Ken Loach: why torture is never justifiable
Route Irish tells the story of Fergus (Mark Womack), a private security contractor who sets out to investigate the real reason behind his friend’s death in Iraq. A bleak tale, with some hard-hitting messages about the moral and political corruption in Iraq. Here director Ken Loach and Mark Womack speak about why torture is never justified and the implications of untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
What was the inspiration behind the film?
Ken: Effectively the privatisation of war. When the soldiers were coming home and contractors were taking over and the fact that people have behaved with impunity. The case of Daniel Fitzsimons is the only guy that ever seems to have faced an Iraqi court and that’s for killing two other contractors. He suffered from PTSD and shouldn’t have gone back to Iraq, but did.
What have the reactions been like so far?
Mark: They’ve been really positive. People aren’t going to tell me they think it’s rubbish! Some of the Q&A’s have been quite spiky with conversations about Iraq. I hear the reviews are mixed, but if you split reactions like that you’re doing something that’s at least got a bit of energy to it.
A lot of the characters are clearly trauma stricken, do you think there should be mandatory counselling for those attempting to integrate themselves back into society?
Ken: I think we should bring people home really. If we get out of Iraq and Afghanistan then the causes of trauma would disappear.
Mark, did you speak to soldiers about their experiences and the effect it had on them?
Yes I spoke to many contractors and then a few soldiers. The soldiers that I thought would be more help to me would be the ones suffering from combat stress syndrome and they were really helpful. They introduced me to different soldiers from different conflicts – as far back as Korea. There was an older boy there who has been suffering all this time. That was really interesting because apart from the facts being amazing: 25% of homeless people in this country right now are ex-servicemen or women. A nominal amount. Also, 1 in 10 prisoners in the UK are ex-services. Clearly there’s a problem. One guy’s story really touched me because he just seemed very lost. It was a guy from Manchester. He couldn’t integrate into society after Iraq and had been arrested a few times wandering around supermarkets with a loaded automatic in his back pocket. It’s absolutely shocking to think that the pressure was making him do that. The writer, Paul Laverty, speaks about guys who say they’re in mourning for their former selves. It’s like when Fergus says “I just wanna catch on to a piece of my old life.” I think that’s what they’re like, they’re lost.
The film features the torturous method of waterboarding, how much research was put into these types of torture and were you reticent about showing it in the film?
Ken: No, it’s a pivotal scene. When Fergus thinks he’s found the guy that killed his friend, he wants to get the admission so he does what’s been done during the so-called “war on terror”. There was the saying “no blood, no foul”, you know, if you don’t draw blood then you haven’t committed a crime, and the waterboarding is a case of that torture. It’s significant for several reasons. First of all, the people say what they think you want to hear in order to make it stop. It plainly is torture, and it was a very tough scene to shoot. We tried various things like a mask and a tube but they didn’t work and in the end Trevor Williams said look I’ll just go for it. So you guys actually watched waterboarding. It was savage. He was amazing, the scene was extraordinary.
Mark: It was so real that there were times that I felt that I didn’t know if I was in control. There was a lot of safety around us and he wasn’t tied so he could move, but for all intents and purposes he was waterboarded.
Is torture ever justifiable?
Ken: No, because it’s degrading and inhumane and you won’t get the right result. Interestingly, in the news this week was the story from (former Pakistani President Pervez) Musharraf saying that the British gave ‘tacit approval’ to Pakistani’s torturing on the behalf of the British.
Ken, you’re obviously known for tackling real-life social issues in film. What is the most difficult subject you’ve tackled so far?
I think this has been the toughest. It’s been the most difficult because it’s such a complex subject, the characters Paul wrote are complex. In particular the character Mark plays, he’s on the edge of losing his sense of humanity. A tragic character and you have to feel for him. So to have done all those bad things and still feel compassion for the man is difficult. It was a difficult film to structure, not shooting-wise, but the difficulty in this was just balancing all the elements of the real experience in Iraq. The sense of grief and anger of the Iraqi people, the problems with the people who went and fought there. And the elements that drove us to war. The private interest in big business.
Ken, you turned down an OBE in 1977, would you do the same again?
Oh yes. It’s a club I wouldn’t want to belong to.Tagged in: iraq war, Ken Loach, mark womack, PTSD, Route Irish
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