Thursday, 9 December 2004

Film highlights Guantanamo disgrace

By Lawrence Smallman

Thursday 09 December 2004, 15:48 Makka Time, 12:48 GMT

Reigniting the debate over the morality of holding prisoners indefinitely and without charge, abritish filmmaker is to screen a documentary highlighting what he calls absolute disgrace that is Guantanamo.

Damien Mahoney’s This is Camp X-ray will be viewed for the first time ever at Manchester’ Dancehouse Theatre on Sunday and will be immediately followed with an open forum for the public to express their reactions.

Commissioned by the UHC arts collective, the documentary features the build up to the creation of a life-size working replica of the Guatanamo Bay detention centres where volunteers were imprisoned in October 2003.

A testimony to the shocked and bewildered responses of the local community, the film also explores the range of emotions felt by the volunteer detainees and the guards during the nine-day project.

’Blatant injustice’

Mahoney told on Thursday that his own feelings of the “blatant injustice of holding people without charge for years” has intensified.

“How can the US and UK preach about democracy in Iraq and elsewhere when they can deprive people found guilty of absolutely nothing the most simple of basic rights?

”We are not talking anything complicated here, I mean basic rights like … the right to know what they are charged of and a right to defend themselves in courts. It is absolutely disgusting,“ Mahoney said.

The dramatic prison reality of the estimated 600 held at Camp X-ray becomes all the more real with participation by the sisters of Jamal al-Harith, the Manchester local who was held without charge for two years before being released.

Inspiration for film

The film is based on Jai Redman’s This is Camp X-ray installtion, which became one of the most critical acclaimed art events to take place in 2003, receiving widespread international press coverage.

The controversial installation – a meticulous working replica of the original camp in Cuba – stood for nine days in Hulme, an inner suburbs of Manchester.

The nine volunteers incarcerated in the life-size camp symbolically represented the nine British detainees then held in Cube. Featuring live prisoners and guards, it ran 24 hours a day and stuck rigorously to the regime of the actual camp.

Mahoney said a few people who had never heard of Guantanamo Bay believe tat US soldiers really had set up a similar prison in Britain and had poured a shower of verbal abuse on the voluntaeers.

”Others were just shocked out how the American government can treat human beings,” he added. “But the scary thing is this type of thing is happening in the UK’s Belmarsh Prison too.”

Al-Harith’s story

Four years ago, Manchester resident Jamal al-Harith was in Afghanistan and was seized by the Taliban on suspicion of being a British spy.

After his incarceration in Kandahar he was freed by the Taliban, only to be arrested by US forces almost immediately. Now suspected of being a member of the Taliban, Jamal was flown to Cuba.

He remained there for two years. No charges were ever brought against him.

Al-Harith and three other former detainees in the UK are currently in preparation to have their cases against the US administration heard in the Federal Court in Washington DC.

The allegations against the administration include torture and other violations of human rights.

The US Federal Courts have also halted the proceedings of a controversial military commission involving an associate of Osama Bin Laden. This could stop all further court proceedings at the camp from taking place.



This is Camp X-Ray

Amnesty International refers to it as a ‘human-right scandal’ and the otherwise studiously neutral International Committee Of The Red Cross has diplomatically raised concerns about ‘significant problems regarding conditions and treatment’ there. But Maerica still keeps hundreds of prisoners in Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay.

Jai Redman is part of the Manchester based UHC radical art and design collective. Last year, in the unlikely surrounds of Hulme, he created a working facsimile of the camp (pictured), containing nine prisoners (representing the nine British ‘detainees’) and guards.

Film-maker Damien Mahoney decided that this was something which needed recording so, suing a variety of cameras and borrowed equipment, he filmed the nine-day project. The resulting documentary, This is Camp X-Ray, receives its first public screening on Sunday at the Dancehouse Theatre.

interviewed in the film are two sisters of Jamal al-Harith, a Mancunian who was arrested in Afghanistan and who spent two years in captivity without ever being charged. Originally, he was going to provide an introductory voiceover to the film but, with his legal action on the US pending, had to withdraw.

For Mahoney, the film was a case of maintaining the public profile of something that flickers only occasionally on to the news media and thus easily fades from public consciousness. The issues raised here will be addressed in a panel discussion, which will follow the screening.

Rob Hayes

Sun, Dancehouse, Oxford Road, Central Manchester, 7.30pm, £3. Tel: 237 9753,