Viewing el Gharani’s telecast body and hearing him talk about his experiences is powerful and moving but less harrowing than one might imagine. It’s deeply troubling to be reminded of the staggering human rights violations committed by U.S. forces. But Anderson brings levity to the experience, as does el Gharani, who aside from a missing tooth and small scars on one arm, displays remarkably few outward signs of his time in the prison. Intelligent, soft-spoken, and philosophical, he smiles and recounts the pleasure of receiving messages and signs of empathy from the public while in Guantánamo. He only breaks down when talking about his “brother Shaker,” a fellow inmate who became a bastion of resistance and support for other prisoners. Shaker Aamer remains at Guantánamo today but is said
to be released to the United Kingdom later this month.
“I didn’t ask him to go into enormous torture details because I heard an awful lot, as much as I could handle,” says Anderson, who spent time in West Africa talking to el Gharani and collaborating on the project. “I thought: I need to represent that as best I can, but it’s very hard to get images out of your mind. I’m trying not to go into all the grisly details of what happened to him but to talk more about what interrogation was like, how a story is constructed, how it feels to have someone impose a story on you.”
Anderson approached el Gharani as a collaborator, and indeed, the work conveys his presence without much intervention. “I’m not putting my own opinion in,” adds Anderson. “This is not usually what I do, I’m not really in the truth-telling business. I have to be careful that I don’t shift people’s minds away too far from the actual story. And that’s easy to do, all you have to do is play something a little bit sentimental and boom, your opinion is there.”