Film Review: You Don't Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantanamo

Audiences will not “like the truth” that this newly declassified footage of a Guantanamo detainee reveals, although the title actually refers to the interrogators of 15-year-old Omar Khadr who deny the obvious truth of their prisoner’

You Don’t Like the Truth is about Omar Khadr, a 15-year-old boy captured in Afghanistan in 2002, who has been at Guantanamo for nine years. The film’s footage, culled from cameras mounted in the rooms at the prison where Khadr was interrogated by Canadian and U.S. authorities, constitutes the most disturbing images of any documentary released this year. Recently declassified by the Canadian government, the seven hours of footage, edited by filmmakers Luc Côté and Patricio Henriquez, contain no physical violence. Nevertheless, the psychological barrage endured by Omar, who would have been, under ordinary circumstances, deemed a child soldier and come under the protection of the U.N., is agonizing to watch. The poor resolution, and the bars that appear across Omar’s face, obscuring his eyes, do not shield the audience from his loneliness or from the dehumanizing effect of the interrogation.

Omar’s father, allied with Al Qaeda and killed in 2003, left his teenage son, a Canadian citizen, in the care of friends in the summer of 2002. They were making bombs for use against American forces. Initially, the Khadr family, who have Egyptian and Afghani roots, traveled to Afghanistan so that the elder Khadr could conduct charitable work after that country’s internecine conflict. In July 2002, the U.S. military bombed the compound where Omar was staying. He was the sole survivor of the air strike. Like many Guantanamo detainees, Omar was denied access to a lawyer for two years, and it would be many more years before he was charged with a crime. In the film, the Canadian prime minister says that his government trusted their “closest ally” to deliver justice and to protect Omar, but a U.N. representative, also interviewed for the documentary, charges Canada with negligence in the case.

Unlike other children at the prison, Omar was not allowed to continue his education. He was also not given proper medical care for the serious injuries he received in the air strike. Michelle Shephard, a reporter for the Toronto Star, speculates in the documentary that Omar’s treatment was predicated on the fact that he was suspected of killing a U.S. soldier, a member of a squad sent in to capture or kill survivors of the bombing. Photographic evidence indicates it is very unlikely that the boy would have been able to accomplish such an attack. In 2009, Omar accepted a plea bargain in a military court, despite his having maintained his innocence throughout his Guantanamo detention. Many press outlets reported that the plea deal was arrived at so that the Obama administration could avoid having a child at the center of what would have been their first trial of a Guantanamo prisoner.

In the documentary, Omar’s cellmates at Bagram and Guantanamo recount the boy’s unusually cruel treatment. An interrogator from Bagram, Damien Crosetti—who was also under Carolyn Wood’s command at Abu Ghraib—admits to feeling compassion for Omar, and ultimately blames Canadian authorities for his fate. Other interviews, interspersed with the interrogation footage, are of a psychiatrist from the Canadian Center for Victims of Torture burdened with the thankless task of stating the obvious. More effective are interviews with Shephard and Omar’s Canadian and U.S. military lawyers. Divided into four segments, corresponding to the four days of Omar’s interrogation, the documentary allows the audience to measure the length of their remaining discomfort, but the filmmakers label the sections with words like “Hope” and “Blackmail,” setting up the viewer’s expectations and, obviously, minimizing the shocking effect of the footage.

While the interviews often contain troubling accounts of Omar’s incarceration, they are second-hand, and provide relief from the psychological torture recorded by the mounted cameras, projected in split-screen format. As if to underscore the banality of the particular evils unfolding before our eyes in You Don’t Like the Truth, the filmmakers include a third camera’s footage which is aimed at an air conditioner and the elided image of a CIA “observer.” The visages of all the interrogators are blotted out, even though their backs are to the camera; we see only Omar in long shot, seated on a chair and later on a couch. At first, the inclusion of the third square of the split screen seems odd, until the lead interrogator admits to being uncomfortably warm or cold, and the CIA observer is asked to turn the appliance on or off. After about 15 minutes, the irony of the lead interrogator’s sensitivity to temperature, given his utter lack of humanity, becomes almost too much to bear.

Not surprisingly, You Don’t Like the Truth does not have a U.S. distributor at this writing, but it is eligible for Oscar consideration by virtue of its theatrical release in New York City. Given the unfulfilled campaign promise of the current administration to close Guantanamo, and the upcoming presidential election, the documentary is poised to remind viewers of an issue obscured in the U.S. for the past three years by two wars, and the ongoing instability in many Arab countries which fuels renewed fears of terrorism. Watching this documentary, we are compelled to consider who we are as a people if our Constitution fails to protect those who, ostensibly, seek to destroy us. Cycling through outrage and then grief, as Omar Khadr abandons his expectations for justice, viewers of every political stripe will understand that the rule of law is the last thing we should ever abandon.