CANNES, France (Reuters) - British director Ken Loach turns a critical eye on private security firms operating in Iraq in his new drama "Route Irish," in which trigger-happy mercenaries appear to act above the law. The movie, one of 19 in the main competition at the Cannes film festival, also features a reconstruction of "waterboarding," an interrogation technique used on terrorism suspects which the U.S. Attorney General has called "torture."
Loach, who won the coveted Palme d'Or in Cannes in 2006 with Irish drama "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," said it was not too late to expose truths about the war in Iraq, which he opposes, and embarrass the leaders who supported it.
"If we can't put them in the dock of the law courts we have to put them in the dock of public opinion, because they need to be brought to account," he told reporters on Friday.
Route Irish is set in Liverpool, England, where Fergus, played by Mark Womack, grieves for his best friend Frankie who was killed in mysterious circumstances while serving as a private security contractor in Iraq.
The title of the film refers to the name given by the U.S. military to the road leading to Baghdad airport, once considered one of the world's most dangerous, vulnerable to insurgent attacks and where the character Frankie is killed.
Fergus feels responsible for his death having convinced the former soldier to go private and earn more cash.
A mobile telephone handed to Fergus shows footage of an incident where contractors opened fire on a car killing the Iraqi family inside, and when Frankie threatens to go public, his colleagues, led by Nelson, begin to threaten him.
Screenwriter Paul Laverty described the use of private protection forces in Iraq as a sign of "massive corporate greed," and argued that initially at least they were not subject to Iraqi law due to an order signed by U.S. authorities.
"I spoke to many, many soldiers who had been in the Iraq war," Laverty said. "What was absolutely fascinating really was to discover that war was being privatized, that many of these soldiers had gone on to become contractors.
"Order 17 is a metaphor for all the people who started the war because they're never held responsible, and the people who introduce torture are never responsible."
The employment of contractors has caused anger in Iraq, particularly when a U.S. court recently dismissed charges against Blackwater Worldwide guards accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.
Route Irish includes a scene where Fergus uses waterboarding on Nelson, whom he suspects of killing Frankie.
"He was waterboarded, poor man and he bore it stoically," Loach said of actor Trevor Williams.
"Waterboarding is torture although it was sanctioned by the United States ... and of course condoned by the British government whatever they say, because it's absurd to pretend they didn't know and their knowledge shows their consent.
"It breaks the Geneva Convention, it breaks all our understanding of human rights, it breaks our commitment not to torture and the people who sanction that torture are still the great and the good lording it around the earth."
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato