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Director of Jihad Rehabilitation Center Addresses Criticism of Guantanamo Prison Documents

One of the most controversial movies of this year Sundance Film Festival is a documentary called “Jihad Rehab” Follows a group of former Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Directed by American filmmaker Megan Smaker – a former California firefighter who spent five years in Yemen – the film follows several Yemeni men who were illegally detained for 15 years in a detention center run by the United States. Executive period, before being transferred to Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Nayef Center for Counseling and Care – the so-called “rehabilitation center” for extremists must graduate from the program before allowed to re-enter society.

The film follows the turbulent journey of Ali, Nadir and Mohammed over the course of three years as they try to overcome trauma and navigate an uncertain future in Saudi Arabia, where they, with As a Yemeni, it is illegal to leave. (A coalition of Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia infiltrated Yemen’s civil war in 2015, carrying out devastating airstrikes on the country.)

Although “Jihad Rehab” was not the first film in Guantanamo’s macabre trajectory, its Sundance premiere received heavy criticism from human rights advocates and other documentariesmany of them of Arab or Muslim origin, who were concerned that the physician’s audience was framed as a criminal (although never in court in the US or Saudi Arabia); that Men may be in danger after the movie’s release; and that harmful stereotypes about Muslims is being maintained.

In an interview with DiversitySmaker and executive producer Mohamed Aabas – a Yemeni criminal justice reform advocate who joined the project in 2020 – discuss their filmmaking journey and address critics of the document.

When did you first hear about the hub and how secure was access?

Maker: That was in 2007. I was [in Yemen] training fire safety cadets and I overheard a conversation about a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia. Half the men are Yemeni and half are Saudi, and from what I heard, they sent the Yemenis to prison, where I think some were executed, and they sent the Saudis there. what they call a “jihadist rehab camp.”

It took me over a year to get access. The Saudi government never tells you “no”, they just throw one barrier after another at you, and then you eventually give up. After a year, they finally let me into the center. When [the men] listen to me [Arabic in a Yemeni dialect] their heads protrude. Rumors spread throughout the rehab center, and all these doors opened. I spoke to about 150 to 200 of these people, and then continued with a small group of four over the next few years.

Why do you think these men agreed to be in the film? (One person eventually exits the film while filming.)

Maker: I don’t want to speak for them, but I have an idea. I think with Ali, he was placed in the shadow of his brother’s reputation [an Al-Qaeda leader in Yemen], and he wanted to tell his own story as an individual. And [Mohammed] there are definitely things he wants to say about America, about Guantanamo, and this is the message he really wants to get out. I think they all have their own reasons for joining.

Have they seen the movie yet?

Maker: No they do not have.

Have you ever booked the center and their motivation to allow a filmmaker to come and meet the participants?

Maker: Yes. Sure. I mean, how could I not? At first, I was very skeptical of the center, knowing that all governments want to build a positive image of themselves. The good thing is that when I initially got there, the interest was central. But when I actually meet the film’s subjects, my curiosity and interest is less about the center but more about these boys and their stories.

Some critics of the documentary said that it framed the subjects as terrorists, even though they were not charged and were not tried. What do you do about that discussion?

Maker: The first time you see them, we give [a list] about what the US government has accused them of, in one shot. But for the next 90 minutes, we let them talk to them.

Aabas: Part of my real concern right now is that Meg has turned on the lights to show what’s going on, and now the conversation isn’t about these men, or what’s going on with these men. detainees in Yemen; it’s about terminology or who has access. We are forgetting that there is a community here in general – pardon my language – that is disturbed by our Gulf neighbors. I know many of these people have really good intentions, but I wish the focus would be on the Yemeni community. All of that is being pushed aside because of controversy over the terminology, or who made this film, rather than the actual story.

I can totally understand where you are from and I can see how difficult that will be for you as a member of the Yemeni community. I’m just curious if you have any thoughts on how people might walk away without necessarily acknowledging their particular situation as Yemen, but as terrorists?

Aabas: I just wanted to point out that we invited [the film’s critics] to the movie show. I flew down to Los Angeles to join Meg and offered to sit and discuss with them, in front of Sundance. They refused to see us or show a movie, and they just wanted to deal with Sundance. Which makes me wonder what their motives are. It is not necessarily about the theme of the movie.

Do you think it could be because they feel the movie is done and that there is little that can be changed?

Maker: All other documentaries have been made on [this topic] except for one who made it sensational, very scary and reinforced stereotypes – and they’re mostly done by white directors. So I understood the initial resistance when they saw it in the lineup at Sundance, and they said, “Oh, not another one of these.” And so I’m not angry. I said, “Yes, I totally understand why they might feel that way.” And that’s one of the reasons we invited them to come talk to Mohammed and me, see the movie, and say, “If we’re missing something, let us know, because we’re still working on it.”

Would it be a slightly different movie if it was a filmmaker from the region that had been granted access?

Aabas: It’s not about why or how Meg got access, but thanking her that she did. And I have to ask a lot of those filmmakers: Have they tried? Have they really tried? If any of them can prove they’ve traveled to Saudi Arabia and tried to visit, I’ll take my hat off to them. But she really did the job.

If you had received some feedback from these filmmakers before, what would you change?

Maker: It’s hard for me because I don’t know what the response is. I heard that they didn’t like the movie, but I don’t know because again, we couldn’t meet them. One of the people who helped on the film was a religious leader. And he reached out to this group less than a week ago to ask, “Hey, let’s talk,” and they even refused to meet him in person. So I can’t really address the criticism if no one can tell me what that is.

In summary, some have argued that the film attempts to “humanize” the subjects while questioning whether they are criminals, and that the film also perpetuates harmful stereotypes. Some also took issue with a white director addressing the issue with a different perspective than someone in the region.

Maker: When it comes to do’s and don’ts in movies, and about keeping our audience safe, I’m always referring to people who are really knowledgeable about local politics and how things work there. Saudi Arabic. My co-producer and legal counsel there knew better than anyone in the United States what should and shouldn’t be included in the film. I think it’s easy to watch a movie and say they should do this, this and that, but unless you really know the local workings in the field, I’ve managed to put people off make and be able to make those decisions for the movie.

One of the subjects was shown meeting a person identified as a drug dealer while he was struggling with unemployment after his release. Could that jeopardize him if he remains in Saudi Arabia?

Maker: That scene was edited in a way that made it a bit ambiguous. When I watched the first cut of the movie, I thought that would be problematic. i told [my Saudi co-producer to flag] any scene that could get the boys in trouble or make them unsafe and she didn’t flag it. She said that, in the movie, the only thing [I] need to be concerned is if they say anything bad about the government.

Did you get more legal advice on that?

Maker: Yes. We have a lawyer in Saudi Arabia who advises and advises us on the do’s and don’ts of the movie to keep these people safe.

What will happen when the movie comes out, and how will it affect these men? Have you thought about that prospect?

Maker: Yes. We have consulted with security experts here and in Saudi Arabia, and we have an action plan for that on several levels. I can’t go too deep into that, but when you make a documentary, you don’t just tell the story. It’s about taking everyone’s safety into consideration and taking every step you can to reduce that risk, which we’ve done so far.

Do the Saudi authorities need to get any approval for the footage you used?

Maker: Nothing.

How did you finance the movie?

Maker: We pool whatever we can get, like $2,000 here or $5,000 here. This is not sponsored by any kind of distributor. We don’t have a big subsidy. It’s all just a bunch of people really passionate about the subject jostling each other, asking friends and family for help. Most of the people who made this movie over the past half-decade have gone unpaid. People really believe in the project and believe in the importance of these men’s stories. So much for me [comes from having] lived in Yemen too long, and watched his country carpet-bomb the country and throw Yemenis at Guantanamo en masse. If I can’t get my government to do that bullshit…

Aabas: Here’s what the documentary filmmakers are complaining about don’t realize: that there’s a certain interest. Meg spent almost five years there. Yemen is not Dubai. We are a country that is struggling and facing crises from many different sides.

How did you feel when you saw some of the reviews about the movie?

Maker: When I made the movie, I knew it would be controversial. I expected a response from the Alt Right saying, “You are giving these men a voice. You are not considered a victim of terrorism.” Neither of us expected. [this]. It didn’t feel good, but at the same time, having lived in Yemen for so long and seeing the depicted pictures of the place, everything I saw in the mainstream media directly contradicted the experiences that I had. I spent in the country.

I completely agree that most of the images that are put out there are very damaging. So while it was heartbreaking to see it, I also understand that being part of a community that has been represented for so long in a way that is hurtful and sensational… I understand because the hurt has been present in it. those communities. Long.

It’s hard because for me, I know a lot of people who see these men as monsters and psychopaths, as if they’re useless, and that’s who I’m trying to challenge – my prejudices. them about these men and about who they are. That’s the purpose behind this: You have stereotypes about these men and you think you know them, but you don’t. Here they are telling their own story.

https://variety.com/2022/film/global/jihad-rehab-documentary-criticism-sundance-1235166635/ Director of Jihad Rehabilitation Center Addresses Criticism of Guantanamo Prison Documents

Fry Electronics Team

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