Seeing is believing, the cliché insists, but none of us saw what actually happened on that July day in 2002 - the day that would eventually bring a then 15-year old Canadian boy, Omar Khadr, to the forefront of the world's headlines. So the cliché has given way to its far more significant converse: Believing is seeing.
How we've come to view the Khadr case, how we sift through the hard evidence and the soft speculation contained in the stories beneath those headlines, is largely determined by our preexisting set of beliefs. Armed with their beliefs, fulminators on both sides keep loudly sounding off: He's a tortured child trapped in a legal black hole; he's a murdering terrorist lucky to be alive.
By now, I know where I stand, you know where you do, and there's nothing in this documentary, no new irrefutable revelation, likely to change our position. That doesn't mean the film lacks value. Quite the opposite. The value doesn't necessarily lie in the sympathetic portrait painted of Khadr - obviously, some will be pleased by that depiction, others not. But everyone should be thankful, if not for the doc's content, then certainly for its tone - there is no fulminating here. Instead, courtesy of Canadian co-directors Luc Côté and Patricio Henriquez, witnesses are quietly gathered and arguments are quietly made. For once, no one rants, and, in the relative calm, the tone can be heard, so muted and sad.
The title, You Don't Like the Truth, is a direct quote from Khadr and, at the time, also stood as his declaration of innocence. The time was February, 2003, which brings us to the subtitle: 4 Days Inside Guantanamo. That's when a CSIS agent arrived from Canada to "interview" and videotape Khadr in his Cuban prison. Ten minutes of that seven-hour tape have already been made public, but this is our first chance to look at a more extensive selection, to "see" for ourselves the colloquy between a teenage boy and his professional interrogator.
It's not a pretty sight. Indeed, as the kid is left alone in the room to weep, to literally tear at his hair, and to chant "Kill me, kill me, kill me" in a liturgy of despair, a former director general of Canadian consular Affairs, Gar Pardy, is moved to conclude: "These interviews are basically a continuation of his torture."
Pardy is just one of many who comment on the tapes as the footage unspools. Others include Bill Graham, our ex-Foreign Minister; Khadr's mother and sister; his cellmates at Guantanamo, since released with no charges laid; U.S. military lawyers and psychiatrists and, most dramatically, an American intelligence soldier who admits to torturing an already wounded Khadr at the Bagram base in Afghanistan. They are a diverse bunch, to be sure, yet with a shared conviction: All agree that the accused has been cruelly treated, abandoned by his own country, and grossly deprived of justice.
Still, it's the tapes themselves that form the spine of the documentary. Again and again, we are returned to them, and what emerges says a little about the interrogated boy but a whole lot more about the interrogating man. Quite simply, the CSIS agent seems appallingly bad at his job. Always accompanied by a CIA colleague, he's there not to assist Khadr but solely to accuse him, to extract an admission of guilt and other counter-terrorist information.
Fine. But even granting the legality of his mission (and that's a whole other topic for debate), the professional comes off as a rank amateur. His questions are essentially statements; he doesn't listen, at least to anything beyond what he wants to hear; his mind is firmly closed and already made up. In short, for him too, believing is seeing - the guy is just another fulminator, better suited to the world of politics or column-writing.
Of course, the headlines have continued through this very week, when, in a plea-bargain brokered by politicians, and at a tribunal that isn't a trial, Khadr changed his declaration from innocence to guilt. That altered plea might serve him better. Some might argue that it even serves justice. But here's the tragedy. No one, not even Khadr's most florid accusers, will think that it serves the truth - that complex commodity remains at large, as elusive and unlikable as ever.
You Don't Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantanamo
- Directed by Luc Côté and Patricio Henriquez
- Classification: 14A