While human rights were definitely a factor in The Road to Guantanamo, I would argue that human rights were anything but forced upon people, rather they were taken away from Shafiq, Ruhel, and Asif and the rest of the detainees at every turn. In lieu of the discussion surrounding Samuel P. Huntington’s concept of “human rights imperialism,” and the resistance to it, in his article, “The Clash of Civilizations?” watching The Road to Guantanamo was horrifying, and seemingly backwards. If “human rights imperialism” is defined as the blatant denial of human rights, then yes, Huntington’s point is most definitely reinforced by the film, however, that definition should best be revised, because then it’s only natural for resistance to this form of “imperialism” to be present. Therefore, with respect to this complete absence of “human rights imperialism” in the film, let alone any indication of any access to basic human rights, I think the incredibly punitive stance society often takes with respect to prisoners is so incredibly pervasive in our culture that, specifically with the war on terror, the idea that someone is “innocent until proven guilty,” has been completely ignored. Instead, as reflected in the film, there is such a strong inclination to assume people are inherently guilty until proven innocent, or unaffiliated, and in the meantime, those people are deserving of the punishment and torture that the imprisoners see fit at the slight chance that their ungrounded assumption of guilt is correct.
For instance, in “CIA Secret Prisons Exposed – The Disappeared: Are They Dead? Are They Alive? Ask Congress. Ask the President,” Nat Hentoff addresses how “as long as ‘the war on terror continues’…’detainees’ have vanished from the face of the earth,” because they are being held in secret CIA prisons (Hentoff, 1). As seen in the film, being held in these types of prisons, specifically Guantanamo Bay, results in detainees being subject to abuse, constant and relentless questioning, manipulation, isolation, discrimination, and condescension. Just at the surface level, detainees were denied access to their human rights of, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile,” the article that, “No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law,” and “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country” (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights). While the attention to these three human rights is in no way all encompassing of all the violations that took place, the detainment of these prisoners was grounded in the detainees’ choices to exercise and practice the latter of these human rights.
Yet, with the intention of preventing any further terrorist attacks within the United States, the need to treat prisoners so punitively certainly played out. The men in the film were assumed to be guilty, were questioned, and were punished for telling truths that reflected their innocence. They were often manipulated into admitting to false guilt in order to escape the tortuous pattern. They were denied social interactions, physical activity, and were often held in solitary confinement for long periods of time, something that the United Nations describes as “torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment” (Hentoff, 2). However, like the majority of detainees, Shafiq, Ruhel, and Asif were cleared of all “charges,” essentially making the three years of punishment and detainment useless for those administering it, but making those three years painful and unwarranted for those who should have never been detained in the first place.
The Road to Guantanamo definitely forced the question of the effectiveness of the detainment of those suspicious of terrorist activity, as well as the effectiveness of punishment as a means of proving guilt, when in many cases that guilt was never there. As a result, since it is clear that punitive measures were ineffective in this system, why is it that the United States’ prison system is still so heavily centered around punishment? Is there a way to cater the system for rehabilitation effectively?
And while it can be argued that there was good intention behind, “[searching] for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying,” how does that intention justify, in any right, the blatant denial of multiple human rights and the “cruel and inhuman treatment” detainees were subject to (Risen, 1 & Hentoff, 2)?