You Don't Like The Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantánamo uses interrogation footage from inside the prison's walls to tell the story of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was imprisoned there nearly ten years ago at the age of 15. Despite the fact that his imprisonment breaks international law, Khadr is still in jail. Documentary filmmakers Luc Côté and Patricio Henriquez shine a light on the harsh injustice taking place. Boxoffice recently caught up with Côté and Henriquez to discuss their unforgettable film.
Was there a moment in the footage that you found especially striking or moving?
Luc Côté: The most striking moment for almost everybody—and for us, too—that triggered us to make the documentary was certainly the moment where Omar Khadr is in total distress and he's crying and asking for his mother. This is the footage that was first released. That's the footage that everybody saw. It went around the world and that was a very striking moment. He is in despair and they left him alone for sixteen minutes. And of course he's being watched over, crying. This was a trigger for us to get interested in making this film because that's what was on the news when he was released. At that moment, we decided to explore further and to try to get the seven hours of material. And we got to see it. It's certainly a very striking moment. And there are many more.
Patricio Henriquez: What we discovered later when we began to hear the interrogation is the moment on the first day when the Canadian interrogators were talking about "the truth." And it's so important for us, you know? I mean, life is full of lies and truth and everyone's always seeking for some truth. And then you have two people in this kind of forced dialogue, trying to understand each other and it doesn't work. It's a failure, it's some kind of communication that is not working because nobody can listen to anybody. This is something more universal about human communication.
So that was one of your big triggers to create the film?
Luc: Yeah, like I said, that was the footage that was released in the media. That was the excerpt that everybody chose. When the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the release of this footage, Omar Khadr's lawyers made a little cut, like a ten-minute little piece they sent to all the media. And on the news, that night, most people, that's what they used. Like I said, it's the most dramatic part emotionally. But of course when you watch the film, when you watch the seven hours there's so much more. It's so much more intriguing in terms of the way it's being conducted, the tactic they're using, you know, with the food, there's so many things. And at the same time you see how bad of an interrogator the secret agent is. As a documentary filmmaker, when you work with people you want them to tell you things and you have to have empathy. You have to talk to people so that they trust you, and this guy is doing exactly the opposite.
You guys chose a no-frills approach with this in terms of not using any dramatic music or anything really big or flashy. Were you ever tempted to go with a more flashy presentation?
Patricio: No. When we discovered all the footage, what we wanted to do was share with people our feelings on that. We decided that it was not necessary to try to correct the image, you know, to try to make the technical picture better or the sound better. We tried a lot of things, but it was impossible. We decided to respect this rough material. We decided to show it as it was at the beginning. And so for the same reason we didn't put in music.
Luc: For us, also, it became obvious right from the start almost that the dramatic arc of the film was to follow the chronology of the interrogations. We didn't feel we needed to add anything else because just the chronology of the four days and the rawness of it, I think it gives you a better feeling than trying to hide the rawness of it or to try to envelop it in a different way. It was a decision we made from the very beginning.
The only thing we decided to do with the interviews was we would use them with some frames, one frame or two frames but never a full screen. That was a decision we made. Like the decision we made with everybody who was interviewed, they had to be related to Omar Khadr in a very specific manner. And then we showed everybody excerpts of the film so we would have them watching the film, watching the interrogation like the spectator is doing, too.
In my opinion, it definitely made it much stronger that way. Because you definitely feel like you're in the room, you feel what's going on.
So Omar just started his eight-year sentence a year ago, correct?
Do you think there's any hope that he could be released sooner, or is that pretty much set in stone?
Luc: Well, you see, next month we should know if he will be repatriated to Canada to serve seven more years. With the conservative government we have now, it's very hard to predict. Usually in Canada, if you serve a sentence in prison and you have good behavior, you can serve one third of your sentence, and you're free. In this case, Omar could be free in two years. But, like I said, with the government we have now, it's far from being assured that that's what will happen. So we really don't know.
Patricio: We believe that even if Omar returns to Canada next month, even if he's free later, conservatives in Canada will allow something bad to come to him. Something like, a terrorist is coming back home. Or, a terrorist is coming to your neighborhood, which is the kind of sentence that you have already heard clearly in the United States.
Luc: Last year when we released the film in Canada, we were invited by the opposition party in Ottawa to go to the parliament to show the film. And the opposition invited all the parties, all the representatives of all the parties, and they were all there except for the conservatives. There were no conservatives present for the showing of the film.
So is it still public opinion in Canada? Is it still mostly that people don't really understand what's happened with Omar and they don't really understand his story? Or is it mixed?
Luc: Well, I think the country is very divided, like it is here, with the Democrats and the Republicans. So I would say that 50% of the population in Canada wants Omar Khadr to rot in jail because they already decided even though he never had a trial. And because he has a Muslim name, you know, like Omar Khadr, so even though he born in Toronto, a lot of people are asking that he shouldn't come back to Canada. Or we should remove his Canadian citizenship. But he was born in Canada. And of course there's another 50% of people who are fighting for his release or his repatriation to Canada because you know that to this day he is the only Western prisoner still in Guantánamo. All the other countries, France, England, Germany, all of the Western countries repatriated their citizens a long time ago. Only Canada hasn't done it.
A lot of people think, well, there's mixed opinions about Guantánamo, obviously, but a lot of people think that it's likely to create more terrorists than it stops. What do you think is going to happen to Omar when he does eventually get out? Do you think he's going to be full of resentment or do you think he has a really strong spirit and is going to come out of this in a positive way?
Luc: Everybody that we spoke to—very few people can meet with Omar Khadr, because no one is allowed to visit him—from his American lawyers, his civilian lawyers, his psychiatrist says, "listen, this kid is incredible." He has no resentment, he is not angry, and in fact he's a very positive guy. And the only thing that he missed, being in Guantánamo, he didn't have an education. For many years they didn't allow him to have books to read. So now he's pursuing an education. He has a teacher in Canada who sends him a curriculum and books to read. He's preparing himself because he said at his hearing last October, "what I miss the most is not having a relationship and having education and when I get out I want to study to become a doctor because I really experienced physical and mental distress and pain and if I can relieve anybody of this, of that kind of pain that's what I want to do." Everybody says he is the son you would like to have. So, we don't want to picture him as this saint, but, it's very difficult to understand that he hasn't been hardened by Guantánamo, and everybody says he's a very sweet man. He was a kid. He was fifteen when he was there.
In the film there are a number of other people you show who were his cellmates or people who had been in Guantánamo. I'm watching this film and I'm wondering, what can be done? What can be done for Omar, or what can be done for these other men who have been released without any charge and they've lost years of their lives. They haven't even received so much as an apology. What could I do for him? What could the average American do for him?
Patricio: You know, this is the question that everybody asks to us in every country we have been with the film. Millions are just asking that. You are doing the right thing as a journalist. The most important thing at this moment is public pressure. Avoid that and this could be forgotten. We need to know that he's still in Guantánamo, that he's the first child ever there for war crimes, which is absolutely amazing. It's unlawful because it's against the laws the international community has made since Nuremburg. So, the most important thing is to keep the attention of the public on his case because this may be the only possibility to change the positions of politicians. It's important for people in Canada and abroad to hear about what Canada is doing to one of their citizens. Canada used to have a very good reputation on international matters. Today, Canada is a very different country. It's not anymore the country that invented the blue helmet that was working for peace. Now, it's the country that took a position, a very hard position, and that was the reason they were not elected in that time for the Security Council in the United Nations. Canada has been isolated internationally. People don't know that, and we're sure that if the Canadians feel that he's under surveillance of the international community and international public opinion, maybe that could change something. But if they feel that nobody cares about Omar Khadr, which they believe, then they will do nothing and they will do everything to keep him in this situation.
So you do think with enough public pressure that the Canadian government could change their position?
Patricio: We think that's the most effective thing, is to bring the attention of the public on him. We're not sure, but we've been told that he might be able to come back in October, but we're not sure of that. We don't trust the Canadian government. When they were negotiating last year with the American government, the Canadian government was lying to the public and to the parliament saying they were not participating in any negotiations. We knew that later that the American government was putting pressure on the Canadian government to accept that Omar Khadr could return back home. We knew because you had diplomatic notes that were published at the end of that that a lot negotiations were made in a diplomatic way between the United States and Canada, but the Canadian government was lying to public opinion, to journalists, to political parties saying, "no, we are not doing anything, this is an American problem. This is not a Canadian problem." So, we don't know what will happen next month. Of course we hope that Omar can come back from Guantánamo to Canada, but we don't know really.
What do you hope viewers will take away from this film?
Luc: We want to create awareness of what's going on. Because this interrogation that you see, it's the first and the only interrogation that is available for people to see coming out of Guantánamo. We know that all the interrogations have been filmed in Guantánamo, and the only reason that we have this one is the Canadian secret service brought it back home to Canada. Then, being in Canada Omar Khadr's lawyer new of the existence of it, and then they fought for five years in court to get access to it. So this is just a little, little example of what's going on, and the kind of treatment that these prisoners have been going through. So, yes, we want for the people to have this awareness and to understand what's really going on, and to have a voice. And like you said, like Patricio just said, to have a voice, which means that you can voice it to your government—to the American government, to the Canadian government—that we do not accept that kind of injustice. Because in the end, he's accused of killing an American soldier, but for us, the main thing is there's no proof and there was never a trial, so we don't know what the American's and the Pentagon's proof is. Omar Khadr was 15 years old, he was a child solder, and in a Western country, in a civilized country, is that the way that we treat our kids? By putting them in jail with the adults? And then having this kind of treatment and torture and everything else? And he's been there now for almost 10 years, and we think it's totally unfair for him. And regardless of the fact that he killed or he didn't kill. We don't know, and no one knows at this point. Even though he said all these years that he didn't do it, and it was impossible for him because he was so injured, but he was a child soldier, and that's the bottom line. He was 15 years old.