From the start of the War On Terror, the existence of a detention facility for "the worst of the worst" at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba has been a prime example of the Bush administration's broad authority to operate outside the law. Prisoners have been held indefinitely without formal charges, much less access to lawyers or the evidence against them, and the horrific conditions, in defiance of the Geneva Convention, have led to hunger strikes and a coordinated triple suicide. But the stink wafting out of Camp Delta can only be contained for so long, and chilling accounts like the ones featured in The Road To Guantanamo are bound to turn up more than a few noses. An unconventional and mostly effective mix of documentary and dramatization, the film spins surprisingly convincing recreations out of testimony from three British nationals released from a long detention period at Guantanamo. What it lacks is a necessary dash of skepticism.
Called the "Tipton Three," in reference to their hometown in the Midlands, 20-year-old Asif Iqbal and his two buddies, Ruhel Ahmed and Shafiq Rasif, traveled from Britain to Pakistan just two weeks after 9/11, ostensibly to visit family and find Asif a bride. For reasons that are never satisfactorily explained, the three tourists crossed over the open border to neighboring Afghanistan as the United States and its allies were ramping up their military campaign against the Taliban. After bouncing around from Kandahar to Kabul, Asif and his friends tried to escape the mayhem by bussing back to Pakistan, but they somehow would up in the Taliban stronghold of Kunduz, where they were seized as foreign combatants. From there, it was off to Camp X-Ray and later Camp Delta, where they were housed in chain-linked open cells in the hot sun and subjected to grueling interrogation sessions.
Directors Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross get no testimony to counter or even verify the Tipton Three's account, and to some extent, that's okay; after all, they were declared innocent and released, so there's no reason to question the veracity of anything they say. And yet… they never come up with a sufficient reason for crossing into Afghanistan. Their motives for heading straight into a war zone sound like something out of a stoner comedy: They went in search of "really big naan." Fortunately, their descriptions of the misadventures that followed are far more convincing and harrowing, from their grossly inhumane accommodations at Camp X-Ray to the crude bullying that passes for official interrogation. Having actors play them in recreations takes some getting used to, but Winterbottom and Whitecross shoots these "scenes" with such effortless verisimilitude that it brings urgency to what might have been a lifeless talking-heads format. Since actual footage of Guantanamo is hard to come by, this fake footage will have to do for now.