Taxi to the Dark Side
It's the story of Dilawar, a young Afghan taxi driver who was arrested in December 2002 on suspicion of involvement on a rocket attack on US forces. He was taken to Bagram prison and interrogated. As was standard practice at Bagram then, he was handcuffed standing up, his arms chained to the cage over his head. He was beaten and kicked so ferociously that his legs turned to pulp. The more he denied any guilt, the worse the beatings became. And within five days of his incarceration, he was dead. The US military doctor who examined the body reported the death as homicide, but the incident was hushed up.
Gibney interviews the enlisted men who were the warders at Bagram, to some of Dilawar's fellow prisoners and to people from his village. It's clear that he was innocent of the charge, and had no involvement in politics. He also talks to a few of the military higher ups and the New York Times reporters who broke the story.
But this film is about much more than one unfortunate taxi driver. Gibney shows how the Bush administration and the Pentagon not only turned a blind eye to the illegal abuse of prisoners, they fostered an atmosphere that encouraged the routine use of physical and mental humiliation, sleep deprivation and torture.
It was clear from the rhetoric coming out of the White House, from Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in particular, that post 9/11 the US no longer recognized any moral constraint when it came to the treatment of al-Qaeda suspects. What went on at Bagram became a model for the regimes at Guantanamo and at Abu Ghraib.
Two years later, when the world was outraged by the photographs that came out of Abu Ghraib, the same people were quick to throw the servicemen and women at the bottom of the pile to the wolves. These were 'a few bad apples', they said. Meanwhile no one higher up the chain of command has been held responsible for these abuses ' quite the contrary, some have been decorated and promoted.
As Gibney shows, the great fallacy of the torture apologists is the rationale that this is the only way to get results. In fact, so far as we know, the coercive interrogation techniques instigated at Bagram produced no 'actionable' intelligence. On the contrary, it probably had the opposite effect of hardening the resolve of America's enemies, and radicalizing those who innocent detainees who, like Dilawar, were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This is an important and powerful film that will leave you seething. If Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are ever indicted for their crimes, this could serve as the opening argument for the prosecution.
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