To the Jihad Rehab filmmakers,
We write to you regarding your documentary ‘Jihad Rehab’, which we have had the opportunity to review in full. As former Guantánamo Bay detainees never charged with crimes but detained arbitrarily and subjected to years of torture and inhumane treatment by the U.S. government, we write this letter to register our extreme discomfort with the content of the film and its method of production.
While the film presents numerous issues, perhaps most problematic is the fact that we are in contact with two of the four Yemeni men featured in the film who informed us that they were not aware the film was being released publicly. In fact, one of the men explicitly stated that he had told the filmmaker he didn’t want to be featured in the film, which was obviously and completely disregarded. In our conversations with both of the men, they strongly imparted to us that the film poses a serious risk to their lives and to their families’ lives, and at least one of them has recently been in touch with the director Meg Smaker to urgently request that the film be withdrawn from distribution.
We are also concerned by the way the documentary reproduces false narratives that were produced almost entirely from unreliable information obtained through our torture. Moreover, instead of questioning, examining, or otherwise critiquing the accusations that were made by the US government against these men, these accusations are stated as fact in order to justify their release to the custody of the Saudi Arabian authorities. The 16-year-old accusations levelled against the detainees were never tested in a court of law, and were made with little to no evidence. For them to be presented as a stated fact within the documentary presents a serious flaw in your work.
Considering the vast number of in-depth investigations and reports on the issue of unlawful detention and torture at the Guantanamo Bay detention center from the United Nations, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Seton Hall Law, and even the U.S. government, it is surprising and disappointing that your film chose to ignore these cumulative records that undermine the whole question of “rehabilitation” (because how can you rehabilitate someone from something they haven’t done?). For a film released twenty years after the opening of Guantanamo, and one that purports to do a service to the men by telling their stories, this film is not only wrong-minded, but frankly unconscionable.
Additionally, the use of the word ‘jihad’ as a concept that requires rehabilitation betrays a reductive understanding of the concept and undermines a tradition that is a central part of Islamic belief.
This film also raises the question of power asymmetries and possible coercion, as opposed to voluntary participation in terms of how the documentary was filmed, considering the fact that the men’s existence at the Muhammad bin Nayyef Centre is precarious. The interviews conducted with the men took place while they were again being unlawfully detained in a politically sanitised environment without lawyers present, and without any ability to contest the charges leveraged against them. Their responses to the questions asked by the filmmaker were narrowly conscribed to the Islamophobic narrative used by the filmmaker, and thus they were denied the power to share anything other than what comported with the Saudi state’s official narrative of what they had allegedly done.
As a violently Islamophobic narrative was imposed on the men in the film to produce the responses the filmmaker clearly wanted to solicit, the only time she critiqued the context of their detention, was when she herself faced barriers to completing her project. In such a political and carceral environment, it was the filmmaker’s duty to make a film that accurately represented the stories and conditions of the men and to center their experiences. Tragically, she was clearly focused instead on producing a sensationalist documentary.
To say this documentary was a disservice to your interview subjects is a huge understatement.
Considering the filmmaker’s acknowledgement of the legacy of torture, the film was also strikingly problematic in how the filmmaker aggressively solicited responses to her questions from the men. Needless to say, little care was paid to the reproduction of interrogation-like questioning through a coercive and captive environment within the filming itself. Meg’s insistence on the men answering questions was uncomfortable viewing for those of us who were forced to endure such lines of questioning in the past, and made us deeply concerned about the lack of psychological support for the men in the film.
Finally, the very notion of ‘future dangerousness’ in ‘curing’ people has a very long and troubling history across the globe. In the War on Terror context, this idea has been used to indefinitely detain Muslims based on the construction of their inherent criminality and irredeemability. Had you conducted any form of research around rehabilitation programmes and their underlying and often faulty rationales, even within the US, you might have produced an entirely different presentation on the efficacy of such programmes.
Your film would have done a much better service to humanity, had your team chosen to question your own underlying assumptions about the world that you were stepping into. Instead, you chose to produce a film that reaffirms all of the tropes we have had to endure as released and cleared Guantanamo Bay detainees: namely, that we “must be guilty of something.” Ultimately, you never questioned why being released from the Centre depended on an admittance of guilt to the charges against these men, even when those charges were baseless. If you had, you would have found that these men had no choice admitting guilt was a precondition to their release.
As you yourselves experienced by the end of your filming, we suggest it had much to do with the power dynamics of the Saudi security state.
As former detainees, we want you to know that your film will only replicate and legitimise the violence and stigma we have had to and still endure. If your true intention was to portray life after Guantanamo and the challenges the men face in navigating multiple systems of injustice, then we can only hope that you will immediately withdraw this film from being shown any further.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)