Luc Cote and Patricio Henriquez’s “You Don’t Like the Truth” demonstrates, through excerpts from an actual videotaped interrogation at Guantanamo, the process by which human will can be systematically broken down to force an admission of guilt, regardless of truth. By showing a delegation of Canadians grilling a fellow Canadian youth who was previously tortured by Americans, this disturbing docu casts the U.S. not as an exporter of democracy but as an international enabler of civil-rights violations. Bowing Sept. 28 at Gotham’s Film Forum, advocacy pic should spark sufficient outrage to propel it through the arthouse circuit.
In 2002, Omar Khadr, then 15, was holed up in a suspected Afghani terrorist compound firebombed by U.S. troops. The sole survivor, Khadr was charged with throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier. Still recuperating from near-fatal wounds, he was sent to Bagram Detention Center, where he allegedly was tortured; his affidavit account, read aloud, is supported by onscreen testimony from former cellmates and even from notorious interrogator Damien Corsetti, who admits believing Khadr was unfairly treated. From there, Khadr was shipped to Guantanamo and subjected to further abuse.
The videotaped interrogation, conducted not by American military but by the CSIS (the Canadian equivalent of the CIA), took place about a year into Khadr’s imprisonment and was filmed with three hidden surveillance cameras. The classified footage was made public in 2009 by order of the Canadian Supreme Court, and reps the only such imagery ever to emerge from “Gitmo.”
Cote and Henriquez split the screen into quarters to show all three camera viewpoints simultaneously, with one corner left blank. The filmmakers often replace the empty portion with present-day footage of psychiatrists, ex-detainees, politicians, military personnel or relatives watching the archival tapes on laptops and commenting on the proceedings.
The interrogation tapes make for difficult but revelatory viewing. Curiously, the poor image quality, which leaves Khadr’s facial expressions barely visible, makes his body language particularly eloquent as he goes from joyous hope to utter despair over four days of grueling interrogation. Khadr initially assumes his Canadian countrymen have come to help him and will listen to his account with open minds; his grief and disillusionment know no bounds as their false bonhomie devolves into cajolery and outright threats, the true nature of their visit becoming clear. This final betrayal strikes a mortal blow to his belief in justice as he keeps repeating, “You don’t like the truth.”
The docu makes no pretense of objectivity, giving voice to the side of the story ignored by Khadr’s accusers. Khadr’s military lawyer confesses to having his faith in American justice sharply undermined; Toronto Star reporter Michelle Shephard questions whether the boy, with three bullets in him and a face full of shrapnel, was physically capable of lobbing a grenade; and human-rights advocates note that as a child soldier under international law, Khadr was subject to protections that were blatantly ignored.