Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Liam O'Connor's review of "Taxi To The Dark Side"

LIAN 014 

Any desire to be a prison guard?  A police officer?  A military prosecutor?  A soldier to eradicate evil and fend off the eastern hordes who threaten the very fabric of our society and the great All-American Way?


If so take in a viewing of the winner of this year's Academy Award for best documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side.


It follows the American Administration's history with military detainees, first at Bagram, Afghanistan then Abu Gharib and finally Guantanamo Bay.


At the time of the completion of the film there are 105 confirmed dead detainees, 37 of which the US authorities themselves have deemed "homicides".  And they weren't killed by each other.  If they were deemed murdered they were murdered at the hands of US soldiers.


Interestingly, the movie contends that only 7 per cent of the detainees were actually captured by US forces.


The other 93 per cent of detainees were turned over to US forces by Afghani forces/warlords/independent troops for bounty money.  Those groups effectively  told US forces "hey,  we found these bad guys for you. Do with them what you will.  They're your enemy."


A number of the soldiers that have been convicted of killing, torturing or just humiliating detained prisoners are often described as soft spoken, gentle and good soldiers.


Many concede they "should've gone with our  own morality" instead of doing what we did. Many claim they felt morally isolated in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Some said they did what they did because they wanted the detainees  to be guilty because it made their units look good.


Interestingly as well, the film doesn't really demonize the soldiers.  Rather it castigates those at the top of the food chain,  the military brass and most of all the Bush Administration and the architects behind the use of torture.


And who pray tell were those architects? Lawyers!


Legal counsel were the architects that built the way to permit torture and gave Bush the argument that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to suspected terrorists.


Head amongst those was senior lawyer from the Office of Legal Counsel to the President, John Yoo.  He was the man behind the  so-called" illegal memo" which allowed the President to institute the use of illegal torture methods and violence on military detainees.


It was the memo that allowed Dick Cheney to say "we  can't tie the hands of our intelligence people."


It was the memo that led Bush to announce:  "One by on the terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice."


Systematically indicted in the film are: VP Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Justice Minister Alberto Gonzalez, and Secretary of State  Rumsfeld among others.


But where did these beacons of what is supposedly right and moral obtain their tools of torture? Where did they obtain the information that allowed the US soldiers to move away from being unsophisticated brute-like 15th century amateurs to modern thugs operating at a level of pure "genius"?


Apparently from the ground-breaking research of a Canadian professor from McGill University.  Our proud Canuck, Prof. Hebb  has made some remarkable progress in studying  sensory deprivation as used particularly at Guantanamo.


The apparent brilliance of it was what moved the soldiers away from administering torture though physical pain.  Instead real progress was deemed to be made via  the use of stress positions, sleep deprivation, male prisoners being forced to  wear women's underwear, forced masturbation, sensory deprivation/assault, standing chained to the ceiling, sexual molestation of males by female soldiers, unmuzzling German Shepherd dogs in interrogation, promises of future execution and the ever popular water-boarding.    


Thankfully a central theme of the movie is that torture does not work.


At one point an FBI commentator points out that if your real goal is to stop terror attacks on the US then your goal has failed horribly.  That's because all that one terrorist has to do is show some of his uncommitted brothers the one photo of a naked detainee being dragged on the floor by a US female soldier on a chain attached to a dog collar (as the picture exists) then you will have no shortage of converts prepared to reign terror on the US.


The film also follows the clever strategy followed by the Bush Administration  once the Supreme Court found their actions at Guantanamo illegal.


Instead of halting the torture Bush simply drafted new laws to: 1) remove the availability of habeus corpus; and 2) grant anticipatory  pardons for President Bush and his staff just in case any charges of committing war crimes are ever raised against them in the future.


As of time of movie there have been  83000 detainees held by US forces.  To date no one has yet gone to trial.


Lost in the monstrous horror, however,  is Dilawar.  He was the innocent little Afghani taxi driver who was picked up and murdered within two days by interrogating US soldiers.  He had nothing to tell them because all he was was a taxi driver.  Pathologists have concluded that had he lived both os his legs would have needed to be amputated.  They had been repeated beaten, kicked and  punched by interrogators.  On his little stone grave reads Dilawar the Martyr.


Will his death be in vain?


Working in favor of that is the generally held belief that because some terrorists flew on to our continent that "whatever" we need to do to them is alright if it keeps us safe.  But I am certain when the world sees this movie this ideas will be challenged.


But Bush has general apathy working in his favour.


I saw the movie by myself with only four others sitting in the theatre.  It is  a theatre that seats 350. 


And therefore Bush is winning.


Would someone else please go see the movie. Tell Dilawar's story.  Don't let his death and  murder have been in vain.

- Liam

Liam O'Connor is a practicing lawyer and senior partner with the law firm Pinkofskys in Toronto.  For viewing times of this movie in Toronto, click here

1 comment:

Notorture said...

Thank you for your post which highlights such an important, current issue.

We are a torture treatment center in San Diego, Survivors of Torture, International. When "Taxi to the Darkside" came to a local theater we were able to go and have materials available about the work that we do.

Unfortunately attendance was also low in our town.

Another movie will be coming out next month. The award winning director Errol Morris has created a film entitled "Standard Operating Procedure." This movie will also focus on the atrocities of Abu Ghraib.

Maybe this film will be able to reach more people.