The Guantanamo Trap review: Human trials of Guantanamo

A documentary about four people at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Directed by Thomas Selim Wallner. Opens March 30 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.

It would be hard to find four people more different from one another than the quartet filmmaker Thomas Selim Wallner profiles in the German-Swiss-Canadian documentary The Guantanamo Trap. – By Linda Barnard

It brings perspective to this carefully paced story of four very different individuals whose lives have been forever changed by their relationship with the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Winner of the special jury prize at last year’s Hot Docs film festival and a Genie nominee for best documentary, Wallner talks not only to the unjustly detained — Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen living in Germany — but one of the people involved in his incarceration, Diane Beaver.

Of the four, Beaver’s story is the most fascinating, although it takes considerable time for us to get inside the mind of the lawyer and retired U.S. army officer who drafted the now-famous legal opinion supporting escalated interrogation techniques used on detainees as part of America’s war on terror.

Beaver now lives a quiet suburban life and dreams of starting a dog daycare business, but is burdened by her notoriety and feels punished by public opinion. Google my name and every book on torture comes up, she says wryly.

The taciturn Kurnaz feels similarly victimized. From age 19 when he was arrested in Pakistan, the Muslim man spent five years in Guantanamo for allegedly having ties to Al Qaeda and a supposed suicide bomber. Kurnaz, who claims he was repeatedly tortured inside the facility, was finally released in 2006, when the American government admitted they had no evidence to detain him.

Photos of him upon release show a 25-year-old man who looks 20 years older. He lost his youth, his tearful mother tells Wallner’s camera.

Meanwhile, Matthew Diaz, a Judge Advocate for the U.S. navy stationed at Guantanamo, was motivated by his own sense of patriotism to smuggle a list of names of detainees to a New York civil rights lawyer. He was caught and subsequently jailed for six months, losing everything in the process.

The final player in the piece is Spanish lawyer Gonzalo Boye, who has his own very personal reasons for wanting to shine a light on Guantanamo as he works on a criminal case against former George Bush administration officials for allegedly covering up the torture of inmates there.

He brings Kurnaz to Madrid to testify in the case, taking him to a bullfight one afternoon. The typically stone-faced Kurnaz flinches as he watches the bull being tortured in the ring while Boye calmly shells peanuts at his side.

Wallner asks us to consider these individual’s roles and motivations in the context of post-9/11 America where the danger of unwittingly becoming like the enemy always lurks in the background. He doesn’t make it easy for the viewer. Indeed, we’re left to make up our own minds. It’s not easy. Kurnaz is hardly a likable personality, while Diaz seems so gentle and devoted to family, yet took the law into his own hands and made a sweeping decision that affected thousands of people.

The most telling moment comes when Beaver begins to weep, not with regret for what transpired around Guantanamo, but when she reflects on what’s lacking in her private life. It’s a well-placed scene that encourages us to see the humanity behind the headlines.

Thomas Wallner, producer Amit Breuer and writer/editor Manfred Becker will be at March 30 and 31 screenings for audience discussions.–the-guantanamo-trap-review-human-trials-of-guantanamo