The Oath

The documentary The Oath, directed by Laura Poitras, focuses on Salim Hamdan and Abu Jandal, two Yemenis who met in 1996, became brothers-in-law, and were later caught up in the 9/11 hysteria. The “oath” is the pledge of those who join Al Qaeda to follow orders regardless of personal opinion. Hamdan is better known, as his court case (Hamdan v Rumsfeld, 2006) went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that President George Bush’s original military commissions were unconstitutional creations of the executive branch, as only Congress has the power to set up new courts. Then after the Military Commissions Act of 2006 authorized military commissions, Hamdan was tried, found guilty, sentenced to five months more than he had already served in detention at Guantánamo, and released to Yemen in January 2009, whereupon he has lived a quiet, solitary existence in contrast with his happy-go-lucky personality of 2001. Hamdan was convicted of serving as the driver of Osama Bin Laden, that is, aiding a terrorist organization. But that offense was created by Congress after he was already at Guantánamo. Although Abu Jandal is less well known, his sometimes contradictory testimony dominates the film footage. Osama Bin Laden’s onetime bodyguard who had resigned to become a cab driver in Yemen, Jandal was contacted by the FBI in Yemen after 9/11, was interrogated by an experienced Arabic-speaking officer, and then provided such detailed information about Al Qaeda that the launching of the Afghan War was delayed until his interrogation concluded. Even before 9/11, he was counseling young Yemenis against joining Al Qaeda. The principal reason is that he had been arrested for the USS Cole bombing as a terrorist, but he was reeducated by Muslims while in a Yemeni prison to believe that the future of the Islamic world depended on the development of more engineers, physicians, and scientists rather than an armed struggle killing civilians that would only result in endless military reprisals. The documentary points out the futility of the following war crimes: (1) torture, (2) solitary confinement, (3) improper procedures of courts at Guantánamo, and by inference (4) the failure of the United States today to turn over more Yemenis to the same reeducation process in their home countries. MH