The Oath

The Oath


(RAW June 16, 2010)


“The Oath” is haunting, and its subject is fascinating. This can not be disputed. In fact, the eyes of the “subject” are still cutting into my mind; haunting me.

When we left the theatre my girlfriend turned to me and informed me that this is why she doesn’t “get” documentaries. Everything was fine with it, she stated, but so much more could have been done. And what then, did the director set out to achieve?

This particular film deals with the former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden, Abu Jandal, who has since been reformed while in prison due to a re-education program in Yemen called “The Dialogue.” It also deals with Salim Hamdam, a Guantanamo detainee whose trial led to the landmark 2006 decision that the U.S. violated the Geneva Convention.

Since we never see Hamdam, and since Jandal is only too aware of the camera (and his face consumes most of the screen time) the filmmaker seems to cloak a tale about the folly of our war on terror and on U.S. military decisions in its tale following these two men.

We learn about how when the court sided with Hamdan in 2006, the United States responded by creating a law under which they could again try Hamdan.

We hear that Jandal has been reformed and no longer believes in the type of confrontation that Al Qaeda does. On a TV show he states that his new purpose is to educate. He doesn’t believe the events of 9/11 were right, but he is here to explain how and why they did happen.

He never does in the films 90 minutes.

He does, in his home setting, seem to admit that he agrees with bin Laden’s tactics of “bringing America to his knees.”

My girlfriend wants to know what his explanation would have been. She wants to know more of this character with the eyes and the mischievous smile.

Perhaps it is all summed up in one scene where Jandal and his cousins are having a discussion. “Remember that the camera is on!” one states and then laughs. Another asks if there will be a translator. Jandal replies there will be many that will translate the words that are being recorded. They change the conversation.

Or maybe it is summed up in the scene in the taxi where he lies to a fare by saying that the camera mounted in his taxi has run out of battery. He is fully aware that it is recording. He is always aware of when the camera is on.

And so he keeps his inner feelings close to the cuff and instead filmmaker Laura Poitras gets to uncover the shoddy handlings of the U.S. in war and in its defense. And the audience shakes their head at America’s blunder. And we see Jandal with his smirk and smile, not really understanding him.

So maybe he does get the last laugh.

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