Filmed in Yemen and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "The Oath," airing Tue. Aug. 16 at 11 p.m. on KUED, interweaves the stories of Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden's former bodyguard, and Salim Hamdan, a prisoner at Guantanamo facing war crimes charges. The award-winning P.O.V. film unfolds in a narrative structure filled with plot reversals and betrayals, leading ultimately to Osama bin Laden, 9/11, Guantanamo and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hamdan was captured in November 2001 and sent to Guantánamo. Meanwhile, Abu Jandal, imprisoned in the wake of the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, was in jail in Yemen on Sept. 11, 2001 and was interrogated by the FBI six days after the attack. The FBI's two-week interrogation of Abu Jandal, conducted after he had been read Miranda rights and without the use of torture, was considered so important that the start of the war in Afghanistan was delayed so that the interrogation could be completed. According to FBI interrogator Ali Soufan, when Abu Jandal heard of the 9/11 attacks, he said, "The sheikh [bin Laden] has gone crazy."
One minute Abu Jandal defends 9/11 as a blow against America, but next he carefully explains why he's against targeting civilians. He argues that he prefers to write and teach to bring change, yet he is well aware that others see him as a traitor. A new generation of Al Qaeda has even threatened to assassinate him.
Listening to Abu Jandal explain himself may prove the most fascinating yet difficult part of "The Oath" for American audiences. He is clear-eyed, sincere, idealistic and even charismatic. He is a fanatic, certainly, and can't help wanting to spread jihad ideology, even when dealing with his young son, who would rather sleep or watch cartoons. But he isn't mad. He has a well thought-out, if extreme, view of religion, of the world and of what he sees as an inevitable war between Islamic purity and the American empire.
Meanwhile, Hamdan's trial at Guantánamo unfolds. Hamdan's U.S. military attorney, Lt. Commander Brian Mizer, is convinced of his innocence and also believes that the military commissions have "fundamental flaws" in fairness and legality. The prosecution's case depends on the idea that a driver for bin Laden must have been a significant figure in Al Qaeda. The press, unconvinced, wonders why the government picked such a low-level figure for its first trial, and Hamdan himself writes, "I would like the law. I would like justice. Nothing else."
The military commission ultimately clears Hamdan of conspiracy to commit terrorism but finds him guilty of five charges of providing support to a terrorist organization and sentences him to five months. Hamdan was released after being held by the United States for a total of seven years, and was reunited with his family in Yemen in January 2009. He has since refused any contact with the media.
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