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Screening of Taxi to the Dark Side: An analysis of US accountability and Guantanamo litigation

On Monday October 19th, in Kant Kino, Berlin, were held two panel discussions followed by the screening of the film Taxi to the Dark Side on Guantanamo and torture. The event gathered more than 300 viewers and was organized by the Cinema for Peace Foundation in cooperation with the ECCHR - European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In July, the Obama Administration was unveiling a plan to finally close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, racing against the clock to fulfill a long-delayed promise by President Obama before his time in office runs out. Based on these facts the first panel Discussion on US Accountability with experts Baher Azmy (Center for Constitutional Rights, New York), Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner (Human Rights Watch), Julia Hall (Amnesty International), and Wolfgang Kaleck (European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights) addressed mainly the legal aspects of the common practice in detainee camps and US politics. Also the different experts outlined various actions and campaigns they are launching to bring justice to the current and former detainees. Besides letters, petitions and providing information the lawyers of the Human Right organizations try to advocate the rights of the detainees at e.g. Guantanamo. While explaining their work and aims it became clear that there is still a long way ahead of the organizations. “We are focusing on small steps“ Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner said, as she explained the huge obstacles they face.

 

Panel Discussion on US Accountability: Baher Azmy (Center for Constitutional Rights, New York), Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner (Human Rights Watch), Julia Hall (Amnesty International), and Wolfgang Kaleck (European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights).


The second one that followed focused on Guantanamo Litigation with the two former Guantanamo detainees Murat Kurnaz (Germany) and Mourad Benchellali (France) with their lawyers Gonzalo Boye (Spain) and Apolline Cagnat (France).

 

There, Mourad Benchellali, introduced us to the circumstances which led him to be arrested in Afghanistan and then incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay. From his enthusiasm to his 19 years old dream vacation in a country where he idealized the Islamic way of life, to his unwanted enrollment in an al Qaeda boot camp and his final arrest as he was trying to leave Afghanistan to head back to Europe, he underlined the fact that he had been victim of his youth and fullness.  After 2 years of torture in Guantanamo he was finally released and was hoping to finally return home and be able to tell his story, in a country that does justice to the incriminated. That’s what he thought but in reality it was quite different. He was instead retained in jail for 18 months, the French justice system accusing him of criminal association in relation with a terrorist enterprise. Even though he was still not set free he was relieved, relieved his case could be given the right to appear in court. After both Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks last January and after many French teenagers started joining ISIS in Syria, the French government finally turned to him and asked him to uses his experience at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan as a lesson for youth tempted by the Islamic State group’s savvy recruiting campaign for jihad. He found it quite unbelievable: he went from being considered a paria in the eyes of society from being used as an example, a wise moderator that had the power to change the fate of lost teenagers.

 

Panel Discussion on Guantanamo Litigation with the two former Guantanamo detainees Murat Kurnaz (Germany) and Mourad Benchellali (France) with their lawyers Gonzalo Boye (Spain) and Apolline Cagnat (France).


The second guest speaker was Murat Kurnaz, who was imprisoned for five years in the detention camp of Guantanamo. After converting to Islam, Kurnaz went to Pakistan to learn more about the Quran. There he was kidnapped and send over to the US Militaries, who brought him to the newly opened detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. During the time in Guantanamo he has been interrogated and tortured many times. Even at the point where it was obvious that Kurnaz was innocent he was not released. He explained that the German government was at least partly responsible for his late release. According to Kurnaz the government refused to let him enter the country, because they wanted him to be send to Turkey. An inquiry committee of the German Bundestag dealt with the case of Murat Kurnaz after his return in 2006. Together with his lawyer, Kurnaz planed on pressing charges against members of the Bundeswehr but according to Kurnaz important documents got lost by the Bundesnachrichtendienst. Today Kurnaz is a PE teacher at a school in Bremen. In special refugees classes he tries to help young people to learn german.

 

 

 

Later on the film “Taxi to the dark side” was presented. The film deals with the measures of the US authorities towards detainees. Repeatedly the story of Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver who died from torture under US custody appeared along with interview given by the army staff accused for dilawar’s death. After the movie the Cinema for Peace Foundation invited their guests to stay a bit and discuss the previous event over a glass of wine. Although torture is more present in the media than it was in 2007, when the film was released the audience was shocked about the inhumanity and cruelty. The event showed that the topic has not lost a bit of relevance, especially regarding the latest activities of Obama towards closing Guantanamo.

 

Watch the trailer of Taxi to the Dark Side