Judge Roy Hrab has never taken an oath he didn't like.
Two Men. Bound to Al-Qaeda. Divided by Fate.
The Oath is about two men, brother-in-laws, and both members of Al-Qaeda. Abu Jandal was Osama bin Laden's bodyguard for several years. Salim Hamdan was bin Laden's driver for a period of time. Post-9/11, these two men ended-up in very different circumstances.
This documentary is directed by Laura Poitras (My Country My Country). She weaves a fascinating tale of contrasts between Hamdan and Jandal. What is interesting is that Hamdan never appears on camera. The man spent years in jail at Guantanamo Bay. Unsurprisingly, when he was finally freed he refused to be filmed.
The film highlights the incongruity that Jandal, who knew much about Al-Qaeda's operations, mostly roamed free while Hamdan, the driver with little knowledge, spent years in solitary confinement being heavily interrogated. Interestingly, Jandal was interrogated by America about his involvement with Al-Qaeda after 9/11. He gave up a lot of important intelligence without much of a struggle, under relatively light interrogation, and was released relatively quickly. On the other hand, the United States Congress passed a new law to specifically prosecute Hamdan after the Supreme Court ruled that a military prosecution of Hamdan would, among other things, violate the Geneva Convention. In 2009, Hamdan, with help from American lawyers, was finally released (he was captured in 2001).
While Poitras gives periodic updates on the status of Hamdan, the bulk of the film is carried by Jandal. He does quite a job. The man is a character and almost never ceases talking. But what will probably shock many is that this former Al-Qaeda member does not rant fanatically. Indeed, after serving a prison sentence, Jandal renounced terrorism-based jihad. He also has a fondness for Western goods. Further, he is a B- or C-list celebrity in Yemen, appearing on television shows to talk about jihad and his experiences in Al-Qaeda.
Despite this minor notoriety, Jandal does not enjoy an easy post-Al-Qaeda life. He is a reviled figure by many. Jandal claims that he receives death threats from jihadists, who consider him a traitor to the cause. But ultimately, Jandal is just a man struggling to eke out a meagre living. He drives a taxi, chats with passengers, talks about his decision to fight as a teenager, discusses jihad with Yemeni youth, helps his son with homework, and feels a deep guilt about being the person who introduced Hamdan to Al-Qaeda. He is very human. And it's a remarkable achievement by Poitras that she is able to capture such a complete and vivid portrait of the man simply by letting the camera roll and asking simple questions.
In addition to the film, there is an insert written by Poitras about the film, the theatrical trailer, and additional footage of Jandal (both interviews and his regular life).
The Oath is a solid documentary that merits viewing by those interested in the War on Terror and Al-Qaeda.
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