Omar Ahmed Khadr, a Canadian-born teenager of Palestinian and Pakistani descent, was captured during a brutal gunfight in Afghanistan between coalition forces and Al Qaeda operatives in 2003. After being tortured at Bagram Prison for months, Omar was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, where he remains a prisoner for the murder of a U.S. Special Forces officer despite no hard evidence proving his guilt. Omar’s purgatory might have remained secret if not for the release of once highly classified videotapes documenting four days of interrogation conducted by Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) officers. Luc Côté and Patricio Henríquez’s You Don’t Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantanamo juxtaposes these recordings with interviews by key players in Omar’s case to construct a modern-day portrait of injustice.
Omar’s tale feels like so many human-rights debacles born out of the reactive foreign policies of the Bush administration’s War on Terror. Countless documentaries have walked down this road before, dissecting America’s dark and unethical dealings in the name of national security, most notably Michael Winterbottom’s The Road to Guantánamo, Laura Poitras’s The Oath, and Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure.
But what sets You Don’t Like the Truth apart from these other, more accomplished films is its subject’s age: Omar was the youngest detainee at Guantánamo at 16. Labeled a terrorist by his captors and a “child soldier” by the Canadian lawyers trying to free him, the thin red line between the two doesn’t seem to matter throughout Omar’s archived interrogations. This is a scared young man completely out of his element, and during one moment alone, Omar begins to weep, even pleading for his mother in a high-pitched moan.
Côté and Henríquez overly emphasize Omar’s tenderness to such a great extent that it soon becomes apparent the film will be about nothing other than his childlike qualities. This quickly becomes problematic and repetitive, as any chance for complex analysis gives way to emotional pandering. Fellow cellmates, such as the well-spoken Moazzam Begg, who remembers Omar’s angelic voice, and former interrogation specialist Damian Corsetti, once labeled a “monster” by inmates in Bagram and now a repentant confessor of sins, all essentially relate the same simplistic information—and Omar deserves better. You Don’t Like the Truth depends on the blurry tapes to prove this thesis, but redacted audio segments and a lack of context tend to strip them of their natural power, leaving Omar as a kind of symbol without any weight.
Cinematic flourishes are few and far between in You Don’t Like the Truth, and only a few elliptical editing choices stand out as particularly dynamic. There’s probably more technical artistry in an episode of 20/20 or Dateline. That’s not to say the filmmaker’s nuts-and-bolts approach doesn’t hint at greater injustices beyond the limited scope. The cavalier attitude of the CSIS officers, who manipulate Omar with promises of food and familial reunion, is especially damning considering their one-sidedness and faux empathy.
While we feel a raw sense of confined horror from many of Omar’s moments alone, the film’s clunky combination of interview segments and archival footage lacks the immediacy the subject matter demands. The best documentaries reveal the political and social subtext underneath the story being presented, breathing life into subject matter worthy of attention. You Don’t Like the Truth, like it’s title suggests, is quite simply about the delusional machinations of post-9/11 foreign policy, no more, no less. Unfortunately, Omar the martyr overwhelms Omar the human being in this ultimately dry and overtly biased attempt at cinematic protest.