Camp X-Ray: A Suspenseful Drama on the Ambiguities and Contradictions of Guantanamo
We have all read the news reports about the US prison (or to use the euphemistic term “detention facility”) in Guantanamo Bay. The “detainees” are persons the US military supposedly believes to be suspects in acts of terrorism, especially the 9/11 World Trade Center attack. They have been captured and caged without due process, without being charged with any crime, held indefinitely, some for years.
Many people choose to believe that most of the prisoners really are terrorists. But it has already been revealed that a number of detainees were caught up in a dragnet, the victims of misidentification, administrative incompetence and just plain prejudice against Muslims (see Michael Winterbottom’s film The Road to Guantanamo). Many Americans are disturbed by the fact that their government carries out such blatantly undemocratic actions, even though they believe that most of the prisoners are guilty of terrorism. But America has a democratic tradition, which the military supposedly exists to defend, and that tradition says that you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Camp X-Ray (one of many nicknames for the US prison camp in Guantanamo) steps into the ambiguities and contradictions of this world to stage a suspenseful drama. An American private (Kristen Stewart), who joined the Army to get away from small town life and “do something important,” gets her first assignment in Guantanamo guarding detainees. As her commanding sergeant tells her, the walls of the prison keep them from escaping, but “your job is to keep them from dying,” as in, keep them from committing suicide. She steps into a hornet’s nest of screaming insults and flying excrement from men who have lost all hope, try to be as uncooperative as possible and provoke overreaction from the guards.
One prisoner in particular has it in for Pvt. Cole, Ali (Peyman Moaadi). We never know if Ali is one of the actual terrorists or one of the innocents picked up at random with no way to prove his innocence. Cole has been warned not to talk too much to the detainees because “they might get into your head.” But Cole gets to talking with Ali because he is an avid reader and she dispenses books from the prison library. After an initial clash, Ali mellows out, and Cole can’t help but become interested in him as a human being. Kristen Stewart, who played Bella in the Twilight series, gives a career-defining performance and shows that she can carry a film as well as Jessica Chastain did with Zero Dark Thirty. Peyman Moaadi is equally riveting as the sensitive, intelligent prisoner, filled with hate and anger, roaring and crying, in an amazing performance.
With Moaadi’s Ali, the suspense never lets up. He never claims to be innocent, he never admits to being a terrorist. Is he guilty of murdering thousands, duped into joining Al Qaeda to “do something important” with his life, or is he a decent human being, an innocent victim of stereotyping? Or maybe both at the same time?