I recently saw a documentary entitled The Road to Guantanamo. It was in turns chilling, infuriating, and revelatory.
When I was a kid, growing up in Southern Ontario, I always, always had a problem with the United States. Part of it had to do with the fact that I was a fan of professional wrestling at the time. During those waning days of the cold war, the WWF was constantly doing these weird shows of nationalism, which involved humiliating and belittling these characters who were meant to be representative of the USSR and Iran and the like. While I’m sure this played well to the home crowds, I always saw it in a different light.
I was an unpopular kid, growing up in my little shit-town of Rockwood, Ontario. I wasn’t part of the gang. I got picked on, relentlessly, and without defense by anyone, either peer, teacher, or parent, for years. I was, therefore, always a staunch supporter of the underdog. When I watched these big American Wrestlers being cheered on by these American crowds for beating up these unpopular wrestlers, putatively from other countries, all I saw was the popular kids being praised for beating up the unpopular kids. And oh, how I hated that Hulk Hogan.
It gave me a kind of unvarnished look at American chauvinism and nationalism, and coloured every glimpse of American culture I saw from that point on. All the flag-waving, all the imperialism, all the shady political manipulations, and crowing about being the “greatest nation on earth”, I saw it all in that same light. These folks were the bullies and braggarts of the playground of the world, so secure in their self-image that they could see no wrong in anything that they did. There was a bigotry and racism which seemed inherent in the way the Americans dealt with the rest of the world.
When I saw this documentary (he said, bringing the topic back around to the original point), it gave a really raw look at the ugliness and viciousness which lurks just beneath the surface of American culture. Essentially, it’s about these three kids who were falsely-accused of being members of Al Queda, and who were subsequently caged and tortured by the Americans in Guantanamo Bay for three years. Though cleared of all charges, because all of them had rock-solid alibis as to where they had been during the year they were accused of being trained by Al Queda, they were treated like animals in a fucking kennel for three long years by the Americans who could not see past their brown skins and middle-eastern names.
This is the America I always suspected existed, but which has always been just barely concealed from view. Hateful, angry, and basically furious that there are people out there who aren’t like them. The film doesn’t even touch upon the justifications offered for the existence of these camps, nor the methods employed there. It’s not about American foreign policy, or the logic of the “war on terror”. It’s not about Goerge W. Bush, and it’s not about Republicans. It’s about what it’s like to be an innocent young man who the Americans don’t like the looks of, and the sheer, unending, unjustified and pointless suffering which they unleash upon you as a result. It’s a very ground-level view of how America deals with people who aren’t part of their system, and who are thus outside of the bounds of the protections of that system.
It’s said that a polite man who is rude to his waiter is not a polite man. Similarly, a good and just society which is barbaric and cruel towards those who cannot resist it is not a good and just society. This movie details, to chilling effect, how very true this is of the United States.