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Abusers and victims

Film Festival HRHW: As 15 year old, Omar Khadr is captured by Americans after a gunfight in Afghanistan. It is the beginning of a long period of torture. Guantanamo's Child throws a critical spotlight on Omar's situation.


Guantanamo's Child: Omar Khadr
Directed by: Patrick Reed and Michelle Shephard

Towards the end of the Vietnam War, the film collective Winterfilm makes the documentary Winter Soldier (1972): a frantic observation of the so-called Wintersoldier investigation into 1971, a media event in which American war veterans were told of war crimes committed during the Vietnam War. The soldiers' testimony tells of indoctrination and mental breakdown during the training period before being sent to Vietnam. We are told of a systematic dehumanization of the enemy (via a dehumanization of themselves) that led many soldiers to treat Vietnamese as objects.
The soldiers tell of self-experienced experiences: children who were shot because they were in trouble; prisoners of war thrown out by helicopters in the air; bodies that were cut up and emptied of the intestines; women who were raped; villages that were massacred. We get this information while looking at intense and claustrophobic close-ups of the soldiers' faces. The grainy black and white images emphasize the unsentimental and direct in the verbal depictions, the immediate and the naked in the self-giving faces; the film does not emphasize blood or pathos, but the moral catastrophe. It is almost unbearable. Winter Soldier is like a kind talking-headsversion of Franciso Goyas Los Desastres de la Guerra (1810 – 20), and is impossible to forget.
In the documentary Guantanamo's Child: Omar Khadr (Patrick Reed and Michelle Shephard, 2015) attempt to show American abuses carried out during the recent "war on terror". Specifically, the film deals with the extensive torture and prosecution of a young prisoner of war named Omar Khadr. As a 15-year-old, he was taken prisoner after killing an American soldier during a powerful exchange of gunfire in Khost, a city east of Afghanistan.
The fact that Omar's father allegedly had links to Al Qaeda, as well as video footage showing Omar planting roadside bombs planned for US troops, led him to be considered a dangerous terrorist – and not just as a boy who protected himself in war. In the documentary, we meet Omar during a lawsuit in Canada (where he was born). He is in a paradoxical situation: Should he plead guilty to the murder of an American soldier and thus serve a prison sentence (including house arrest) in Canada, or should he plead not guilty and remain in the torture chamber of Cuba?

The torture of ideology. The film's main characters are Omar's current defender, Omar's former torturer and Omar himself. We see them in close-ups as they tell about their experiences. Omar declares that he did not fight against the American soldiers because of ideological convictions, but because he had been told that the country had been invaded by foreign forces. The lawyer and the former torturer's testimony confirms the impression that the young boy Omar fell victim to a American ideology rather than representing a terrorist ideology. As Geoffrey O'Brian, former head of Counter Intelligence in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), states in the documentary: "I believe Omar Khadr was part of an unintentional loss in a 'post 9/11 world'."
Unlike Winter Soldier do not trust Guantanamo's Child on the power of the information and the confessing faces; it resorts to clichéd and abstract techniques to try to clarify and interpret the horror and sadness of Omar's experience. This applies primarily to sentimental melancholic music and repeated symbolic imagery, such as a symmetrical prison lattice that has captured an anonymous shadow, or gloomy images of vague torture devices to (not) portray the torture – evocative, banal illustrations on a par with the ghost-provoking aesthetic we find in the spirits power.
The man says he only did his job during the torture. And he thought that all the prisoners deserved to be there, that they were lying, and that he just needed to work a little extra hard with the most difficult ones.
But no matter how clichéd they are, documentaries sometimes have this ability to ask important and urgent questions about the present, including their proximity to specific cases and individuals. Guantanamo's Child asks, among other things, questions about how fundamentalist images of enemies can make people act in certain ways. That's it Winter Soldier shows us so mercilessly and powerfully, and that's why I draw it out as a comparison: It stares into this question by staring into faces that tell of experiences (but do not interpret from their own experiences). But even if Guantanamo's Child uses sound and image to smear pathos on the transmission of information, rather than broaden the perspective of what it deals with, it manages to initiate reflection on precisely this self-destructive objectification of an enemy. The film is interesting in spite of itself and because of the information it lets through. First and foremost, this applies to the reflections of the former torturer.

Torturer. We get to know the man's name, but he is sitting in an anonymizing picture: partly in the dark, partly illuminated by an artificial light source. This is another measure of personal security, but leads to a feeling of something general and abstract in the meeting with him. You get the feeling that this man could have been many.
"I wish I could say I felt sorry for our prisoners at the time, but I really did not," he says. The man says he only did his job during the torture. And he thought that all the prisoners deserved to be there, that they were lying, and that he just needed to work a little extra hard with the most difficult ones. It is told about blows, kicks, water torture, sexual abuse and a number of other methods. As Omar says of the torture methods: "They threw the whole book at you."
Omar was first detained at an interrogation site in Bagram, Afghanistan, before being sent to Guantánamo (the prisoners who spoke good English were sent there – the torturer says there were orders, and that the idea was that good English skills indicated that there were owls moss). For the torturer, who had worked in Bagram for several months, and who had accidentally ended up in the interrogation role after a drunken shooting, Omar actually became a kind of rescue. He says that Omar helped him "regain" his humanity: "It was through the injustice against Omar that I definitely began to see the injustice in what I did."
In the obscure images of him, which splits his face in two, we see how he today struggles with the interrogation methods of the past: The part of the face that is visible is anxious, frail, driven away, almost ready to fall. "What I have done with my hands," he says – there will be a long pause before continuing: "you know, it's some wild shit."
As drone soldier Bryan Bryant in Drone (Tonje Hessen Schei, 2014), or the soldiers in Winter Soldier, it is now, at a distance from the indoctrination and the enemy in immediate sight, that he sits in an environment where he can reflect morally on what he did. This is where he mentions a saying derived from Ghandi: "It is through our suffering that they will see the injustice in what they do." The "war on terror", in which suspicion, objectification and torture have gained momentum, appears as a self-harming fundamentalism that multiplies, rather than fights, suffering.

The film will be shown on Thursday 18.2. Saturday 20.2 views below Human Rights Human Wrongsfestival at the Cinematheque in Oslo.
Teaches film studies at NTNU Email

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