Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the September 8,
2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
New York Review: ‘Guantanamo’
The argument continues over the US’s probably illegal lease agreement
to use Cuba’s Guantanamo base. There is no argument, however, that the
base is being used as a concentration camp for the sake of freedom.
Although it has recently been announced that a series of pre-trial
hearings have been set, more than 600 people from various nations
suspected of being Taliban soldiers from Afghanistan and al-Qaida are
being held captive without legal representation or the right to
communicate with their families. While a U.S. appeals court ruled in
December, 2003 that these prisoners cannot be held indefinitely, and
cannot be denied lawyers, the situation continues.
There is increasing rage and frustration among the citizens of the
world as stories come out of the physical abuse meted out to
prisoners, and of possible executions by a simple decree from a secret
military court. This condition has prompted more and more citizens,
notably writers, to speak out about what they see as human rights
violations. Journalist Victoria Brittain and novelist Gillian Slovo
have assembled a probing and profound docudrama, "Guantanamo: Honor
Bound to Defend Freedom," that has everything to do with our inability
to confront and take a stand against unacceptable and intolerable acts
of inhumanity, and nothing to do with our right to defend freedom. The
tag on the title comes from the sign outside camp X-Ray at Guantanamo.
Commissioned and produced by the Tricycle Theater in North London in
January, 2004, and subsequently moved to the New Ambassadors Theater
on the West End (where it is still playing), "Guantanamo" is produced
in New York by Allan Buchman and the Culture Project ("The
Exonerated") and staged by its original directors, Nicolas Kent and
While one can only wonder about the hundreds of stories yet untold,
this is an awesome achievement for the authors. They have compiled a
tightly knit, convincing, and compelling range of testimony. Something
to think about is what shape their play would have taken had it
included a single justifying and supportable response from even one
member of the government, despite the fact that numerous requests were
made, and were denied or refused. One therefore cannot complain for
its lack of fairness to the other side.
The focus of the docudrama is on the crisscrossing monologues, often
laced with bracing wit, of the five British detainees released in late
February, plus the letters of those still held captive, the testimony
of family members, lawyers, and public officials. One gets the feeling
of the detention center immediately upon entering the theater. The
wide stage area, flanked by two mesh metal cages with cots, is filled
with rows of small tables and chairs. The pre-dawn call to prayer is
sung from the stage by the prisoners within the effectively bleak and
ominous setting designed by Miriam Buether and highlighted by Johanna
Town’s roving lighting. Buether also designed the costumes, notably
the one-piece orange uniforms worn by the detainees.
While the detainees are referred to by Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld as "legal combatants," and not prisoners of war, they have,
in the words of Lord Justice Steyn, fallen into "the legal black
hole." As both roles are played by Robert Langdon Lloyd, it is worth
noting that Lloyd captures both Rumsfeld, as a stiff-necked smug
double-talker and Steyn, as expected, as a level-headed and
impassioned interpreter of the impossible situation. The speech that
Steyn made on November 23, 2003 at Lincoln’s Inn in London concludes,
"The president has made public in advance his personal view of the
prisoners as a group: he has described them all as killers."
Listening to the occasional, yet consistently confounding, statements
made by Rumsfeld will undoubtedly do more than ruffle your feathers.
However it remains for Begg (Harsh Nayyar) to most poignantly
chronicle the experiences of his increasingly mentally unstable son,
Moazzam Begg (Aasif Mandvi). Jamal al-Harith (Andrew Stewart-Jones)
will not only leave you stunned by his incredible tale, from first
accused to being a British spy and then a Taliban/Al Qaeda
collaborator, but also by his riveting account of how inhumanly
prisoners were manacled and humiliated. A young British business man,
Bisher al-Rawi (Waled Zuaiter), relates the horrifying sequence of his
imprisonments from Gambia to Bagram and finally to Guantanamo, and
those of his brother, Wahab al-Rawi (Ramsey Faragallah), an
entrepreneur who is arrested for bringing a battery charger into
Kathleen Chalfont brings subtly ironic shadings to her otherwise stern
role as Gareth Peirce, Wahab al-Rawi’s lawyer, who is able to convince
British intelligence that the suspicious equipment is only a battery
charger available at a local store. This, as the investigators are
busy flying in a forensic expert from Bali to inspect it. Joris Stuyck
is matter-of-factly detached as U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw,
able to accept the idea of British civilians charged by an American
Particular haunting is the performance of Jeffrey Brick, who, as Tom
Clarke, a young man who recalls how his sister, trapped in the first
tower, was "incinerated publicly," serves as a voice for everyone’s
immediate response to 9/11. All the other performances give breadth to
this "theater of testimony" and depth to these wrenching accounts.
Although the play is structured solely from the facts regarding the
British detainees, it is the fate of the other 650 that we are left
Resonating without sensationalism, the power of "Guantanamo" is that
it is relevant and important in a time of crisis. And like other
excellent examples of "theater of testimony" – Anna Deveare Smith’s
"Twilight Los Angeles 1992," Emily Mann’s "Execution of Justice," and
Moises Kaufman’s "The Laramie Project" – it lets the facts speak for
Street Theater (at Lafayette). Tickets: $55 to $60. Call 212-307-4100
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