For much of The Confession: Living the War on Terror its principle subject, Moazzam Begg – a British man suspected of terrorism, but never convicted of any crime, sits opposite a static camera responding to questions from an unseen interviewer. Smartly dressed, strikingly intelligent, eloquent and articulate, his recollections span twenty-five years of persistent turmoil. Detained in Pakistan, Algeria, Cuba and Britain on suspicion of terrorism and in 2002 confessing membership of Al-Qaeda – under torture, this gripping, unsettling documentary shines a light on these events and exposes sickening miscarriages of justice, scapegoating and abuse of power by western authorities: “I wasn’t anti-State, the State was anti-me.”
However, in a similar vein to David Sington’s The Fear of 13 or even the Netflix original Making a Murderer, the neutrality and perseverance exhibited by director Ashish Ghadiali are two of The Confession‘s strongest assets. The facts of this lifelong case are never presented as 100% clear cut and the filmmaker does not let his subject off the hook when certain periods of an engrossing story are glossed over a little too succinctly. Frequently positioned off-centre, looking away from the camera, his reflection hovers as an ominous spectre in an adjacent window, and though the first person narrative offered by Begg is enthralling the off-kilter framing employed by Ghadiali demands caution, a wariness for duplicity or half-truths in the testimony.
The amount of ground covered in a little over 90 minutes is astounding. Essentially telling his life story, we begin with Begg’s youth in early 1990s Birmingham, battling racists and suffering a concurrent identity crisis of self, faith and nationality. Journeying to Bosnia during the brutal conflict there taught him the value of Islam as a religion that transcends boundaries. An early morning arrest by MI5 under the Terrorism Act in 2001 marks the beginning of a duel against a man known only as ‘Andrew’. But it is the time Begg and his family spent living in Afghanistan and Pakistan where questions abound: why, when separated from his family fleeing the former country, did he make such regular trips back to Kabul? When asked to recall the mountains he overcame on a pilgrimage to freedom, why can he not remember their name? Notably, the caves of the Tora Bora mountains were believed to be home to Osama Bin Laden’s headquarters.
Arrested, tortured in Bagram, and then flown to Guantanamo, the retelling of his time spent in captivity is horrifying. The lack of resentment or hateful recrimination, to which he is entirely justified, is admirable but his restraint only goes so far. As we reach the current day Begg seeks to use his plight as a platform and example to expose the complicity of western intelligence in the torture of detainees and perpetuation of terrorism as the constant aggressor. Would the events of 9/11, the London 7/7, Madrid and most recently Brussels attacks, and the rise of ISIS, have occurred if UK and US security services had acted differently? These questions mark the chilling end to a haunting documentary.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens