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Wednesday, Sep 28, 2011, 10:46 am

The Gitmo Tapes: You Don’t Like the Truth’s Unflinching Look at One Interrogation

By David Szydloski

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In 2002, Said Khadr, a naturalized Canadian citizen from Egypt, told his son Omar that the boy was going to be an interpreter for three militants traveling in southern Afghanistan. The boy was familiar with the area and the language, as he had lived there since 1993, when Khadr had moved his family to the country so he could spend more time there setting up orphanages and helping the Afghan mujahedeen he had helped in the 80s during their war against the Soviet Union.

Omar, who was 15 at the time, followed his father’s orders and went with the men.  A few days later, the compound in which the men were staying was raided by a local warlord’s militia, who were aided by a small contingent of Special Forces troops disguised so as to be indistinguishable from the Afghan fighters. After a four-hour firefight, the house was bombed. When the Special Forces team finally entered the rubble, a hand grenade came over a broken wall, killing Sgt. Christopher Speer.

Over that wall—and under a pile of debris—was Omar Khadr, face down and severely wounded from the raid. The boy was immediately taken to Bagram Air Force Base where he was tortured and interrogated before being shipped to Guantanamo for supposedly killing Sgt. Speer. On September 19, 2011, Omar turned 25 while still in detention.

The film You Don’t Like the Truth, which has screened at festivals around the world since last October and was just released in the U.S., is a powerful account of Omar’s story, based on surveillance footage of him being interrogated in 2003 by two CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) agents. The footage—culled down from 7.5 hours of tape declassified by the Canadian government in 2008—shows the young man, then 16, over a period of four days go from hope to despair to defiance in response to the agent’s questioning.

The title memorializes one of the more memorable angry responses Omar gave to the CSIS agents who were urging Omar to “take responsibility for his actions” in a transparent attempt to get the young man to admit to killing Sgt. Speer. Omar insisted that he had already told the men the truth—the truth that he was tortured and that he knew nothing to tell them. But the agents persisted in their search for the "truth," until Omar finally cried, “That’s what I told you—the truth! You don’t like the truth!”

Directors Luc Côté and Patricio Henriquez expertly flesh out Khadr’s story by weaving the footage of the interrogation together with commentary from people who know Khadr—including family, former cellmates, and even U.S. and Canadian civilans and military officials who have advocated on his behalf. 

For me, the most powerful accounts come from two Americans: a former interrogator at Bagram, Damien Corsetti, and one of the military counsel detailed to Omar's case, Navy Lieutenant Commander William Kuebler. The testimony of the men, both of whom have been personally involved with executing U.S. national security policy, make clear the failings of the U.S. War on Terror.

Though the testimony of the interviewees injects some hope into the film, the movie is dominated by Omar's despair and isolation. This mood is even enforced by the way the interrogation footage is presented: three camera views arranged in an inverted L, as it would appear to someone watching the interview from a surveillance room at Camp Delta. The panopticon-style presentation is fitting for Canadian and American audiences—including this reviewer—who have not done enough to hold their government accountable for crimes like that perpetrated against Khadr.

It is ironic that the U.S. release of You Don’t Like the Truth happened the same week two American hikers, Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer, were released from an Iranian prison after more than two years of imprisonment. In their first public statement, the men related that when they asked their guards about why they were being treated so poorly, the guards always replied that the U.S. routinely treated prisoners in Guantanamo and elsewhere the same way or worse.

Still, even with the torture they underwent, the men are now free. As Glenn Greenwald notes, the hikers' release confronts Americans with the sad truth that the men should consider themselves lucky to have landed in an Iranian prison rather than an American one.

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