The opening voice-over of Zone of Nonbeing: Guantanamo cuts right to the chase, asking off the bat "What white people do you have here in Guantanamo Bay? This is a place for Muslims." Seeking to expose the human rights violations perpetuated by post-9/11 Islamophobia, the filmmakers examine the lack of ethics behind the operation of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center.
UC Berkeley ethicist Ramon Grosfoguel elaborates on the term "zone of non-being" as a place where those deemed "below the line of human" are managed with methods of violence and inhumane treatment. Interview subjects cite historical instances of colonial expansion as the driving force behind creating these zones, dating back to 1492 with the conquest of Granada and continuing through the US's history of human rights violations from the genocide of Native Americans to the Civil War and the continued racial segregation of the mid-20th century.
Massoud Shardjareh, the Chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, explains the ways in which societies have historically created definitions of "otherness" to create targets of inhumane treatment, with African slaves, Jews during WWII and, most recently, Muslims being prominent examples.
Michael Ratner of the Centre for Constitutional Rights expresses his opinion that stripping prisoners of their right to representation and trial is a human rights violation that sets us back some 900 years. Civil rights attorney Clive Stafford Smith elaborates on the hypocrisy of a nation claiming to defend democracy by setting up an offshore prison in the interest of skirting human rights laws, and states that Guantanamo is worse than most death rows. Whereas death row inmates face either the finality of death or the hope of appeal, Guantanamo prisoners are detained indefinitely without charge, with no concept of what the future may hold.
Interviews with former Guantanamo detainees provide the audience with first-hand accounts of the conditions within the prison. Detailing their days of being chained to the wall and incurring violent beatings, many of which ended in fatalities, the men who have managed to regain their freedom explain the physical and psychological damage they will carry for the rest of their lives.
As the film draws on, the subjects continue to examine the dubious justifications for US actions in the name of anti-terrorism, from torture to the use of drones, and question how future generations will regard these methods.