Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Taxi to the Dark Side; Show the Images and Prosecute the Torturers

Last night I finally saw the 2007 documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side. The film is structured around the disappearance and murder of Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver who, along with his passengers, was imprisoned without trial in Bagram Air Base. There he was beaten to death by American soldiers. As the war in Afghanistan escalates, the film should be required viewing.

Moving from Bagram to Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo, it shows footage of torture that is impossible to watch without feeling sick. We’ve seen the images of naked men piled in a pyramid; of a detainee with a dog collar and a woman soldier dragging him around on a leash; of bloodied prisoners being intimidated by dogs. Seeing it again doesn’t make it easier. But it just gets worse. The “new” images, such as those of prisoners being forced to masturbate, confirm what one British prisoner who was later released says, “If they weren’t terrorists when they came in, how can they not be terrrorists when they leave?”

Interspersed between the images are a series of powerful interviews with American soldiers, all of whom say they acted on orders from above, and that the abuse was hardly a case of “a few bad apples”. What happened at Abu Ghraib happened at Bagram and at Guantanamo. It was sanctioned and normal. There is footage with Dick Cheney boasting, “Use any means available.” And John Yoo gloating, “The president can authorize torture.” These men are still walking free.

By the time the film was released, over 83, 000 detainees were in captivity, all without trial.

In April this year, US President Obama revealed his torture policy: let the war criminals roam free. This is his way of focusing on the future. Pretty ironic, for a guy who drew heavily and movingly on African-American history in his acceptance speech. As he knows, there can be no moving on without remembering and addressing the injustices of the past.

Will Attorney General Eric Holder prove the better man? Holder was quoted this month in Newsweek as saying that he’s considering “appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's brutal interrogation practices,” exactly what Obama is trying to avoid. Holder’s wife, Sharon Malone, is quoted in the same article as drawing “a direct line from the sins of America's racial past to the abuses of the Guantánamo Bay ... Both are examples of ‘what we have not done in the face of injustice’.” Amen. I’m going to be hopeful about Holder. Read the full article here: http://www.newsweek.com/id/206300

But Obama’s decision not to investigate the Bush regime’s war crimes becomes even more sinister when viewed in conjunction with his decision to censor the images of new footage that has surfaced from Abu Ghraib. An article in today’s Telegraph UK has details of what the footage includes: the rape of a female prisoner by an American soldier; the rape of a male teenaged detainee by a male translator; the sexual assault of prisoners with wires and a phosphorescent tube. Read the article:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/5395830/Abu-Ghraib-abuse-photos-show-rape.html

Obama’s decision to keep these images away from the public eye is supported by Major General Antonio Taguba, who conducted the Abu Ghraib prison inquiries. Their reason? As the war in Afghanistan escalates, the public outrage the photos will engender will “imperil the safety of US troops”. Once again, the safety of Americans is more important than the safety of others, and more important than upholding universal principles of human rights and human dignity. The Geneva Convention? Already the next generation hardly even knows it ever existed.

The creator of Taxi to the Dark Side, Alex Gibney, has said he made the film in the spirit of moving “away from the dark side and back to the light.” There can be no light without showing the truth about prison abuse, and prosecuting the criminals behind it.