FSU/CAHR senior program director Mark Schlakman observed the following in an op-ed the Tallahassee Democrat invited him to write that was published on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021. “It’s unusual when lesson planning involving compelling issues of national importance can encompass the imminent release of a major motion picture like “The Mauritanian.” It’s even more unusual when the film boasts A-list actors like Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch and an acclaimed director like Kevin Macdonald.
That was the reality this week when the production company supported an advanced virtual screening of the film for the FSU community Wednesday, February 10, two days before the national release date.
Prior to the screening, Marine Corps Lt. Col Stuart Couch (Ret.) met with two classes at FSU which Mark Schlakman developed and is teaching during the Spring 2021 semester via Zoom– a Human Rights & National Security class at the College of Law, and an interdisciplinary National Security Transformation class offered jointly by the College of Social Work, and the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy that is cross-listed for undergrads, grads, and honors students.
Couch, portrayed by Cumberbatch in the film, is integral to the story — a story everyone should know. He first shared his experience with the FSU and Tallahassee communities at the College of Law Rotunda in 2008 as a featured speaker within the context of FSU/CAHR’s Human Rights & National Security in the 21st Century lecture series.
Couch portrayed by Cumberbatch in the film, is integral to the story–a story everyone should know. He first shared his experience with the FSU and Tallahassee communities at the College of Law Rotunda in 2008 as a featured speaker within the context of FSU/CAHR’s Human Rights & National Security in the 21st Century lecture series. Couch also supported a Zoom discussion following the special virtual screening. In the aftermath of 9/11, as a lawyer in the Office of Military Commissions, he was assigned to prosecute Mohamedou Ould Slahi, from Mauritania, an alleged 9/11 operative detained indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay. He ultimately determined Slahi had been subjected to “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” (aka torture), and declined to prosecute.
It took courage to do what was right for legal, ethical, and moral reasons. Some challenged his patriotism, saying things like, ‘Wear the jersey or get off of the team.’
Apart from the film, he bristles when characterized as a hero. ‘I was doing my job,’ he says. Couch explained the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” had been “approved” by the George W. Bush administration relying upon what ultimately proved to be spurious legal analysis. Simply put, torture is prohibited by both U.S. and international law – no exceptions. Nevertheless, these issues continue to generate controversy.
Although it is not a documentary, the film is based on a true story, so despite taking certain editorial license, it’s an excellent vehicle to explore the implications of the United States government — or any government — taking an “any means necessary” approach in furtherance of purported national security imperatives, without reconciling human rights considerations.
FSU’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights extended a limited allocations of special invitations to all 18 academic deans, select centers including FSU’s Student Veterans Center and the Center of Global Engagement, the Honors and other programs. The invitations also included Presidential Scholars, Social Science Scholars, the Student Government Association, FSU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and senior university officials, while keeping President Thrasher and Provost McRorie apprised, underscoring both the importance and wide-ranging nature of these issues.
Schlakman observes, “At some point, all of us might confront situations and circumstances requiring courage to do what’s right, when merely going along would be so much easier.”
Couch often quotes from Alexis DeToqueville’s “Democracy in America,” written about 200 years ago, but with lessons, which we are still repeating:
“One of the things that DeToqueville said was, ‘America is great because America is good. And when America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.'”
This unusual opportunity for the FSU community was also noted in in the Limelight section of the Tallahassee Democrat on the margins of an Associate Press review of the film that coincided with its national release on Friday, Feb. 10, 2021. In addition, WFSU aired a story a few days prior to virtual screening. Here is the link WFSU Article.