending the world into a major economic crisis. The America that now exists has reduced the majority of its populace to an existence of poverty and near-Third World conditions while spending billions on a false war on terrorism.
The cherry on the American Empire's ice cream sundae of Decline is the illegal kidnapping of (mostly) innocent people all over the world. Their subsequent incarceration on Guantanamo includes being held without formal charges, hearings or trials for years and being tortured in order to spill their guts about spurious accusations of terrorist activities.
We all know it. The powers-that-be know it. The victims certainly know it. Alas, the paid pawns of the mainstream media, who also know it, continue to go out of their way to defend the actions of this democratic dictatorship which is ruled by the Christian Right Wing in tandem with the corporate powers who really run America.
Even those on the left betrayed their ideals, reverting, when the going got too tough to the self-preservation and/or nest-feathering their right-wing foes engaged in. A perfect example of this is noted human rights lawyer Barbara Olshansky. She was working for the nonprofit Centre For Constitutional Rights (CFCR) who were suing the government of the United States to acquire the list of all the prisoners (America calls them "detainees") at Guantanamo. Though the U.S. Supreme Court officially ruled that Guantanamo's prisoners were legally allowed to challenge their imprisonment, their potential chief advocates needed to know who they actually were. The military refused to divulge this information; hence, the lawsuit.
At one point, Olshansky met one Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Diaz, a Navy lawyer at Guantanamo. He was quite moved by her pleas for the list of prisoners. He finally made the personal decision to furnish these names. He sent them to her in an envelope, the list tucked inside a Valentine card to avoid detection. Receiving this package, she immediately suspected it was a hoax at best, and at worst, a classified document that might potentially compromise American security and safety.
Hello, babe! This is what you were whining for.
Even more horrendous is that Diaz extracted the information from his Guantanamo computer and was himself shocked to find that the documents were not marked classified. Olshansky herself testified that these documents were not marked as classified, so to this day it makes no sense why she suspected they might be.
Instead of using the lists to further her worthy cause, she decided to inform the trial judge that she had them in her possession and then boneheaded-ly allowed a minion from Homeland Security to pick them up. It didn't take long for the FBI and the Justice Department to track the list back to Diaz. Olshansky betrayed her ally - she refused to acknowledge she had ever met or spoken with Diaz and other than her relatively inconsequential testimony at Diaz's trial, she has avoided addressing the matter publicly.
Diaz, of course, was branded a traitor, stripped of his military credentials, his law credentials and served a surprisingly lenient 6-months in prison.
Matthew Diaz is one of four subjects examined in The Guantanamo Trap. Thomas Sellim Wallner's feature length documentary presents a tragic portrait of people caught in the web of Guantanamo's literal and symbolic evil. Diaz's story is especially affecting. This is a young man who lived for the military. It was his way out of a world of uncertainty and where he used his time there to make a living, gain an education and eventually a law degree.
We follow his story, including the aforementioned Olshansky Valentine betrayal, right up to the present where he has no qualifications to do any other work than which he's no longer allowed to pursue. He has no benefits, no pension, a criminal record and a military dismissal which, in spite of his intelligence and experience, presents a formidable hurdle in acquiring the most basic employment. Adding insult to injury, his family home in which his daughter lives has a foreclosure order against it.
Olshansky, on the other hand, continues quite comfortably with her life - writing books, accepting speaking engagements wherein she crows on about human rights abuses and, of course, holds numerous prestigious academic positions.
Diaz tried to do the right thing. He lost his whole life. Olshansky, on the other hand, maintained her nicely feathered nest. She also repeatedly ignored requests from the filmmakers of The Guantanamo Trap to present her side of the story in the film.
No need, one supposes, to tarnish one's comfy position as an - ahem - well-heeled lefty.
What finally makes The Guantanamo Trap both infuriating and almost unbearably sad is that it's ultimately a story of betrayal. The other individuals whose stories we follow were as screwed over by getting caught in Guantanamo's net as poor Diaz.
Murat Kurnaz, a German of Turkish descent was arrested by police in Pakistan and sold to the Americans for a healthy bounty.
He was imprisoned in both Afghanistan and eventually in an outdoor cage in Guantanamo - where he was physically and psychologically tortured for five years.
Diane Beaver served as a military lawyer at Guantanamo and wrote a legal memo which supported the use of "enhanced" interrogation techniques. When you see the film, you can be your own judge, but they sure sound like torture to me - in spite of her protestations to the contrary. Though there's no question that she was an integral part of Guantanamo's evil, her orders were to generate a legal opinion on what forms of interrogation could be used.
Beaver, of course, was betrayed by her own government. Not a single entity in authority - all of whom had to provide approvals - did not actually have their names linked to said approvals. Beaver's name is the only official name attached to any document advocating physical and psychological torture. Beaver was hung out to dry as a patsy by the government she continues to declare her loyalty to.
Now a civilian, Beaver is haunted by her legacy and tries to carve out a new life.
Gonzalo Boye is a criminal prosecution lawyer in Spain who is spearheading charges against the Bush administration for illegal incarceration and various war crimes (that include torture). Boye himself was a victim of wrongful incarceration and torture in his home country. During his harrowing fourteen years in prison, he studied to become a lawyer. And now, one of his chief targets is Diane Beaver and his star witness is Murat Kurnaz.
Director Wallner presents these stories with a considerable degree of detachment - he lets the individuals guide their own narratives, and in so doing, the dramatic thrust of the film. As such, the most fascinating revelation - at least for me - is how organized, man-made religion is a driving force for both Kurnaz and Beaver. Kurnaz continually displays his devout Muslim beliefs by refusing to shake hands with women or making a point of avoiding certain foods and/or libations. Beaver mentions, not just once, but twice (and emphatically to boot) that everything happening to her is part of "God's plan".
In "War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning", Chris Hedges notes that the “moral certitude of the state in wartime is a kind of fundamentalism. And this dangerous messianic brand of religion, one where self-doubt is minimal, has come increasingly to color the modern world of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.” Beaver has no self doubt at all with respect to her place in America's "War on Terror" and her own "fundamentalism" is rooted in "God's Plan" - not her own self-will, nor that employed by those who betrayed her. Kurnaz, too, uses his religion to justify his own sexism, potential misogyny and veiled racism.
It's like we're amidst the Crusades - Christians fighting the infidel (and vice-versa) for goals that are lofty and inextricably linked to God or as Hedges notes in "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America" that those who are "numbed by isolation and despair, now seek meaning in a mythical world of intuition, a world that is no longer reality-based, a world of magic.”
Fairy tales, it seems, are at the root of this insanity.
And much as Beaver and others justify what they must do to protect America, Hedges simply and astutely points out that war makes no sense - certainly not in a Christian context since "Jesus was a pacifist."
Wallner has crafted an eminently fascinating and moving film. He was inspired to make it when he was placed on America's terror watch list for five years when he refused to take part in a retinal scan. His shock and anger was so considerable that the impetus was initially vengeance. As he proceeded, he realized he needed to strip away his voice as much as he could in order to present the effects of war upon humanity.
Much as I respect and admire this decision and as terrific as his film is because of it, there is a part of me that wonders about the same film within the context of its maker's art becoming an act of revenge. I try to imagine that film and when I do, I think it might have been equally worthy and certainly just as powerful.
That said, Wallner delivers a picture that stands powerfully on its own two feet as one of the great humanist documentaries of the new millennium.
"The Guantanamo Trap" is now playing in Toronto at the Hot Docs Bloor Cinema via Kinomith. For tickets and showtimes, visit HERE.