A Pair of Films with Guantanamo in Their Titles: (2006)

Rated R. Our ratings: V-3; L- 7; S/N-8. Running time: 1 hour 40 min.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
but the companion of fools suffers harm.
Proverbs 13:20

O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear 18to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.
Psalm 10:17-18

This sequel to the White Castle escapade of our lovable slackers follows the rule that a film that is fresh and engaging seldom is usually followed by one that is flat and stale. What could have been a pointed satire of the abominable policies of our current government is overwhelmed by the raunchy vulgarity of adolescent humor. Korean Harold Lee (John Cho) and Indian Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) are still clueless outsiders, but this time become deeply enmeshed in Homeland Security when they venture much farther than a White Castle, their destination being Amsterdam.

In Amsterdam Harold wants to try to win the heart of Maria, who had smitten him in the previous film. However, at the airport he and Kumar encounter the latter s ex-girlfriend Vanessa and are shocked to learn that she is on her way to Texas where she plans to marry the handsome hunk with her. On the plane the stressed out Kumar goes to the lavatory, where he tries to smoke some weed in a home-made bong he has smuggled aboard (don t ask why this was overlooked by the airport Security). The plane encounters turbulence, the door is flung open, and the nosy woman who had shuddered when she first saw the two dark-skinned passengers, screams that Kumar has a bomb. There is not one but three U.S. Marshalls on board, so the dynamicless duo are quickly subdued, the plane is turned around, and the two wind up in Guantanamo.

This sequence is very short, with the brutality of the prison treatment traded for a brief scene in which burly prisoners try to sexually abuse the pair. Almost before we know it, they are escaping, linking up to Cubans bound for Miami in a homemade boat, and making contact with an old friend who has struck it rich and is throwing a big party. Jaded by Play Boy-like topless parties, his is bottomless, with all the comely starlets showing everything below the waist and we soon see that this goes for the men too, when the host emerges from his Jacuzzi. Yuck!

The rest of the film is a series of bizarre encounters as the pair travel from Florida to Texas, Kumar hoping to prevent Vanessa s wedding. The two meet up with a sadistic man who has married his sister and produced a one-eyed offspring, the KKK, a musical star, and even President Bush, who turns out to be a good ole boy who still appreciates sharing a weed. Pursuing them is a pompous Homeland Security official spouting anti-terrorist absurdities. There are some funny moments in the film, and a few good satirical nuggets, but the raunchy (full frontal nudity, acceptance of drug use, toilet jokes, and more) made the usually enjoyable experience for this film-goer into an endurance contest. Better by far to save your time and money and get the DVD of Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross s film.

On DVD The Road to Guantanamo

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V- 4; L- 8; S/N-1 .

Running time: 1 hour 35 min.

Because all prisoners are presumed guilty, they are harshly treated at Guantanamo.
2006 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Unlike the Harold and Kumar film, Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross’s opened at just a few art house theaters before disappearing. Again, we can be thankful for the DVD medium, now making it available to a wider audience. Part documentary, part drama, the filmmakers intersperse the actual ex-prisoners with the acted out scenes of their abuse.

At the outset, we hear President Bush solemnly telling the world that the Guantánamo prisoners are “bad guys” . Once we meet Ruhel, Asif, Shafiq and Monir, the irony becomes evident. They are ordinary young adults, not the evil terrorist jihads that supposedly fill the cells of the infamous prison. Ruhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul, Monir. Living in England, in 2001 they set off for Pakistan where Asif is to be married. In a spirit of adventure they decide to make a short trip to Afganistan to see first hand the fight against the Taliban. Traveling to Kandahar, then to Kabul and finally to Kunduz, they are mistaken by Northern Alliance soldiers for terrorists, are arrested and then turned over to U.S. soldiers. During the ensuing chaos Monir becomes separated from the others and is never heard from again.

Because so much of what follows seems like one of those films in which Nazi sadists enjoy torturing their captives, the remainder of the film is difficult to watch. With one or two exceptions all of the US soldiers verbally abuse the prisoners, who are kept in outdoor cells that resemble dog kennels. They are ordered never to look a guard in the eye, always to remain prostrate on the ground, and never to talk with their neighbor. If a prisoner tries to stand up and stretch, he is immediately ordered back down on the ground—and no praying allowed. One prisoner tries to use a sheet as a shield from the blazing sun, but is ordered to take it down. Infractions of rules are met with verbal abuse ( “m.f..” being a favored form of appellation) and then slaps and beatings. When being taken for interrogation, the guards half drag him, rather than permitting him to walk on his own. Despite the urging of the three to check with authorities back in Britain (one was even in police custody when he allegedly was engaged in terrorists activies!), the various interrogators refuse, convinced that there being a prisoner is proof of their guilt.

We do not see water boarding, but who needs it after slaps and beatings, being forced to kneel in uncomforatbale positions for hours at a time, or to be subjected to sleep deprivation while heavy metal music is played full blast in the cell? If ever I have felt ashamed of America, it was while watching this film—assuming that the account of their imprisonment is true. Fortunately for the Tipton Three, as they came to be known back in England, they were released and returned to their homes. They claim not to be embittered but interested in getting on with their lives. They also report a renewed interest in their Muslim faith, to which before their harrowing captivity the had paid only lip service.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) What do you believe about the story told by the three? Anti-American propaganda fit only for the radical left? A true account? What are your reasons?

2) If the second opinion, did you still feel, “This can’t really be happening” ? What has happened in our “war against terrorism” to the old concept of “innocent until proven guilty” ?

3) What rules enforced on the prisoners are intended to strip them of all sense of dignity?

4) Do you believe that this is a time, similar to the WW 2 rounding up and imprisonment of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent, when extra-legal procedures are warranted? What might happen to other civil liberties taken for granted in peace time?