Gitmo's torturers decry negative portrayal of gulag in new Harold and Kumar comedy

The next installment in the Harold and Kumar franchise is called "Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay," in which our lovable heroes end up in America's gulag when someone overhears them talking about "bongs" and thinks they're talking about "bombs." The criminals who run the prison camp on behalf of the US government evince distress at this because they hope that the world will see the secret prison as a clean, well-run, efficient gaol (filled with people so dangerous that they can't be convicted of any crime).
The focus on Guantánamo as a creative subject can lead to distortions, Admiral Buzby said. “It’s as if someone turned up the gain on our life to make it sound really bad.”

Some writers say it may be too late for anyone to change perceptions. “That one word – Guantánamo – has come to symbolize so much,” said Michelle Shephard, a reporter for The Toronto Star, whose book “Guantánamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr,” is scheduled to be published next month. Mr. Khadr was first detained when he was 15.

Link (via Jonathan Taplin)


  1. Wow, now we can make fun of this stuff instead of really doing something. This is such a weird idea that a place where human rights are violated daily is the subject of a stoner movie.

  2. I take exception to classifying all the staff at Gitmo as criminals. I agree that the whole situation is criminal, but many of those working there had no choice in the matter. Think enlisted personnel vs. those that make the policies. There is a need, in my opinion, for a facility like Gitmo, but the legal gyrations put into action to keep the prisoners incommunicado are illegal and immoral.

  3. Okay, I was pretty sure I’d see this movie, but if it upsets the administration, I will see it.

  4. Dbarak, if you’re ordered to do something illegal and you do it, you’re a criminal. Even if you’re a soldier. Even if there’s a war on. That’s been a matter of settled international law since the Nuremburg Trials, and was a norm of international law for centuries before that.

    The US executed Japanese military personnel who’d waterboarded US prisoners, because waterboarding a prisoner is a capital crime and the people who commit it — and are complicit in it — are criminals.

  5. At least now the frat boys can know about a place called Guantanamo Bay while making fun of Asians at the same time.

  6. After watching the trailer, I applaud the writers of the movie to tackle a sensitive subject such as this (in comparison to their original “Amsterdam” plot). While the original movie is already a pretty big joke about racial stereotypes, this movie, from what the trailer shows so far, seems to make the issue not to stay just on the superficial level.

    Can’t wait to see it. :)

  7. Cory,

    I agree with you (and international law). However, put yourself in the place of a 19-year-old Marine from the corn fields. More than likely, this green-behind-the-ears kid is going to be dishing out food and helping to move detainees from one place to another, not dishing out torture (that’s reserved for the CIA’s “enjoyment”). Although they’re peripherally involved in illegal activities, I can hardly consider them criminals.

    In my experience (Navy, mid-1980s), instruction in the laws of warfare was essentially non-existent, at least for those of us that would be unlikely to ever deal with POWs.

    As one who would have more likely become a POW, I experienced waterboarding as a part of SERE training. Would you consider the instructors that carried out the waterboarding to be criminals? We experienced this to prepare us for the possible eventuality that it might happen to us in earnest, and I think we probably got a “watered down” (pun intended) version, although it was still plenty unpleasant (panic-inducing, to be honest). Even with SERE training, our exposure to the proper handling of POWs was minimal, and only from the perspective of being a POW.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m no fan of the Bush administration. I just can’t bring myself to consider clueless kids as criminals.


  8. I support the staff at Gitmo. Keep these prisoners of war locked up. Once hostilities cease, repatriate them. No big deal.

    I’d rather serve time at Gitmo than at one of the insane maximum security prisons in the US. There really is no comparison. Gitmo is fastly superior.

    Also, the movie looks funny as hell.


    I understand your point, and it’s perfectly valid in a standard-issue war with clearly recognizable combatants. In this case, though, those “detained” in Gitmo may or may not be terrorists, so we need to be careful about how we handle them. What if we torture a truly innocent person? What if we’re keeping a truly innocent person locked up?

    We need to be extra cautious about those things if we want to live up to what our country is supposed to be all about. Sure, mistakes will be made, but we have to be vigilant to avoid as many as possible and to be able to correct as many unavoidable errors as possible.

  10. #2 posted by dbarak:

    I take exception to classifying all the staff at Gitmo as criminals.

    I take exception to turning my childhood home into a gulag.

    I lived in GTMO for three years in the mid 1980’s when it was a training base for the Navy. My father worked for DoD and took a promotion there. From the time I was 8 until just two days after my 11th birthday, I ran around with friends and played in what is now a detention center for Afghan taxi drivers who were turned in for the money, Canadian citizens with the wrong name and teenaged terrorists.

    Imagine hearing nightly on the news about how someone was tortured in your childhood home and then try and defend these monsters. No one forces our soldiers to torture. They do it because our leaders have no empathy, human decency or scruples and because they can. And some of them like it.

    I may go see this movie just so i can try and laugh at the sorry state my country is in. Humor and satire are weapons too, ones that don’t hurt anyone.

  11. RRSafety:

    Keep these prisoners of war locked up. Once hostilities cease, repatriate them.

    What war? Was there a war declared at some point?

    The whole point of this facility is that these are not “prisoners of war”. If they were, they would be entitled to certain protections under the Geneva Conventions. Which the Bush administration has been claiming that they are not, specifically because they are “(unlawful) enemy combatants”. Not “prisoners of war”.

    Anyway, in this case there has been no formal declaration of hostilities, and there is unlikely to ever be any formal cessation of them, either. So when do we send them home? What specific criteria do you believe are, or should be, relevant here?

    Certainly we need a place to put prisoners of war, if we’re going to fight wars. But we don’t need Guantanamo for that. The only reason why the Bush administration feels that it needs Guantanamo is so that it can have a place that it controls utterly that is nevertheless not US soil.

  12. RRSafety, you said “Once hostilities cease, repatriate them.”

    Umm… the “war on terror” is like the “war on drugs,” or “war on poverty.” Hostilities will never cease. It is an endless, bottomless well for the military. What you advocate is no less than a life sentence for the people held there.

    When, exactly, do you see “Terror” ending? Given that it’s existed as long as humankind itself, don’t you think that’s never?

  13. It’s easy to debate one side or the other, and as with most things, both sides have some merit (that’s why I’m pretty much middle of the road). So, let’s hear your plans. What would you do with detainees from our War on Terror? What would you refer to them as? How would you get information from them? What legal protections would they have? Almost anyone can come up with something better than we’ve got now, so let’s hear your ideas.

  14. …Heh, considering Cho’s latest role, what we need is for he and Kal to do a short spoof with James Cawley entitled Harold and Kumar go to Rura Penthe!

  15. JR —

    You can call them anything you want. I call them prisoners of war because they are “prisoners” of a “war”. Wars are seldom declared anymore, so lets spare each that go around. If I were to label them precisely, I’d probably call them unlawful enemy combatants, but not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention as they clearly don’t meet the requirements as per the Conventions own definitions.

    JR and DC —

    As for repatriation, I don’t understand what you mean. Already, MORE than half of detainees have already been released. So to say they will be there indefinitely is factually inaccurate.

    But this is all beside the point. My primary point is that the reputation of Gitmo as a hell hole is a myth. As a place to be detained, it is better than most prisons in the US. It would still suck to be there, but I’d rather be there than in San Quentin. I think that is why some of the staff at Gitmo take exception to the myth, when most thinking folks understand that there local prison is significantly worse (but Boing Boing doesn’t care about that…)

  16. The staff at Gitmo can ‘take exception to the myth’ once they stop being party to their assault on our Constitution.

    Until then they are amonth the most evil enemies of our Republic that currently exist in the world.

    Yes, I include that ‘innocent’ 19 year old serving food in my charge.

    On 9/11 Americans, and others, were murdered by terrorists. But it took our own president to attempt to destroy our Constitution.

    I believe in that document. Bush is an enemy of the Constitution, and of America.

  17. “It’s as if someone turned up the gain on our life to make it sound really bad.”

    You say torture like it’s a BAD thing.

    It must be very hard for people who spend most of their day trying to make end runs around the constitution and chip away at due process to understand the value of satire and free expression.

    It’s not even a question of whether the prison is a “hellhole”, though I’m pretty sure supermax conditions aren’t cozy, it’s a underlying illegality of it that is even worse. It’s a prison that is not on American soil, detains men for years without trial or counsel and, by their own admission, use “stress techniques” to gain information. The fact that it’s also a pretty horrid place to live is ancillary to those facts.

    Add to that the fact that it makes Americans LESS safe. Oh indeed it does. First, they’re wasting time on some poor bastard who was sold to US forces for the obscene bounties we place on “al-queda”. Second, the very existence of what is essentially and oubliette truly serves to undermine the American arguments about freedom and the rule of law. Finally, and worst of all, it makes ready-made propoganda for any radical leader looking to whip up a frenzy. Much like how the invasion of Iraq made Osama Bin Ladin into nothing shy of a prognosticator.

    If we held trials, put these men through a proper legal system, stopped torturing for information and stopped acting like children afraid of the dark the US might just regain some of it’s lost honor with the rest of the world.

  18. rrsafety:

    I think it straightforwardly wrong to assert that GITMO is better than normal American prisons. Do normal American prisons operate in a hazy legal standing because they are not considered under US Federal Law or military law? If GITMO was in California, It could not operate the same way regarding access to lawyers, being held indefinitely without charges, and many other issues. Is torture legal in the US? Can they waterboard in San Quentin? Can you be forced to remain in US prisons if they know you are innocent, but now don’t want to release you because they fear the treatment will make you seek revenge for your false imprisonment( a state of events that is thought to cover a majority of those still in GITMO)?

    I am sure Soviet prisons were nasty, but that doesn’t make the gulags seem any better.

  19. #15
    It may be a helluva place to be detained if you happen to be guilty of anything, but what about the people who were innocent? The conditions of their detainment don’t have much of a bearing on them if they are rightfully entitled to be free.

    Also, as to the question of “where to put prisoners of war”, some of those held captive were taken from non-combat situations, like China and Pakistan, and hailed from exotic places like Britain and France. So it’s not just about the “actual” war on the ground.

    And as you say, “MORE than half of detainees have already been released” SO THEY OBVIOUSLY AREN’T A THREAT. How is it ok that these people were detained for YEARS and then released as non-threats?


    @ dbarak #2 & #7

    You mention your dislike of the day-to-day soldiers being misrepresented as criminals in this (comedy) film, but is that any different to ANY of Hollywood’s hero-behind-enemy-lines action movies we’ve had to endure over the years?

    As I recall, every one of them involved painting every member of the other side as torturous monsters worthy of a couple of well placed M16 rounds: prison staff, gate-guards, submarine technicians, MPs, civilians..

    And you may well say that they weren’t based on anything real, so it’s different. Hollywood war movies tend to be either fantasticly patriotic reenactments of past “victories” (grand or otherwise) OR made up action flicks about destroying whoever the current Enemy-of-Freedom happens to be [China, Russia, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Beirut .. take your pick].

    In both versions enemy combatants are resoundingly painted as inhuman stereotypes, unfit for mercy. Do you think the varied peoples of the US-scrutinized world feel any differently than some of the gitmo soldiers when they watch their entire nation consistently pilloried by patriotic Hollywood?

  20. Some of you continue to mention the US Constitution as though it applies to unlawful combatants captured on a foreign field of battle, it clearly does not. I know of no accepted legal theory in US history in which captured enemy combatants are afforded Constitutional protection. Some of you may think it SHOULD afford such protection, but then your argument is with Madison, Hamilton, Jay and Morris.

    Like I said before, yeah, it would suck to be at Gitmo, but as for what someone said before about the “hazy legal standing” of Gitmo. I think there are lots of poor folk in US prisons who are – in practice – suffereing from similar hazy legal standings (especially the innocent ones). I’ll save my tears for them.

    And Rich, if you think that Gitmo is going to “destroy our Constitution” then you don’t know much about either Gitmo, the legal status of the detainees, nor the 200 year history of the Constitution.

    The Constitution will be just fine ….

  21. #20

    “The Constitution will be just fine ….”

    I think what you meant to say was: “The Constitution is already dead.”

  22. RRSafety,

    Well you are wrong about the Constitution and how it protects ‘unlawful combatants’

    You are deeply and horribly wrong in your reading of our noble founding document.

    Sorry, but you are probably a righteous dude when it comes to your positions on unicorn porn and social networking.


  23. God damn you RRSAFETY!

    You seem to be thoughtful and rational.
    Yet, you’ve forgotten what it would be like if it were you.
    There are always at least two sides to a story.
    Let freedom ring.

  24. The Constitution will be just fine ….

    The first accurate thing you’ve said so far actually. It’s only true because people have been fighting so hard against the broadside swipes at our civil liberties. The constitution survives because people fight for it, not just cuz.

    I’d advise you to read up on the detainees in that prison before you start talking about how you’ll “save your tears” for US prisoners. US inmates have a right to due process under law, they have the right to seek counsel, visitors and habeas corpus. None of these rights are afforded to prisoners at guantanmo bay.

    The nonsense part of your argument comes from the words “enemy combtant”. This is little more than propoganda speak from the Bush administration. It’s a way of getting around the Geneva Convention, a document the administration thinks is outdated. The geneva conventions have been enforced against perpetrators of genocide, you’re telling me that someone who planned to build an IED is more dangerous than Slobodan Milosovic? Please.

  25. I hate Gitmo, I hate this war, I hate this administration.
    I think Gitmo is illegal, I think this war is illegal, I think this administration is illegal.

    I’ve been ordered to deploy – I was getting out and they stop lossed me.

    I hate that Cory thinks I’m a criminal.
    Oh yeah, I’d probably hate this movie too.

  26. everything comes to an end one day. The trick is to hang onto your integrity. Are you any different that way than someone wrongfully locked in Gitmo?

  27. The criminals who run the prison camp…

    Am I the only one who DIDN’T read that as “The criminals who make up the entire staff at GITMO”?

    If I believe the war is illegal yet I still don’t refuse to deploy, doesn’t that make me a criminal.
    The horrible thing is that I’m more likely to be locked up for not going than I am for anything that happens while deployed.
    I know that there are lines I won’t cross – I won’t torture or murder (killing someone who isn’t trying to kill me). But, I’ve already broken the law by participating.

  29. To rrsafety and others:

    All of the objections to Guantanamo – its detainment tactics, the shady legal nature (neither declaring its prisoners as POWs nor under the protections normally afforded to such, the lack of evidence and trial) have all been correctly put forward in this thread.

    But while we’re on the subject of Gitmo and movies, watch Michael Winterbottom’s The Road To Guantanamo. This is a docu-drama detailing a group of British men who were detained in Gitmo despite being innocent purely because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s no bad guys other than the system, but that doesn’t stop it from being an absolutely horrible travesty.

    While it’s a slightly off-colour topic for a comedy, unfortunately there are people who should be educated on this topic who won’t watch the documentaries or read the books, maybe this will help.

  30. RRSafety,

    The constitution has been in crisis for a little while now, about 8 years. It has been so trampled and misinterpreted. Many of it’s provisions do apply to all people not just US citizens.

    There is another pesky legal document that does carry more weight and has caused more trouble. It contains pesky words like “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

    You can argue that this is not a legal document or that Thomas Jefferson and the signers didn’t mean all men. You would be poorly served to do that. This is the clarion call of America that has guided so many inside our boundaries and far outside. These words are true or they mean nothing. Our unlikely history has lead us to expand the definition of all men not limit it. We mean all men now, we mean all women as well.

    After seeing such poor and self serving constitutional scholars as Dick Cheney, George Bush, and the conservative movement interpret away the constitution and pressure every office holder s to sign away their duties under the constitution it is more clear than ever All Men needs to mean All Men. Was the vast majority of humanity not endowed by their creator with equality and inalienable rights because they lack US citizenship? What ghouls have we been to so quickly and carelessly strip away the inalienable?

    Show just cause for detaining these people not suspicion, not unreasonable fear, not hearsay and rumor. You’ve got just cause on a some of them right? Have an open trial with all the evidence public and then do a Nuremberg and hang them high or lock them away in a real prison. Salvage something from this incredible legal carp that a lawlessness executive has produced.

    You know if Cuba were to somehow overrun guantanimo today and put the guards and rank in the cells the world would chear them on. US citizens would feel an affinity.

    Billions of hearts and minds burn against the injustice that is gitmo. The world is watching and would like to see something other than self serving bullshit come out of there.

  31. There’s no limit to the number of eggs you can break if you can convince them all the omelet is worth it.

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