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Andy Worthington Screens New Guantanamo Documentary 

December 09, 2009

In November, freelance journalist and historian Andy Worthington, author of The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of 776 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison, presented a screening of his new documentary film to USF law students.

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo, co-directed by Polly Nash, strives to expose the injustices of Guantanamo Bay and humanize the nameless faces of its prisoners.

USF School of Law Professor Peter Jan Honigsberg, author of Our Nation Unhinged: The Human Consequences of the War on Terror (2009), introduced Worthington at the screening. Worthington's work researching and interviewing Guantanamo detainees has helped expose the real story behind the prison camp, Honigsberg said.

"Andy Worthington is internationally recognized for his contributions to the study of Guantanamo," Honigsberg said. "He was one of the first people to compile an accurate list of the men held at the base and was also one of the first to publish narratives of the men. We have all benefited from his work."

Worthington's documentary outlines the domestic and international laws that were ignored by the Bush administration and the consequences of these illegal acts. In the film, Worthington said that the majority of Guantanamo detainees did not have connections to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Many were in Afghanistan or Pakistan as missionaries, humanitarian aid workers, or for other reasons unrelated to terrorism. Some were captured by the Pakistani government for money and were imprisoned without trial.

Throughout the film, Worthington presents commentary from other journalists who have researched Guantanamo, U.S. attorneys working to rectify the illegal detainment of prisoners, and interviews with former Guantanamo detainees. The former prisoners spoke calmly and articulately of their experiences in captivity, and said that many prisoners were targeted as dangerous if they seemed intelligent or well-versed in English.

One former detainee compared the conditions at Guantanamo to those at Nazi internment camps. He described the filthy, crowded barbed-wire cages where many prisoners were kept. The smells and sounds of sick prisoners were unbearable and some suffered from psychosis after years of close confinement and torture, he said.

Another former detainee said that the long journey from a Middle Eastern prison to Guantanamo, in which prisoners were covered with suffocating masks and chained to the floor of the plane, created a psychological torture worse than any physical pain that he suffered.

Interspersed with the personal accounts of former Guantanamo prisoners, Worthington highlights the U.S. government's role in promoting torture. He discusses the Bush administration's careful redefinition of "torture," which expanded the acceptable boundaries for inflicting physical and psychological suffering. Waterboarding, an ancient physical torture technique, was deemed legal and even necessary.

After the film, Worthington met with USF law students and reporters from TruthOut.