Taxi to the Dark Side (Alex Gibney)
At a recent rally for Barack Obama, the candidate went through a list of major changes he would be making when he becomes president. When he brought up closing the prison camps (including Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay), the roar from the crowd was huge.
This issue of torture and the actions taking place in these camps is constantly in our news, but we as private citizens never really know the true story of these men who are spending endless sentences without representation or habeas corpus.
“Taxi to the Dark Side” not only lifts the veil, enabling us to view confidential documents and hear directly from those involved, but from the soldiers themselves, many of whom have paid the price while the commanders orchestrating this war slide free from responsibility (including the commander-in-chief).
Even more importantly, it enables us to learn about one prisoner, who he was as a person, his family that was left behind, and what led to his death after capture. On December 1, 2002, Dilawar was a taxi driver who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. The army had been given a “tip,” which led to the arrest of him and his three passengers. Five days after he was exposed to continuous beating and sleep depravation, he was found slumped in his cell, dead.
We’ve heard about the humiliation tactics used, forcing prisoners to strip naked and group together in a huddle, or exposing them to dogs and loud music, and some of those images came across media lines when the Abu Ghraib story surfaced.
In the documentary, soldiers who were responsible for interrogation at U.S. prison camps, describe the pressure to “get information” from prisoners at any cost. This involved a sleep depravation chart that showed how many hours the prisoner had been “up” and awake, or “down” and asleep, neither of which lasted longer than a few hours.
Or they would chain the prisoner to wire mesh of the cell’s ceiling, which would ensure the prisoner would stay awake and standing for long periods of time. These chains and charts were also removed when the Red Cross came in for inspection, so these tactics would go without interference by an outside third party standing up for human rights.
But it was the continual beatings to the legs that cause permanent damage. In the case of Dilawar, a clot had formed in his leg because of the beatings, and traveled to his brain, causing death. The coroner stated that had he lived, his legs were so badly damaged that he would have required amputation. It was the cause of death, homicide, which led a New York Times journalist, Carolotta Gall, to find his family in Afghanistan.
All the press releases coming from the White House relating to the two deaths that occurred at Bagram that week stated the prisoners died from natural causes, and in an interview between Gall and General Dan McNeill, he denies any knowing of prisoners being killed. Again, homicide was the cause of death on the death certificate, and this was just one of many examples of lies being fed to the press.
We also heard numerous denials by Alberto Gonzales and Donald Rumsfeld, the latter of which visited the prison camps often and was continually informed of what was taking place.
“Taxi to the Dark Side” continues to fill in the blanks, presenting the historical line of how President Bush and his administration took the constitution and the Geneva Convention, put them on the shelf, and not only created his own interpretation of each BUT included a provision to protect him and all his buddies from ever being prosecuted for war crimes. That in itself is an obvious admission of guilt.
The immense tragedy in all this is the tens of thousands of prisoners that still sit in prisons today with no idea of when they will ever be free or be given a chance to prove their innocence. The way they got there is war lords in their country, turning them in for cash rewards by the U.S. government, or in some cases, getting turned in by their fellow countryman who turns around and takes over a family’s land.
It is also the soldiers that have thrown under the bus by the upper echelon in the Army and the U.S. government. They receive little training (5 hours worth) on interrogation or any clearly written Rules of Engagement or Field Manual for Interregation. No one in charge takes the fall except those who were performing the actual “techniques” that were expected as part of their job, some of which have been charged with Dereliction of Duty and have faced court marshals.
In the film, one soldier is asked, “Do you think you were misled?” With pain in his eyes, he answers, “I think we all were.”
Most of us also know that the number of terrorists in Iraq and neighboring countries has grown substantially since the U.S. invaded Iraq. Any logical person can expect that what has taken place in these prison camps is being used to recruit more and more men and women to join al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, there is little to no information being gained from those imprisoned.
Even today, the discussion continues about the CIA’s involvement in torture, including waterboarding, with the CIA director Michael Hayden admitting that they in fact used that technique and believed it was necessary at times, even though it may have been deemed illegal.
The use of torture hasn’t proven to be an effective technique for use on “an unlawful combatant is possessing information that would help us prevent catastrophic loss of life of Americans or their allies,” as stated by Hayden. This statement in a recent New York Times article is in contrast to those who have succeed in getting the coveted “information.”
A former FBI interrogator explains the right way to get the information needed, which includes appealing the prisoner in a variety of ways, from ensuring his family will be taken care of to other things that the prisoner seeks. He attests that what you get in torture situations is unreliable, or if one is in possession of information but is dedicated to their cause, they will take that information to their grave. At the film’s end, you also hear from the director’s father, Frank Gibney, a former interrogator during WWII and the Korean War, who has seen what has happened and has “lost my faith in the American government.”
People across the country are showing up in record numbers to have a say in where this country goes after this dark era of the country is closed. There will be a tremendous amount of work to do to clean up many messes, but the more we know through films like “Taxi to the Dark Side,” the better prepared we will be to make people accountable so this doesn’t happen again.