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Issue 05

Film Reviews: The Mauritanian & The Bees Are Coming

Craig G. Bartholomew

Craig Bartholomew is the Director of the KLC.

The Mauritanian

The Mauritanian (2021) is based on Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s bestseller Guantánamo Diary, a record of his fourteen years in the US prison at Guantánamo. 

Terrorism is evil and that is unequivocally true of 9/11. However, one of the awful side effects of evil is that it too often generates an ongoing cycle of injustice. Under pressure from the US, Slahi was picked up by the Mauritanian police and handed over eventually to the US authorities, who extradited him to Guantánamo. Alas, his time there coincided with Donald Rumsfeld’s approval of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” This searing narrative exposes the profound moral ambiguities of Guantánamo and the harrowing experience there of Slahi.  

Jodie Foster, as we have come to expect, provides an excellent performance as his lawyer, outflanked only by Tahar Rahim’s deeply human portrayal of Slahi. As is common knowledge, prisoners at Guantanámo were held in inhuman circumstances without being charged or brought to trial, and torture was pervasive. 

Stuart Couch was the military lawyer appointed to prosecute Slahi. A Christian, there is a riveting moment in the film where a church baptism confronts Couch with his responsibility to renounce evil and injustice. A reminder, and we do need it, of the power of ritual and the sacraments. 

In the conclusion we see actual footage of Slahi and are also told that the USA has never apologised for the abuses of Guantánamo. Indeed, some forty prisoners are still held there. The eruption of evil in terrorism is truly terrible, but so too is it when the abused become abusers. A must-see movie. 

Jamal Khashoggi, March 2018

The Bees are Coming

I sometimes reflect on the courage of investigative journalists who are committed to unearthing the truth. In Russia good investigative journalism can be a death sentence, and we have seen the lengths that President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus is willing to go to in order to silence opposition, with his forced diversion of a Ryanair plane in order to arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich. Sadly, it is not only in such authoritarian states that good journalists are in danger. 

In countries where good journalists are most needed, their lifespan can be short. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was one of the most brazen and ruthless of such murders. The searing and harrowing story of his carefully planned assassination is well told in Jonathan Rugman’s The Killing in the Consulate: Investigating the Life and Death of Jamal Khashoggi (Simon and Schuster, 2019), and now in the documentary film The Dissident. Rugman concludes: Khashoggi “was a complicated man with a tangled private life, from the radical Islamism of his youth, to Saudi government insider, to outspoken critic of the kingdom’s young crown prince in the pages of a leading American newspaper; and it was surely this final incarnation as a brave journalist that the killers could not forgive” (315). Every adult should watch The Dissident.

The Trump administration refused to declassify the US National Intelligence report on the murder and former President Trump vetoed Congress’s attempt to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Under the Biden administration the report has been declassified and is now readily available on the internet. The report is short and clear, and I encourage you to read it. Its conclusion is as follows: “We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman [MBS] approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.” To date no major action has been taken by the West against MBS. 

Saudi Arabia has become a leader in cyber attacks, apparently using Pegasus spyware purchased from Israel. Khashoggi’s friend Omar Abdulaziz refers to the cyber attacks as flies and responded by launching a counterattack of “the bees,” e-messages endeavouring to counter the disinformation.

One longs for the day when justice will roll down like torrents of water.