In Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s movie “The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair,” the camera spends a great deal of time focused on the face of Yunis Abbas.
Yunis is handsome and thin. He has a goatee speckled with gray. His nerd-hipster black-square-frame glasses give a Western look to his Middle Eastern-ness. He speaks to us in English and has good command of the language.
Yunis is an Iraqi journalist. Later we will see footage of him interviewing a man for television. He grows on you.
We quickly learn that Yunis has suddenly been arrested for masterminding a plot to kill Tony Blair, the prime minister of England. Why Blair? Well, Blair got tagged early as President Bush’s lapdog in his supporting role in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
But wait. A plot to kill Tony Blair? Was that a red or orange alert? How come we don’t remember it? Were there top-of-the-news segments on ABC, CNN and NPR?
No. But there was footage from Tucker and Epperlein’s last documentary, “Gunner Palace,” of U.S. troops detaining and interviewing Yunis, who was “back-talking” at the time.
We watch them arrest and remove Yunis and his three brothers — a doctor, a student and a merchant — from their family compound. Three jails and many interrogations later, Yunis is in the Ganci camp at Abu Ghraib. His “interrogations” include, among other things, a spit in the face and having a U.S. soldier’s foot placed on his neck as he lies on the ground.
Camp Ganci is officially designated for those prisoners with “no intelligence value.” Spoiled food is the specialty, so all prisoners share in the benefits of diarrhea: they’re getting both external and internal interrogations. Ganci is also hit by mortars and six other prisoners die.
The film also interviews two others, both American soldiers. Army Specialist Benjamin Thompson, a guard at Ganci whose head is shaved, speaks with a slight lisp. He speaks of Yunis as though they were best friends. In separate interviews, both Thompson and Yunis explain how they cried together because of various situations in the camp. It’s a pretty emotional moment. Part of the bond with Yunis involves his translating for Thompson.
The second soldier interviewed is an intelligence officer who’s speaking directly into the camera and explaining in a perfectly arrogant tone how “Intel gets it right 99 percent of the time.” Oh? Is that how the Tony Blair assassination attempt made such big news?
Nine months after Yunis enters Abu Ghraib, the company commander calls him into his office, looks at him and says, “Sorry. We made a mistake.” Yunis is released.
The filmmakers, trying to get background information for the movie, sought Yunis’ prison records and the details of his alleged assassination plot. No trace of either could be found.
If this is a typical case of what’s truly happening on the ground in Iraq, it’s clear that the Bush administration’s “war on terror” in Iraq was lost years ago.
The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair
Directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker
Truly Indie, 2007