The Pythonesque world of Guantanamo

Mark Bussell and Justin Sbresni reveal the inspiration for their new Comedy Showcase

Since October 2001, 775 detainees have been brought to the prison facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.

420 have been released without charge.

As a prosecution rate, you’d have to say this is pisspoor.

The process of rounding up these prisoners has been vilified. The legal process once they’ve been in prison has been discredited. And Barack Obama’s first act as President was to order the shutting down of Guantanamo Bay.

So you’d think the Guantanamo experiment would be widely seen as a failure.

And yet…

When Binyam Mohammed was released – with all charges against him dropped after six years of wrongful imprisonment - this was typical of the reaction he received from the Great British Public (as quoted online to one of our national newspapers):

How long before he starts bad mouthing Britain and it's way of life?
(Mr B, Halifax)
This guy is just another vehicle for the human rights lot to ride on.
(David, Tenerife)
Go MI5! You can do whatever you want, in my opinion, if it keeps these idiots in line.
(Paula, Bolton)

Six years in Guantanamo Bay. All charges dropped. And still people think he’s guilty. rnWelcome to Cruel Britannia.

When Murat Kurnaz returned to Germany (after five years; all charges dropped), he’d only been back a few months when he noticed a fire coming from a house at the end of his street. He called the fire brigade, which duly came, and when the police arrived they asked Murat for his details, which he duly gave.

When it transpired that Murat had been in Guantanamo (five years; all charges dropped) he was marched down to the police station and interrogated. The police accused him of starting the fire (well, he had a criminal record). They’d conveniently forgotten that he’d called the fire brigade in the first place...

Guantanamo Phil is about a Stoke birdwatcher who goes to Afghanistan to spot a rare eagle and is mistaken for a spy and then chucked into Guantanamo Bay for six years. We were interested in seeing how Phil would cope when he comes back to Britain.

A lot has changed since 2002 – there was no Facebook or Twitter then (how did we survive?). But he soon realises that this is a tough environment that he’s returned to. Tougher in some ways than Guantanamo.

We’ve exaggerated reality a bit, but not much. We haven’t had to – the Gitmo world is Pythonesque enough.

Take the case of Mohammed el Gharani. His incarceration was based on a misunderstanding over the word ‘zalat’, which in his dialect means ‘tomato’ but in another Arabic dialect means ‘money’. His interrogators could not believe he’d travelled to Pakistan with no money – and he hadn’t. He thought they were asking him if he’d travelled to Pakistan with no tomatoes. He got seven years for that.

And if you don’t believe the absurdity of this world, just remember that in Guantanamo Bay amputees are considered ‘dangerous combatants’ - presumably like the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

  • Guantanamo Phil, written by Mark Bussell and Justin Sbresni, airs on Channel Four on Friday, December 11.

Published: 1 Dec 2009

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