Driving a taxi in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, Abu Jandal says the job lets him “go out and mingle with people,” and as often as he jokes and exchanges stories with fares, he also lies outright, telling one nervous client the camera on the dashboard is turned off. “It belongs to a foreign company making a film about the daily life of taxi drivers,” he says, “Because they hear there’s an economic crisis and life is hard.” The questioner doesn’t know that Abu Jandal is Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard, that he was imprisoned in Yemen for his participation in the U.S.S. Cole bombing, or that he is, at the time of filming, concerned that his brother-in-law, Salim Hamdan, is imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay. Such storytelling seems to come easily to Abu Jandal. Throughout Laura Poitras’ superb documentary, The Oath, he appears to be a good father, a deeply charismatic and manipulative interviewee, and a thoughtful former jihadist. Maybe. Though the film has no access to Hamdan, it cuts between Yemen and Guantánamo, where lawyers report on Hamdan’s trial by U.S. military commission. Abu Jandal says more than once that he feels responsible for Hamdan’s trouble, that he helped him to get work as bin Laden’s driver, a job that led to his imprisonment. Asserting his sense of responsibility for what happened to Hamdan, Abu Jandal also remains elusive, asking that Poitras “delete” an answer he’s made the day before. She does not, but rather includes the request, but it’s an inclusion that complicates Abu Jandal’s allure and credibility rather than undermining them.
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// Notes from the Road
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