Review of The Oath by Laura Poitras / USA

Directed, produced, and shot by Laura Poitras, The Oath moves in a zigzag between the lives of two men: Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver, and Abu Jandal, his bodyguard. The first ended up on his knees with a sack on his head in a solitary cell in Guantanamo. The other was arrested in Yemen, enrolled in a government re-education program for Jihadis (called the Dialogue Committee) then released and offered a taxi to make a living.

Ironically, it was Abu Jandal’s declarations during a 15-day non-violent interrogation by the US following the 9/11 bombing that changed the course of the war in Afghanistan. Salim Hamdan on the other hand, after five years of “extreme interrogation”, turned out to be not guilty. Through drawing this stark contrast between the two men’s fates, The Oath reveals that the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the US are no different than the Osama bin Laden bombings. Both often target innocent civilians, both are done under the oath of saving a nation and both failed to reach that goal.

In her film, Poitras breaks the stereotype of an Al Qaeda terrorist by inviting the viewers into the lives of both Hamdan and Abu Jandal. While it doesn’t quite reveal why a man would enrol in Al Qaeda, it does show that members are also human beings, tender fathers and light-hearted teachers. So maybe it’s time to talk to their heads instead of covering them with sacks.

This review was published in Nisimazine Abu Dhabi 2010. Abu Dhabi film festival’s daily bulletin by Nisi Masa

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