Is it okay to judge a man on what you fear he might become? Is it okay to abduct a man, put him in confinement, and rip off all his human rights, based on just a suspension? Wasn’t it always innocent 5until proven guilty? If you put a man behind bars without evidence then what’s the difference between the government and the mafia? In such a scenario, the system becomes the outlaw. The Mauritanian, through its narrative, depicts the exact scenario focusing on a single man’s life suspected of the 9/11 attacks. The man, Mohamedou Ould Salahi lived in captivity for 7 years without trial and 7 years more because no law was interested in giving him back his freedom. It’s his story and Cinema delivers it well.
Based on the 2015 memoir Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Salahi, The Mauritanian is directed by Kevin Macdonald. It is based on the true-life incidents faced by Salahi during his confinement in the US Guantanamo Bay detention camp for 14 years. The film stars famous actors like Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, and Benedict Cumberbatch. However, it is the pen and the camera that steals all the show. Before discussing the making, let’s know the film better.
‘The Mauritanian’ Summary
In 2001, Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahir Rahim) was taken by the Mauritanian police for questioning regarding the 9/11 attacks. However, he never returned home. For 3 years, his mother didn’t know whether he was dead or alive. Then, a story came out in “Der Spiegel” that confirmed Salahi’s presence in the US Guantanamo Bay detention camp. He was declared as the organizer of the whole 9/11 fiasco.
The news reaches a legal activist and lawyer, Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) who takes an active part in Salahi’s case. With her assistant Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley), Nancy visits Salahi in Guantanamo Bay detention camp, where no law strives except the law of the military.
On the other side, the government and military plan on convicting the prisoners without trial. Their methods of conviction are not subtextual but plain, clear, and loud, rough justice by giving death to the suspects. And to prepare for the prosecution, the military hires military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch).
After Nancy meets Salahi, her prominent agenda is to pursue justice for a man who is confined in prison without evidence and trial. She, in no way, believed or was trying to judge whether Salahi was a terrorist or an innocent man. However, as the narrative moves back in time, chronicling Salahi’s state and treatment in the detention camp, Nancy perceives him as a man who is put behind bars for no apparent reason. She fights for his justice and freedom. But the fight is against the military, the US government, and the people of the states who have an emotional connection with the loss of 9/11, hence, it ain’t going to be an easy war.
Fruit from the Poisonous Tree
Like in all the cliche films, the military prosecutor in The Mauritanian isn’t blindly patriotic. Stuart Couch is a strong virtuous man who wouldn’t accept any immorality whether done by a foreigner or his own government. For a larger part of the narrative, both the prosecutor, Nancy, and Stuart are not sure whether Salahi is speaking the truth or not. The military refuses to issue the classified evidence that complicates the trial because, without it, no party can move forward. However, with some inside help and connections, Stuart gets hold of the confidential evidence and his hands stand trembling when he faces the truth.
For Nancy, the only way to perceive information is through Salahi. For a major portion of the trial she ardently believed that she was saving the constitution and not a “single man.” when all the major publications call her a terrorist lawyer, she comments, “I am not defending him (Salahi). I am defending you and me. The constitution doesn’t have an asterisk at the end that says, ‘terms and conditions’ applied.” Though Nancy and Salahi’s bond strengthens after an emotional confrontation where Salahi blames Nancy that she is more about the case than the man in it. Nancy fights back saying that it is because I don’t know the whole truth and Salahi needs to write to her, to make her trust him.
At this exact moment, Stuart and Nancy get hold of the truth, just narrated by different documents. Nancy reads Salahi’s words, while Stuart witnesses what exactly happened in the detention camp with Salahi. Ironically, the truth was the same in both documents.
The Truth, and The Evidence
Salahi was kidnapped from his house and was confined in Jordan prison for 5 months. He was then shifted to a military base in Afghanistan where he was interrogated for 18 hours, every day for 3 years.
After that he was handed to the military and put in US Guantanamo Bay detention camp, where he spent 70 days in special projects, getting tortured. The visuals of torturing as read by both Nancy and Stuart are horrifying to the bone. The flashback visuals shot by cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler in a 1:1 ratio with experimental color schemes and light just increase the effect of the emotions. Nancy and Stuart’s expression throughout the flashback also supplements the drama but Tahar Rahim’s performance in that particular is outstanding. He comes out as a hidden gem. Though these are technical aspects of The Mauritanian, I am intentionally avoiding the emotional ones, because the horrors the US military created throughout the world to take revenge, is not only barbaric but a black spot on the system but they call democratic.
During the trial, the evidence released by the military is all marked with black stripes. Nothing substantial or evidential could be lifted from the documents because it is confidential. The government has uniquely complicated the issue because it doesn’t intend on giving justice to the people tortured by the military. This is the trial one gets in a legal and democratic state. For them, the military is the ruler, and War their pursuit.
Tortured and left to the bone, Salahi signs a statement declaring him the terrorist connected with 9/11. He signs it to get some sleep and a meal. When military prosecutor Stuart learns the truth, he calls government evidence inadmissible. He informs his superior that Salahi was threatened to have his mother shipped to Gitmo and raped by other detainees if he doesn’t sign the statement. What has been done here is reprehensible. However, Stuart is called a traitor and unpatriotic for speaking the truth. He leaves the prosecution and says, “We all took an Oath to support and defend the Constitution. At the very least, we are miles away from that.”
‘The Mauritanian’ Ending Explained
On 14th December 2009, Mohamedou Ould Salahi finally gave a statement to the Supreme Court of Justice. The Mauritanian ends with his speech where he expresses his faith in US Justice. He said that his abusers might hold a grudge against him, for now, or forever, but he does not hold a grudge against them.
“In Arabic, the word for ‘free’ and the word for ‘forgiveness’ is the same word.”
Salahi said, even in the darkest time, when he thought about why it happened with him or why the US locked him, it was the thought of forgiveness that kept him alive. Even being imprisoned, he was free because he forgave.
Salahi was a good man, but the treatment by the US military could ignite a monster in a man. He might swear to take revenge and by creating such examples, they are giving birth to more and more criminal tendencies, they are sowing hate and 9/11 was just a mere reap. I hope, we as humans, understand the cause-and-effect, more fluently than we did in the past. In 2010, all charges were dropped against Salahi but he wasn’t released from prison for further 7 years. Salahi spent 14 years of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Neither CIA, the Department of Defense, nor any other US government agency has admitted responsibility, or offered any apology for abuse that occurred at Guantanamo.
The Mauritanian is a well-made cinema. It is a brilliant and important film supported by strong performances and an even stronger narrative. The film is supplemented by stunning shots and background scores. The Mauritanian, as the name suggests, solely depicts the story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, and hence, some conflicts that his lawyers faced in the States aren’t explored enough. But as said, it is Salahi’s story in the end, and his narrative is strong and moving. Do not miss this one.
The Mauritanian is available for Video on Demand.
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