This film has been heavily criticised for being worthy and avoiding the big questions, for the lack of any real baddies, aside from the faceless (masked) torturers. It tells the memoir of Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim, who found fame in the marvellous prison movie, Le Prophet), the eponymous Mauritanian. Two months after 9/11, he is whisked away by colluding authorities from a family wedding and finds himself in Guantanamo, via Afghanistan and Jordan. His crime – he was never charged – was to have received a call from Osama Bin Laden’s son on his phone and to have wiped his contacts…and to have fought in Afghanistan as part of El Qaeda in the US-backed attempt to topple President Najibullah.
Enter two lawyers, Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster in a grey wig) and her sidekick (Shailene Woodley) who are determined to file a writ of habeas corpus, given the lack of charges. The US government prosecutor is naval judge (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose friend was killed in one of the air hijacks. For a US prosecutor he is remarkably honest and conscience-ridden but I guess this is a true story. Slahi remains friends with one of his Guantanamo guards so nothing is ever clear-cut.
Kevin Macdonald’s film tells a story that is still worth the telling as there remain 40 inmates in Guantanamo – despite Obama’s pledge on his first inauguration to shut it down. Joe Biden has repeated the pledge… We see how the Americans are desperate to charge him and, in the end, resort to torture to elicit a confession. Rahim endured waterboarding to portray Slahi as best he could. But as Slahi noted, even the best actor can’t do 70 days without sleep for a film.
It took 14 long years to release Salahi and shows the length the Americans went to, the straws clutched, in order to prove a point. Which they never really do. Just tortured a whole lot of people, many of whom were innocent and picked up on false intelligence. It’s a chilling reminder of how corrupt our governments are when pursuing the ‘paths of righteousness’.