Friday, February 08, 2008

Taxi to the Dark Side: documentary about US interrogation or "rendition" techniques in Afghanistan, Iraq, GTMO


"Taxi to the Dark Side" (2007, ThinkFilm / Discovery, website) is another searing documentary directed by Alex Gibney (he had earlier directed “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” from Magnolia/HDNet in 2005). He covers abuse of Muslim prisoners by US forces in Afghanistan (Bagram), Iraq (Abu Ghraib – that specific prison had been covered in another documentary “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, here), and finally Guantanamo. (Another related film is “No End in Sight”, review here.) He starts his film in Afghanistan, with snowy mountains, and retraces the route where local tribal taxi driver Dilawar was arrested by the Northern Alliance and turned over to US forces. He would subsequently die of a pulmonary embolism indirectly related to repeat trauma to the legs, that had “pulpified” them to the point that they would have needed amputation. The documentary starts to trace the histories of a number of soldiers who would eventually be brought up on charges. Some of them would be transferred to Iraq. The nature of the problem of “rendition” is that the higher-ups pressure the enlisted investigators to abuse prisoners without taking responsibility.

The film is built in chapters, and has many interviews, still photos of the abuse (which are in nude and are quite graphic, although the worst of Dilawar is not shown), and even an inserted scene from Fox’s “24” of chest torture. There is also a lot of black and white still animation. It does show photos from 9/11.

The film traces how the Bush administration instructed the Justice Department to develop legal positions that would allow “rendition.” Cheney seems to be especially vocal in justifying the use of very aggressive interrogation. The administration gets Congress to pass a law that allows it to interpret the Geneva Convention as it chooses in developing interrogation practices. Apparently now Republican presidential candidate Arizona Senator John McCain was pressured to vote for that law. (I recall the "booksmarts" G3 training in the Geneva Convention when I was in Army Basic in 1968, and the rules are clear.) Therefore, it gets away with holding many prisoners at all three locations without charge. Most of those arrested were at the wrong place at the wrong time (like the “taxi driver”) and were not involved with Al Qaeda.

The film has a demonstration interview of how an interrogator might help a prisoner see that he can get on with a different life without torture. The film documents how Colin Powell used incorrect information about WMD’s and Saddam Hussein obtained by waterboarding at the UN and to help justify the Bush administration’s invading Iraq in March 2003.

Landmark E Street in Washington DC had a Q&A afterwards with the Director and with representatives from Human Rights First, more information here.

New Line Cinema covered the topic of "Rendition" in a film by that name in 2007, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

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