A novice researcher for Amnesty International uncovers government torture and brutality in Turkey. [ Forgotten Prisoners: The Amnesty Files credits: Dir: Robert Greenwald/ Ron Silver, Hector Elizondo, Leslee Udwin/ 92 min/ Drama/ Amnesty International, Democide, Government as Torturer]
Amnesty International (AI) is a worldwide organization primarily focused on exposing some of the more blatant injustices of government, particularly political killings and “disappearances,” torture, and general mistreatment of prisoners by government officials. Although the story told in this film is fictional, it reflects just the type of important work AI really does.
Forgotten Prisoners: The Amnesty Files begins with a disturbing scene: Police are chasing a small group of people through the streets of some Turkish city, savagely beating them as they are captured. The police surround the home of a man, whom we see inside. He’s drawing a political cartoon. They drag him screaming from his family. (We learn later that all these hunted people are members of a small political party promoting “something like your American Bill of Rights.”) The scene switches to the home office of AI in London, which is issuing an “Urgent Action” bulletin to its members asking them to send letters and telegrams to Turkish officials on behalf of those arrested. Around the world, letters are being written by ordinary people—ordinary heroes. This whole opening section is a powerful one, demonstrating both why AI exists and the good work of its many members.
But evidence and analyses are needed to support AI’s claims of government misbehavior. And so enters the protagonist, a young expert in international law travels to Turkey to gather information. His efforts, which mainly involve overcoming Turkish bureaucracy and coaxing the truth out of reluctant informants, are interspersed with scenes of torture going on in the jails he is not allowed to access. In the end, he gets the evidence that’s needed. But only this battle has been won, not the whole war. In the final scene, the police are seen arresting another innocent person. It’s clear that the fight must continue.
All this is an inspiring endorsement of AI that should make its supporters proud. It’s also an effective reminder of the brutality of which governments are capable, and which makes AI so important.
As entertainment, Forgotten Prisoners: The Amnesty Files is a fair film, suspenseful at times, and touching. The scenes of torture are effective at communicating the horror of it all without being excessively graphic. Filmed largely in London and Budapest, the film has a realistic flavor. In the minus column, the downcast Ron Silver (in the leading role) is not the ideal image of a hero, and the dialogue occasionally diverges unnecessarily from the subject at hand. But these are tolerable flaws.
Libertarians watching the early scenes of police openly and concertedly brutalizing a cowed public will be reminded of the importance of the right to keep and bear arms, which was intended as a last line of defense against such tyranny. Ironically, for all its good deeds, AI has criticized the U.S. for its widespread ownership of arms, which it sees as a factor contributing to crime. Happily, however, this and other liberal positions that AI has taken are not mentioned here and play no role in this film.