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'We Are Not Ghouls' documents a years-long battle to uncover truths about Guantanamo Bay cases

Image courtesy of We Are Not Ghouls
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley is the subject of the documentary We Are Not Ghouls, which was based on the book "The Guantanamo Layers."

Despite believing that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay were “the worst of the worst,” US Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) Attorney Yvonne Bradley volunteered to defend a man named Binyam Mohamed who was facing a death penalty case in 2005.

However, Bradley’s assumptions were turned upside down, and over the next four years she worked to unravel the case to reveal the truth — even when she had to work outside of the system she once had faith in.

The documentary We Are Not Ghouls by Milwaukee director Chris James Thompson follows Bradley’s story of taking responsibility in the face of corruption and the dangers that come with standing up for what you believe in. You can see it tonight during the Milwaukee Film Festival as a part of the Cream City Cinema programming.

Thompson says his interest in the subject started about 20 years ago when he was a film student at UW-Milwaukee. His friend and classmate Abdel, who was a Jordanian immigrant, was detained by the Department of Homeland Security and was potentially going to be held indefinitely.

"I went to go see him and his teeth had been knocked loose and were wired shut, and he didn't want to talk about his case. He was held for weeks and months and had to drop out for a semester and when he got back he said he didn't want to talk about it because everyone that got involved, it messed up their life. And he didn't want to mess up my life, too," recalls Thompson.

Out of that traumatic experience came the motivation to educate himself about the war on terror and how the United States was treating perceived enemies such as Abdel. This research lead Thompson to a book called The Guantanamo Lawyers, which included essays written by over 100 attorneys working at Guantanamo Bay and other related cases.

One of those essays was written by (now retired) Lt. Col Yvonne Bradley, and Thompson filmed an interview with her about her story. With a rapport already built, Bradley agreed to and trusted Thompson to work together to make We Are Not Ghouls out of her original four-page essay.

Bradley says she first volunteered to work Guantanamo Bay cases because she knew they were going to be of historical significance and she had the time since she was operating her own law firm at the time.

"I never in my imagination thought I was stepping into what I was stepping in to," Bradley admits.

After she met her client Binyam Mohamed for the first time, she realized that people the United States did not know what was happening at Guantanamo Bay.

"... It really shattered me for a second, like, wow, I really can’t believe that I’m sitting in this situation and this is going on, and realizing everything I had been told about what was happening at Guantanamo, and who we were holding, and who we had picked up was all a lie," says Bradley.

Her mission then became even more focused on helping her client stand up against the biggest government in the world. "Normally, attorneys seek justice in the courtroom, and we knew that in Guantanamo that was never going to happen," Bradley admits. "It's a true kangaroo court, they were designed to get guilty please and then to get harsh sentences."

For years, she worked with her co-council Clive Stafford Smith to come up with alternative ways to get the truth out while working around classified information and military protocols, such as going public and appealing to the United Kingdom government since Mohamed was a UK resident alien before he was detained.

"That was the goal was to get the truth out and let the public know what's going on," says Bradley, because she believes that knowledge is the first step in trying to make a difference.

While she admits that she first stepped into ignorance, Bradley wants this documentary to serve as a tool to enlighten the American people and get them to question what we were doing as a country.

"It's still relevant. So it's a timeless piece for people to be able to wake up, have the knowledge, and ask questions about what's going on around them," says Bradley.

"We have a long way to go on this story," Thompson adds. "And the way that we work towards correcting a mistake is by documenting what happened, uncovering the data of who was there, why they were there, the costs that they paid as far as their relationships with their families, their friends, and this is just a small part of that goal."

Outside of the Milwaukee Film Festival, We Are Not Ghouls is also available to watch online through Apple, Amazon, YouTube, and other VOD platform.


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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