April 10th, 2015
It’s complicated. . .
Take the Uyghurs (pronounced “wee-gurs”), a Turkish speaking persecuted Muslims minority from China’s autonomous region of Xinjiang; relocate them to the supposed sanctuary of Afghanistan to escape Chinese oppression; mix in the most incendiary event on American soil in the form of 9/11 and the subsequent hut for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in Afghanistan; throw in a $5000 bounty for each Afghanis who reports a “terrorist”; execute a non-discriminating round up of 22 Uyghurs by American forces who labeled them “unlawful combatants” before unceremoniously transported them to Guantánamo Bay; imprison them without due process or a trial indefinitely so these now stateless tortured men must advocate for their freedom in the midst of first world absurdity. Any rational thinking person is able to surmise that their basic human rights and civil liberties were violated and yet, here we are. What you are left with after connecting the dots is espionage straight out of a John le Carré novel which is weighted down in the entanglements of geopolitics then shrouded under the guise of the U.S. National Security mandate. With the complexity of a cinematic dissertation, Director, Patricio Henriquez enters the murky world of international propaganda, foreign policy obfuscation, dysfunctional counterterrorism directives and judicial obstructions to ask the simple question, what is the price of one life during war time in the politically charged documentary, Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd.
Like I said, “it’s complicated”.
Having the benefit of the film’s producer Michelle Shephard introduce the Toronto screening with a crucial primer only fore shadowed the heady geopolitics to come. And Henriquez doesn’t waste time nor does he disappoint in strategically moving the many pawns on this cinematic chessboard of fear. This fast moving labyrinth of military hypocrisy on the War on Terror follows three resilient Uyghurs, Ahmet Abdulahad, Abu Bakker and Khalil as they question the true meaning of American democracy while trying to extricate themselves from their protracted incarceration. To many Americans, the assumption that captured ‘unlawful combatants’ (a term that insured American Forces didn’t have to comply with the principles of the Geneva Convention) could only make America safer is a fallacy of the highest order. Henriquez together with Shephard’s detailed research build the case that exposes the many flaws of reasoning behind their process right up to the Donald Rumsfeld’s counter terrorism sequence on C-SPAN that opens the film.
As documentaries go, substance definitely trumps style on this one. A historical overview, combat footage, original photography, first-hand accounts and talking-head interviews all conflate to deliver an evocative PBS style product. Henriquez tempers the over-riding bleakness of the Uyghur internment with the dogged determination and rays of hope brought forth by Rushan Abbas, an American of Uyghur heritage who served as a translator for the men; and Sabin Willett and Susan Baker Manning, two high-profile U.S. bankruptcy lawyer from Boston who became their legal advocate starting in the summer of 2005. Suffice it to say, even with the U.S. intelligence service concluding by the fall of 2002 that the Uyghurs were not a threat to the U.S., the legal pushback Willett and Manning received trying to free these innocent men extended for many years to come. A quick observation by the filmmaker at Camp 6 makes the irony of the Uyghurs plight even more wrenching. One can only look in disbelief as the Joint Task Force’s “Value of the Week” banner boldly proclaims such aspirational qualities such as “Honor” and “Integrity” which can only ring hollow given the kaleidoscope of injustices we see before us.
VERDICT 3.5 / 5: During the 14 year history of Guantánamo Bay, a total of 779 men have been indefinitely detained there with 22 of them ethnic Uyghurs from China. Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd is a battle ground narrative depicting harrowing survival, dashed hopes, misdirection and finally survival of the human spirit. No matter how you parse it, the exposed rot that underpins the U.S. War on Terror is based on a flawed premise. And the collateral damage of this premise comes in many forms; one of which being the stateless Uyghurs caught in a geopolitical quagmire. The humanity of these reserved, soft spoken men is poignantly captured by Director, Patricio Henriquez. Emotionally intact and surprisingly hinged, this story of survival and the men who endured serve as a sober warning of what can happen to innocent people during a time of war.
FINAL THOUGH: 22 Uyghurs never expected they would seek freedom by leaving America.
Genre: Documentary, Human Right, History, Politics
Language: English, Turkic
Director: Patricio Henriquez
Writer: Patricio Henriquez
Editor: Andrea Henriquez
Cinematography: Sylvestre Guidi, Patricio Henriquez
Producers: Michelle Shephard, Colette Loumède, Macumba Media, NFB
Executive Producers: Colette Loumède
Research: Michelle Shephard, Françoise Guénette, Luc Côté, Patricio Henríquez
Music: Robert M. Lepage, Nicholas Borycki
Runtime: 98 minutes
Cast: Ahmet Abdulahad, Abu Bakker, Khalil, Rushan Abbas, Sabin Willett, Susan Baker Manning