The attack on September 11th, after 20 years, still makes filmmakers struggling with the dark side in the way data for predictable terrorist threats are being obtained by the CIA as well as its followed school of torture. “The Report,” by Scott Z. Burns revealed how whistleblowers became aware of the magnitude of torture in the War on Terror, as well as how ineffectual it was; Paul Schrader‘s book “The Card Counter“, focusing on the psychological impacts of post-9/11 torture on the participating soldiers. However, as these filmmakers have sought some form of responsibility, the experiences of those who have been tortured have received less attention.
In such a vigilant and infuriating movie like “The Forever Prisoner” by Alex Gibney, audiences will see characters based on true stories in real life. There is an FBI agent named Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) appearing in “The Report”, a black-masked person who did government-sanctioned torturing as in “The Card Counter”. Gibney’s film is a must-see for anyone interested in the on-the-ground terror of the post-9/11 hunt for information and vengeance, as well as the American barbarism that defines it. It focuses on the prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, as much as possible, despite the fact that he cannot be interviewed from his current cell at Guantanamo Bay; his presence is felt more in the graphic hand sketches and brief entries about his situation. Emphasis is put on America’s ineffectively aggressive and terrorized methods to get information and its following half-baked leadership from key figures in the CIA in order to empathize with his suffering as a human being. The intimate scale given by Gibney’s horrific documentary enables us to know how this approach grew until the images from the Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 brought it to the attention of the media.
Although it is considered that Zubaydah was the first high-value detainee subjected to the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs), he has yet to be charged. The FBI agents who interrogated him before torture (like Ali Soufan, who later left the agency) provide a realistic picture of who he was and wasn’t—he wasn’t Al-number Qaeda’s three targets in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, contrary to popular belief. Instead, he thought of himself more like an intermediary among other infamous involvers. According to this film, he was a great source of information when he contributed to identifying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the “principal architect” of the Sep 11th attacks. However, as this video effectively illustrates with testimonies and a clear timeline, the authorities subsequently resorted to ineffective, severe techniques that resulted in fewer data from Zubaydah. “The Forever Prisoner” recounts how long he was tortured, as well as the failure to obtain much more information using those methods, despite having incredible access to previously redacted CIA accounts.
“The forever prisoner” is so amazingly demonstrated that it effectively facilitates the demystification of the advanced interrogation methods, later called “torture”, and its followed process. I was always taken aback by the amount of calculation to each act of torture or the volume of discussion there was in Washington with a view to legalizing a black site in Thailand. It was methodical; it wasn’t conducted by faceless nobodies, but by individuals like Dr. James Mitchell, one of Gibney’s interview participants here, and helped create the book on how Americans could psychologically damage their captives. Mitchell confesses about trying to avoid another assault if he can, which alludes to the “fear and fury” that characterized the post-9/11 event. Mitchell, however, later complains about the Red Hot Chili Peppers being played on repeat, entirely overlooking the fact that Zubaydah was subjected to the same music at maximum volume for hours on end.
Watching the documentary, audiences can see the producer’s highly prolific thriving on remarkably sharp attention and his devotion to discovering information and sharing it (revealing how he fought the CIA to obtain additional data concerning torture). Gibney creates a broad story with various eyewitnesses and some contradictory truths while maintaining the mood compact so that the spectator understands the catastrophic lack of humanity. It’s a story of terrible cruelty and suffering perpetrated by people whom President Obama later referred to as “patriots” from the White House podium after admitting that “we tortured some victims.” Overall, Zubaydah’s torture illustrations and words (sometimes with CIA personnel blocked out) are displayed in the enigmatic nature of a peaceful, white chamber, with imagery of being waterboarded or put into a little coffin hinting the intense painful action. It is the drawings that prove to be more striking than the reenactments.
This is Zubaydah’s narrative, however, it is unrelated to his present works. It’s more about how he serves as a mirror of accountability that needs the exposure Gibney is providing. The extremes uncovered in this film illustrate what we accept as necessary, and what we as a country rationalize as justice even in the absence of procedure. It’s illuminating, but, like Gibney’s finest work, it’s really reassuring under the worst sense.
Premiering on HBO and subsequently available on HBO Max.