Totally Under Control: The Forever Prisoner

JUSTICE: Twenty years on Guantánamo Bay's first high-value detainee has still never been charged with a crime or allowed to challenge his detention.

The Forever Prisoner is Alex Gibney’s latest infuriatingly insane expose of US government malfeasance, and yet it’s also a revisitation of territory the prolific documentarian tread long ago. (As have other equally prolific filmmakers – most notably Errol Morris with 2008’s Standard Operating Procedure.) Back in his 2007 Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side, Gibney explored the case of Dilawar; an innocent Afghan peanut farmer turned taxi driver tortured to death at Bagram detention center nearly two decades ago. Now the director has decided to train his investigative lens on an even more problematic character and case – that of Abu Zubaydah, the first «high-value detainee» subjected to the CIA’s program of «enhanced interrogation techniques» (aka EITs, aka torture). Nearly two decades on, the terrorist whose actual name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn remains in custody and perpetual limbo at Gitmo – the result, as one talking head puts it in The Forever Prisoner, not of «what he did to us» but of «what we did to him.»

The Forever Prisoner, a film by Alex Gibney
The Forever Prisoner, a film by Alex Gibney

No charges

For Husayn, a sort of jihadi facilitator and training camp entrepreneur (who likely never farmed peanuts but also wasn’t exactly a made member of Al-Qaeda) has never been charged with a crime. Nor has he ever been allowed to challenge his detention. He’s simply eternally stuck outside the bounds of US law in Guantánamo . . .

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Lauren Wissot
A US-based film critic and journalist, filmmaker and programmer.
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