The Guantanamo Trap tells the stories of four people whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre.
Four unique encounters with Guantanamo construct the multi-faceted mirror that The Guantanamo Trap holds up to each of us. In August 2006, Murat Kurnaz was released from the US detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He had been detained for five years, without trial. In the same year, Matthew Diaz, Judge Advocate for the Navy was sentenced to six months of imprisonment for passing on the names of the detainees to a human rights organisation. Four years earlier, in 2002, Judge Advocate Diane Beaver was also deployed in Guantanamo. Here, she became the author of a legal memorandum that would later be nicknamed, ‘The Torture Memo.’ Seven years later, in March 2009, Spanish lawyer Gonzalo Boye leads a criminal case against six former Bush administration officials for allegedly covering up the torture of inmates in Guantanamo Bay.
In the free-falling of a lawless space beyond the Geneva Convention, beyond International jurisdiction – notions of good and evil, right and wrong lose their meaning. Scattered in between revealing interviews and footage from the past are scenes that capture the now-hollow lives of the protagonists. Unable to let go of the past and forge a gratifying future, Kurnaz, Beaver, Diaz and Boye are immobilized by the weight of history. This haunting documentary questions the gravity of morality when decisions are made swiftly and sometimes arbitrarily.
The Guantanamo Trap ripples with a sense of frozen movement. The real-life characters repeatedly try to push forward while their history and their decisions restrain them. The caged freedom transcends the sharp words of the storytellers and moves into the silent landscapes and the nervous, lonely moments that pass through the film. No one escapes Guantanamo unscathed. Not the law, nor morality – and certainly not the people. The film tells the story of the people and depicts their search for a life after Guantanamo.
Murat Kurnaz was a detainee at Guantanamo Bay who was arrested in Pakistan in 2001 and sold to the U.S army by the Pakistani police for bounty. Kurnaz spent five years as a detainee between Afghanistan and an outdoor cage in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. As Murat describes the details of his experience, the physical and psychological aftershocks still resonate in his voice. His vacant tone and motionless stare cast a shadow on his story and on his alleged connections to the September 11th attacks.
Diane Beaver has become infamous for a legal memo she wrote in 2002 at Guantanamo Bay in her capacity as a lawyer for the U.S Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps. In the memo she deemed a list of “enhanced” interrogation techniques, which included sensory deprivation and water boarding, to be used against Guantanamo Bay detainees as legal. The memo placed Diane in the eye of a political storm that touched down on her doorstep when the government leaked the confidential memo with her name to deflect the global outrage in the wake of Abu Ghraib. Since then her name has become synonymous with torture. The Guantanamo Trap captures Diane’s civilian lifestyle; life after Guantanamo has left a gaping emptiness waiting to be filled with either dignity or doubt.
The Guantanamo Trap follows Matt Diaz as he paces the streets of New York alone. Instead of the bustling, human traffic-jam that New York is known for, Matt’s experience in the city is solitary and broken. Diaz’s narrative spirals out of a risky decision he made while working as a navy lawyer at Guantanamo Bay. Diaz broke the law by copying a list of Guantanamo Bay detainees and sending it to a human rights organization in New York. Matt recognized the inhumane treatment and unlawful detention that was occurring at Guantanamo. Morally compelled to do what he considered the right thing, Diaz defied his superiors and his government, fully aware that there was a good chance his decision would destroy his life … and it did.
A Spanish criminal prosecutor, Gonzalo Boye, is leading a case against the Bush administration for unlawful detention and war crimes, including torture. As a former lawyer for the U.S. army and as the advisor on torture techniques, Diane Beaver is one of Boye’s targets. Several years before, Boye himself had been tortured at the hand of Spanish police in Madrid after he was arrest for allegedly abetting a kidnapping by a terrorist organization. He was tried and sentenced to fourteen years in prison, where he became a lawyer. Boye recounts moments of his experiences in prison as he sways between vengefulness and subdued meditation.
Sometimes the reason why you make a film changes over time. In this case the journey began for me when I was put on the US terror watch list for five years in 2005 after I didn’t comply with the request to submit biometric data to US customs. In hindsight my actions were stupid but the experience, which resulted in an extraordinary amount of unnecessary humiliating harassment by homeland security taught me how quickly you can end up being a terror suspect and how helpless one feels in such a situation. One of my initial motivations for making this film was, I must admit, a petty sense of vengeance. I’m glad that the resulting film actually transports none of that original sentiment; in fact I made a point to counteract my knee-jerk reaction by trying to approach the subject matter from a much more neutral point of view … if such a thing is even possible with a subject like Guantanamo.
The way I wanted to do this was to explore Guantanamo from the perspective of a handful of people who lived, worked and suffered there. I wanted my protagonists to come from vastly different sides of the conflict and give them room to tell their stories in their own words, to relate their subjective perspective and their individual trauma without judgment from the filmmaker. That is a film that I believe hasn’t really been made until now.
The result is a highly personal multi-perspective take on events. The trade-off is that this perspective is by virtue of its intimacy narrower. But I didn’t want to make a history lesson on Guantanamo or a blow-by-blow account of the War on Terror. Instead the film focuses on more universal personal issues of morality and trauma. The war on terror is the backdrop. The long list of famous and infamous names connected to that history are irrelevant to this film. There isn’t even a mention of George Bush. He has become too much of a cliché.
There is a lot of gray in this film. In the end the film is about the choices of three people and the impact of those choices on their own lives and the lives of others, ten years after 9/11.
Diane Beaver believes she did her best to fulfill her patriotic duty to protect her country from a ruthless new enemy in a time of great crisis. Human rights advocates are adamant that she crossed a line that qualifies her for criminal prosecution or at least moral condemnation for the legal facilitation of torture. Murat Kurnaz is adamant he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, incarcerated without trial for five years and barbarically tortured for nothing. Others believe he was a danger to America and that his incarceration was the right of a country defending itself. Matt Diaz is a hero to some for leaking the names of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay when he could no longer stand what he felt was the abuse and lack of humanity around him. To others he is a traitor, who let his legal profession, the military and his country down.
I want the audience to come to its own conclusions whether the people being portrayed are victims, perpetrators, or both. How you feel about each of these individuals, their actions, and their morality will depend on your political leanings, your value system, where you live, what you would like to believe and what you have been told. The film does not provide easy answers to any of these questions.
I wanted to show how easy the slide into barbarity can be and that there are individuals willing to take on personal sacrifices to oppose undemocratic forces or protect their nation from harm. It also shows how quickly we can find ourselves on the wrong side and how brave moral decisions and decisive actions in times of great crisis are not necessarily rewarded. To me the film is akin to a Shakespearian tragedy. There are no victors. In the end everybody loses. What remains are damaged people and damaged lives.
- Thomas Wallner