The film crew spent nearly three weeks inside the prison,witnesses to the physical and mental challenges that take place inside an area fitted with approximately 17 miles of fences and watchtowers.
“We spent hours of time on a particular cell block. There were things going on that neither the detainees nor the guards could have prevented at any given time. So I feel that we saw the reality of the places that we were brought to at a particular time in August of 2008,” said Bonni Cohen,the film's director and producer,at a panel discussion after a screening in Washington on Tuesday.
The National Geographic Channel will air “Explorer: Inside Guantanamo” at 5 p.m. ET and 9 p.m. PT Sunday.
The film begins with older footage,giving historical context to the aftermath of 9/11.
“They are nothing but a bunch of cold-blooded killers,and that is how we are going to treat them,” says George W. Bush in one of the opening scenes in the documentary,addressing Congress shortly after the attacks.
A wave of suspected terrorists surged into a makeshift prison at the Navy base the U.S. has maintained on Cuba since 1903.
On Jan. 22,President Obama issued an executive order to close the Guantanamo prison by the end of the year.
Although the film crew had access to many parts of the prison camp,it did not have access to areas where the “high-value” detainees were held. The crew was always accompanied by a military representative,and the military had the right to order material that could compromise national security be deleted. The filmmakers were not allowed to show prisoners' faces or interview them.
Nonetheless,Charles Stimson,former deputy assistant defense secretary for detainee affairs,who helped gain access for the filmmakers,said during the panel discussion that the film gives a balanced view.
“It gives a 360 degree,and people can make up their own mind,” he said. “But the discussion today is legal framework,it's not care and treatment.”
Cohen traveled to England and Afghanistan to interview former detainees. Their testimonies are included in the film.
Donald Woolfolk,former deputy commander of Guantanamo and supervising interrogator,appears in the film and took part in the panel discussion.
“From the period of time I was there,the overriding concern was to gain that intelligence,not torture these detainees. And I will tell you,there was an enormous amount of pressure,you know,from the Pentagon to gather more intelligence,quicker,and feed it back to the seat of operations,” said Woolfolk,who was there from 2002 to 2003. “I do not believe,during that period of time,there was torture. Was there some bumping and grinding? … Yes there was.”
In the film,camp librarian Abu Saleh is regarded by many detainees as a bearer of hope. He is authorized to give books to them,particularly the Koran: a reading so sacred that he delivers it to them carefully wrapped. Viewers also see detainees participating in the Muslim call to prayer. The practice is done under strict supervision of the Guantanamo personnel,who also pay close attention to the prayers being sung.
The documentary includes a daily “Battle Update Briefing,” the first time this has been filmed. The briefing shows members of the military reviewing detainee behavior and possible threats.
More than 200 prisoners remain in Guantanamo. Of the 520 detainees who have been released,18 have returned to the fight and 43 are suspected to have done so,according to the film.
And so,the debate continues about whether closing the prison will foster peace. “It is the American people's choice,” says the narrator in the end line of the documentary.