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You Don't Like the Truth

If you had a 16-year-old son, what would you tell him if he was in my situation, Omar Khadr asks a Canadian intelligence agent who went to Guantanamo to interrogate him in 2003. It’s one of the most dramatically stark scenes in Luc Coté and Patricio Henriquez’s extraordinary documentary, You Don’t Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantanamo. The exchange here is quietly riveting and anguishing.

Omar was then a 16-year-old Canadian youth, born in Egypt, and captured at age 15 near Khost in Afghanistan by American Delta Force troops after they conquered an Islamist insurgents’ outpost and found a gravely wounded Omar in the rubble. He was accused of killing a medic—one who may have been operating at that moment as a combatant—with a grenade. As Toronto Star correspondent Michelle Shephard notes, the American government’s case against Omar was probably some distance from air-tight (we don’t know much of it because they never had to make it). After a year of confinement and regular brutalization at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, the boy was shipped off to Guantanamo.

The bulk of Coté and Henriquez’s movie is composed of video recordings of the Canadians’ interrogation of Omar, under CIA supervision, over four days, recordings ordered released by the Canadian Supreme Court about two years ago, after long and adamantine resistance by Conservative Prime Minister Steven Harper’s government. It makes for revelatory, if decidedly unpleasant, viewing and listening.

At first, Omar welcomes the Canadians, with their gifts of fast food and unctuous solicitude. They’re the first “friends” he’s seen in over a year, and it takes him a day to realize that these are government agents bent on prying incriminating admissions from the youngster, at a time, a Canadian lawyer-interviewee observes, when the death penalty was still a possibility.

Omar receives only a cruelly mendacious answer to the almost heartbreaking question he asks the agent. He’s finally moved to sullenly express to his “visitors” the sentiment that forms the movie’s title. He is considerably more believable here than they are, and arguably more honest then the American and Canadian authorities both seen and quoted.

Former Canadian foreign minister Bill Graham relates how he was disingenuously brushed off by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, and was duped by the American government when he cited international conventions regarding the detention and treatment of minors. (At one juncture, there was an 11-year-old at Guantanamo.)

The Obama administration hasn’t kept its commitment to close the prison, of course. And US Attorney General Eric Holder has decided that no American agents will be held legally accountable for the mistreatment of Omar, or anybody else. You Don’t Like the Truth should be seen by millions of Canadians and Americans. The worst part of this story is that this is unlikely.

UB’s Department of Media Study will present a free screening of You Don’t Like the Truth at 6pm on Wednesday, November 14, at 112 Center for the Arts. It will be followed by a lecture, “Complex Regimes of Truth: Surveillance and Affect in You Don’t Like the Truth—Four Days Inside Guantanamo,” from Professor Brenda Longfellow of the Department of Film at Toronto’s York University.

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