Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr and Camp Gitmo

January 26, 2016

By Ayman al-Juzi

On Friday 22 January 2016, a panel joined a packed audience at the Frontline Club for a lively discussion following the London premiere screening of Michelle Shephard‘s Guantanamo’s Child. With unprecedented access to former fellow prisoners, family members and government officials, the documentary explores the political and ethical implications of the harrowing case of Omar Khadr.

Richard Gizbert, presenter of The Listening Post on Al Jazeera English, moderated the discussion. The panel was comprised of investigative reporter and filmmaker, Michelle Shephard; former Guantanamo Bay prisoner and director of outreach at CAGEMoazzam Begg; and Cori Crider, head of the Abuses in Counter-Terrorism team at Reprieve.

“All the best work that comes out of Guantanamo either has her name or Karen Rosenberg’s on it,” Gizbert began, praising Shephard‘s substantial journalistic achievements in investigating Camp Gitmo over the past decade.

Shephard began by elaborating on her experiences and knowledge of Guantanamo Bay, broadly explaining why certain people were imprisoned and others were not. “What decided how you were dealt with and when you were released from Guantanamo was not the merits or demerits of your case, but what passport you held (…) Guantanamo was never created as a place to try for war crimes. It was created as an intelligence gathering unit.”

Gizbert then asked Begg if the film fell short of capturing the difficult times experienced during his imprisonment. He responded: “There is a part of the story you will never get to see. For example, the conversations I had with my lawyer while at Guantanamo were classified. When I left, I asked for the notes of these meetings and they told me I can’t have them because they are classified.”

Referring to the strict rules that journalists experience when covering Guantanamo, Begg continued: “When you can’t film a person’s face, when you can’t show what he looks like, what his expressions are, and how he feels, it takes away from the humanity of the situation.”

Crider picked up on this point and expressed her respect for lawyer Dennis Edney. He features heavily in the documentary as Khadr’s lawyer, and his role in exposing Khadr’s story has been an essential one. “So much of what the Guantanamo lawyer has to do isn’t traditional legal work in any event. They have to get these stories past the censors and into the world to convey these peoples’ humanity. I think for a solo practitioner to do something like this for Omar is absolutely extraordinary.”

Gizbert asked how important it was that a wide range of characters – such as the interrogators and military lawyer – were included in the telling and depiction of the story.

Shephard responded: “It was really essential to get all voices in [the documentary]. Omar Khadr was seen as a murderer and rapist on the extreme right, and Nelson Mandela on the extreme left. He thought he was neither. So we really wanted to break down that character, but not do it in an activist way. We wanted to get the most complete picture possible.”

Indeed, the panellists agreed that the fields of human rights and counter-terrorism are never “black and white.” This ambiguity was highlighted by Begg, who concluded the discussion with a comment on his former interrogators and prison guards at Guantanamo: “I have 15 of them on Facebook, as friends.”

For information on future screenings, please click here.