Review by Alan Bird
Guantanamo Bay is a moral blight upon the opening decade of the twenty first century. It is shocking to think that men are being held without trial, with no - or at most circumstantial evidence, are refused representation by a lawyer, and face possible execution at the hands of a military court that will be held in secret. What is even more alarming is that all of this is being done in the name of ‘freedom’.
It is this distressing subject that journalist Victoria Brittain and novelist Gillian Slovo, cover in their chilling documentary play named “Guantanamo: honor bound to defend freedom”. The words, “honor bound to defend freedom” - the sign outside Camp x-ray in Guantanamo, in Cuba - appears in parenthesis in the play’s title and for good reason. What is happening at Guantanamo, Camp Delta or Belmarsh Prison, has nothing to do with ‘honor’ or ‘freedom’, but everything to do with injustice!
The play is presented in a form of monologues, gathered from letters of British prisoners still held in Guantanamo, from interviews with released British detainees, the families of those being held, and solicitors and others trying to defend these people who have disappeared - into what Lord Steyn (William Hoyland) calls at the opening of the play -“Legal Black Hole”. Though it quickly becomes obvious as the play progresses, the phrase should be ‘illegal black hole’.
We listen to Jamal al-Harith (Patrick Robinson), a Manchurian young man who was taken prisoner by the Taliban believing him to be a British spy, only to end up in Guantanamo as a Taliban/Al Qaeda suspect. We hear the heart-breaking account of Mr Begg (Badi Uzzaman), as he tries to find out what is happening to his son, and the outrageous arrest of Bisher al-Rawi (Daniel Cerqueira), a British businessman who was picked up in Gambia, flew to Bagram before being transported to Guantanamo Bay.
The American defence minister Donald Rumsfeld (William Hoyland) explains how the people at Guantanamo are not prisoners of war, but “illegal combatants”, and in that neat phrase tears up the Geneva convention, and removes the protection that had been granted to all of us by international law and Jack Straw (David Annen) brusquely explains why the British Government is willing to allow British civilians to face an American military tribunal.
Though the drama documentary focuses on the specific details of the British detainees, it paints with a much broader brush, to highlight the injustice of the 650 prisoners being held at Guantanamo. The story told is not one of sensationalism; it keeps to the bare facts of the little we know about what is happening in that illegal black hole.
The most touching and poignant part of the play is towards the end when Mr Begg tells how he wants his son, who has been held for almost three years, to be charged with a crime or released. He states, “I do not plead for mercy, I ask for justice”.
An alarming, shocking play that demands to be seen!
NICK CURTIS for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Shocking, depressing, inspiring, enraging material: I urge you to see it." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "The show leaves you shocked at the violations of justice committed in the name of freedom." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Shocking and often deeply moving production." RAYMOND WHITAKER for THE INDEPENDENT says, " An evening which left one stirred, questioning, and with a sense that one could no longer seek refuge in ignorance."