In these “Detainee 001” dispiriting days as we proceed to grapple with the magnitude of our failure in Afghanistan, the place almost 20 years of conflict has resulted within the nation merely transferring again to sq. one, Greg Barker’s newest documentary, “Detainee 001,” does little greater than add to 1’s mounting despair. The movie is scheduled to premiere on Showtime at some point previous to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and it was spawned from a useful little bit of footage that Barker had initially gathered for his 2017 documentary, “Legion of Brothers,” which centered on the primary Particular Operations items in Afghanistan. It consists of an interview performed by CNN journalist Robert Pelton with John Walker Lindh, a Taliban member captured as an enemy combatant following the lethal rebellion within the final days of November 2001 at Qala-i-Jangi jail. Lindh responds with an accent that means he had been talking Arabic all his life, but as Pelton probes additional along with his questions, he realizes that the bearded man he’s conversing with is a 20-year-old U.S. citizen from Marin County, California. It’s not lengthy earlier than Lindh turns into one of the crucial reviled males in the US, dubbed by many because of the “American Taliban.”
An investigation into who this man is and what led him to do what he did could be an enormously fascinating topic for a movie, however, “Detainee 001” barely scratches the floor. All we hear are beforehand reported biographical fragments that protect Lindh’s standing as an irritating enigma. At age 12, he first grew to become fascinated with Islam after seeing Spike Lee’s nice 1992 biopic “Malcolm X,” wherein Denzel Washington powerfully delivered the late Black Nationalist chief’s 1964 speech that declared, “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; the rock was landed on us.” Lindh transformed to Islam at age 16, and the next yr, he traveled to Yemen to check Arabic for ten months. He would return to Yemen solely two years later, and finally, relocate to Afghanistan the place he deliberate to hitch the Taliban of their battle with the Afghan Northern Alliance. The opposite essential footage contained in Barker’s movie reveals the occasions of November 25th, 2001, the date of Lindh’s seize, and the following rebellion of his fellow prisoners. Violence erupted simply seconds after Lindh was interrogated by CIA agent Mike Spann in a most unconventional method—open air and in full view of his fellow inmates—which can have been why he stored his lips sealed. Although the small print of Spann’s homicide, which occurred at first of the rebellion, wasn’t captured in the movie, his daughter Alison stays satisfied that Lindh may’ve intervened and is responsible, on the very least, for appearing as an adjunct.
What’s conspicuously lacking from Barker’s movie is any indication of what led Lindh, a yr later, to handle the court docket at his sentencing listening to and apologize for aiding the Taliban, admitting, “Had I noticed then what I do know now, I might by no means have joined them. […] I by no means understood jihad to imply anti-American or terrorism.” He had come to the conclusion that Osama Bin Laden was no pal of Islam, although this alleged epiphany can solely be discovered within the movie’s manufacturing notes. It additionally contradicts the way in which wherein sure speaking heads assembled by Barker painting Lindh as an “unrepentant” fanatic. CIA agent Gary Bernstein angrily voices his perception that Lindh ought to been hung, whereas writer John Wray—whose ebook, Godsend, was immediately impressed by Lindh’s story—describes the blowback he acquired after arguing that the ignorance and intolerance of the American individuals play an unmistakable function in breeding terrorism. Homegrown terrorism can hardly be thought about as a shock in 2021, particularly in gentle of the January sixth rebel spurred by the identical constant stream of other info that has triggered half the U.S. inhabitants to keep away from defending themselves and others from COVID-19. Whether or not Lindh was a felony mastermind or a misguided child caught within the crossfire, there’s no query that we, as a collective society, performed a task in his evolution, but the movie doesn’t dig deep sufficient into this truth.
Maybe as a result of Barker, as he has gone on document saying, was unable to acquire the participation of Lindh’s household, legal professionals, the officers who oversaw his detainment and even, apparently, Lindh himself—whom he solely see in Pelton’s grainy footage, the place he repeatedly objects to being filmed—for an excessive amount of of the movie’s working time is dedicated to individuals on the periphery of the narrative. We briefly pattern the outrage of Jesselyn Radack, former ethics officer of the Justice Division, whose story of how she was pressured out of her job after her inquiry into the illegal remedy of Lindh deserves to be the topic of its personal film—and it was, due to James Spione’s 2014 doc, “Silenced.” The tearful interview with Alison Spann is transferring by itself, as she remembers how eye-opening it was for her to satisfy her late father’s Muslim comrades, but even her scenes are often undermined by Claude Chalhoub’s incessantly gloomy rating, which is laid on far too thickly. The trial recreations additionally add a pointless layer of artificiality to the image with their dramatized readings of court docket transcripts. Way more compelling is the archival footage itself, which alone makes the movie value seeing, but editor Langdon Page’s curiosity in contriving suspense tends to get in the way in which of exploring Lindh’s psyche with enough depth. Relatively than examine the explanations behind Lindh’s devotion to Islam, we’re handled to recounted moments of rigidity, similar to when an orange in Lindh’s pocket is mistaken for a grenade.
The epilogue of “Detainee 001” appears particularly rushed as if it’s trying to squeeze the remainder of its bullet factors right into a required 90-minute working time. We’re knowledgeable, without a lot of rationalization, that eight of the ten expenses going through Lindh had been dropped, leading to him serving a jail sentence that resulted in 2019, a stretch of time that would’ve simply served because the movie’s third act. The only real factor we study from that interval is that Lindh gained a lawsuit six years earlier than his incarceration concluded that enabled him and his fellow Muslim inmates to hope collectively. What this movie reaffirmed for me, greater than something, is that the voices of Afghans, whether or not they be native inhabitants or transplants, should not be drowned out in our present discourse, particularly these of whom who had been left behind on the tarmac.