Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Featuring: Murat Kurnaz, Diane Beaver, Matthew Diaz, Gonzalo Boye, Rabiez Kurnaz
Wallner’s intense political film premiered at the 2011 Hot Docs festival, where it won a Special Jury Prize. It went on to win the National Film Board’s Best Documentary Award and was nominated for the Genie for Best feature documentary.
Political documentary; investigative journalism; character studies
The controversial imprisonment of presumed terrorists in the U.S. military compound in Guantanamo has affected lives around the world. Thomas Wallner’s documentary examines the stories of four people.
Murat Kurnaz, the “Taliban from Bremen,” is a tough looking weight lifter, who grew up in Germany but became more and more fascinated by his Muslim roots during his teenage years. Kurnaz was arrested soon after 9/11 in Pakistan. U.S. authorities linked him through circumstantial evidence to the Hamburg cell of Al-Qaeda, and in particular to Mohammed Atta, who flew one of the planes into the Twin Towers. Kurnaz spent five years in Guantanamo; tortured and often placed in solitary confinement, he confessed to nothing and was never charged with a crime. He is now back in Bremen, an unemployable enigmatic figure, protected by his mother, Rabiez (and latterly by his bride—who only appears at the end of the film.)
Diane Beaver, the U.S. Judge Advocate at Guantanamo during the early Gitmo years of 2002-2004 helped to establish the quasi-legal parameters for the now highly criticized investigative methods employed by the military while interrogating the prisoners. Congress interrogated her after Bush’s Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld offered her up as the justification for the harsh policies at Gitmo. Now retired, the disgraced lawyer is trying to reinvent herself—likely in the field of canine care. (She loves dogs and has two.)
Matthew Diaz, a former Navy Judge Advocate at Gitmo, sent the banned list of those incarcerated at the facility to presumably liberal lawyer and professor Barbara Olshansky. When Olshansky turned over the list—which she claimed must be fraudulent—to the U.S. government, Diaz was investigated and court-martialed. He is now fiscally ruined.
Gonzalo Boye, a Spanish lawyer, decided to take on the Bush administration for their illegal activities in Guantanamo. He claims that the tragic bombings on Madrid’s trains were a result of Al-Qaeda’s anger at the U.S. and its allies—including Spain. Now a prominent human rights lawyer, Boye spent time in prison himself, accused of being a Basque terrorist and kidnapper. His scenes with Kurnaz, who agrees to work with his commission, are especially intriguing and moving.
It’s a doc, of course, but Wallner has done a fine job of “casting” his four principle figures, all of whom are great characters.
In this, his first feature film, Thomas Wallner has shown great story-telling skills, matched with an ability to bring out the human aspects of figures enmeshed in a political tale. He also has a lively sense of where the eye should be in scenes—the “look” of the film is excellent.
Kudos to Wallner’s creative collaborator Manfred Becker, whose skills as an editor and co-script writer aided significantly in bringing this complex story to the screen.
This is a solid, wonderfully structured and shot doc. If you enjoy politics and want to find out about the human dimension of what Guantanamo did to the world, Thomas Wallner’s film is a must-see.