“I think it's, frankly, one of the best films I've ever made,” filmmaker Greg Barker said at the TCA Summer Press Tour while talking about his new documentary film for Showtime, Detainee 001. The film takes another look at the case of John Walker Lindh, aka the "American Taliban," with the hindsight of twenty years of war in Afghanistan. “I love the way it's structured, I love the music. It's all about emotion and provoking a reaction in an audience and taking them somewhere they never expected.”
“There was no evidence against John,” explained producer Tresha Mabile. “He was held in prison for 20 years for material support to the Taliban for carrying a gun, and now we've turned over the country to the Taliban. So, in hindsight, it seems like it should have been a moment for everybody to stop and take a deep breath and sort through how we would deal with people like John. But instead, he became the face of this war, and he became the poster boy for terrorism. And he became sort of a distraction to the fact that we had not caught Bin-Laden yet.”
There’s an abundance of new 9/11 content this fall to commemorate the 20th anniversary, but Detainee 001 offers something very different. “So much of my work since the last twenty years has been in some way defined by it,” Greg shared, with his filmography including CNN Films’ Legion of Brothers about the first Special Forces unit sent to Afghanistan following 9/11. “As it turns out, those were the guys who we actually see in this film who treated and officially debriefed John Walker Lindh on the battlefield, they're in the footage. I literally had this footage from another film… I remember clearly sitting with one of our editors one day just going through stuff and looking at it. And I knew the Lindh story kind of vaguely, but the footage was just all laid out in front of me.”
One of Greg’s producing partners, Vinnie Malhotra, had been closely following John Walker Lindh’s story since 2002 when he was a producer for ABC News. “We kind of came together and thought, ‘I think this is a way of unpacking this kind of origin story of not so much 9/11, but our reaction to it,’” Greg continued. “History has shown he was on the winning side in Afghanistan. The Taliban are back in power, as bizarre and mind-blowing as that is. We thought we were going to change the world after 9/11. The world is what it is. We've changed. Actually, our country has changed in ways I think we're still not fully grappling with and realizing. And I think this was a story that could help us unpack that. The deeper we got into it, particularly when you have a luxury of four years making it, things became apparent what the story meant and how it was relevant today.”
“Saying you're going to have a global war on terror, defeat terror wherever it exists, vilify this enemy, and feel like we are going to, in the process, change the world, at least change the region, there was a hubris in that,” Greg Barker said. Detainee 001 intentionally incorporates lots of news footage from the time to showcase how sensational it was. “The footage is just so gripping and incredible. And then once this American dude was found, it suddenly becomes something else… Somehow, it's all about us and how could this guy betray us? And doesn't he realize that America is on the side of right here? And this kind of arrogance is understandable given the impact of 9/11, but I think it was never reined in and everybody was responsible. The government, our leaders, the media, the military. And instead of sort of taking a step back, we just leaned into it more and more.”
Detainee 001 premieres Friday, September 10th at 9/8c on Showtime.
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).