The Guantanamo Trap opens at Hot Docs

The Guantanamo Trap: Four ways of looking at torture


The Globe and Mail


The most important service journalism can do is not just to depict a controversy but to show the deep, internal mechanisms behind it.

The Guantanamo Trap is ostensibly a documentary about how the United States legally justified its harsher interrogation techniques, specifically at Guantanamo Bay. In other words, say opponents, how the United States legally defended torture.

Yet the film is really about four people: a lawyer who listed which interrogation techniques are legal or not; a prisoner on whom some of the techniques were inflicted; another U.S. military lawyer who tried to stop it; and another lawyer in Spain who is seeking redress. All of them are just people trapped inside words and legalities.

First, there’s Diane Beaver, who looks like any suburban neighbour, in a polo shirt and Bermuda shorts. She was a lieutenant colonel and military lawyer who served as legal advisor to the Guantanamo Bay camp command a decade ago. She knows she will go down in history as “the torture lady.”

The U.S. military was looking for new ways to draw information out of its prisoners, and she and her staff were assigned to determine the legality of harsher interrogation techniques. They brainstormed. Cutting off a body part was out of bounds. Stress positions and sleep deprivation were among the various methods deemed, in the end, legally okay.

It’s Beaver’s name at the bottom of the memo on what was deemed acceptable at Guantanamo Bay, a memo which is said to have been ultimately approved by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Beaver, who still lives by the proud ethos of having served her country, nevertheless sees herself as being the fall guy. She has been beaten down by the experience.

Then there is Murat Kurnaz from Bremen, Germany, who is said to have been literally beaten down as a former prisoner. Of Turkish descent, he was arrested while travelling in Pakistan at age 19 and sent to Guantanamo on alleged terrorist links. He was hung from the wrists by his handcuffs for five days, he says, and was in solitary confinement for a year. He has since been released, in what may have been a diplomatic manoeuvre by the U.S. and Germany. He too is deeply emotionally bruised.

Third: Matt Diaz, a lieutenant commander and judge advocate for the U.S. Navy. Diaz was convicted by a military court of mailing a list of the names of Guantanamo detainees to a human rights group in New York, in a fit of conscience and a feeling of duty to U.S. law rather than to his military superiors. Diaz felt he did what was right. He has since paid a heavy price.

Finally, there is the Spanish human-rights lawyer Gonzalo Boye, who is trying to bring the Bush administration to court on war crimes, which Spanish law allows. Yet Boye was also convicted – wrongfully, he emphasizes – in the politically motivated kidnapping of Spanish industrialist Emiliano Revilla in 1988. In a dramatic turn of events, he is now dedicating his life to seeking redress for Guantanamo victims.

The amalgamation of these stories is where the film truly gets interesting, beyond each of these already fascinating stories. Each of the four obviously has their own reasons for wanting to talk on camera. Each has already been raked over the coals is public. Each is looking to clear their names by telling the truth, as they see it.

But what exactly is the truth – or more precisely, what details are they leaving out? Maybe the characters have lived such brutal stories that self-censoring is subconscious. Did Diane Beaver think she was protected behind a wall of military command? Did Diaz feel he had other legal recourse? Is Boye trying to explain his case and clear his name in North America through the documentary? In digging to such depths, The Guantanamo Trap not only makes for terrific documentary cinema; it does a tremendous journalistic service.

The Guantanamo Trap

  • Directed by Thomas Selim Wallner
  • Classification: PG
  • 3.5 stars