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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Let's Take a Taxi Ride to the Dark Side


There are always two sides to a story. My father always told me when I was growing up, never accept someone’s opinion on any one side of the story. Figure it out yourself. His advice helped; I’d like to think of myself as a fair person. I would go through both the sides before committing to any one side. But when I saw Alex Gibney’s documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, I decided to take his side without even pausing to consider that there could be another side to the story. Taxi to the Dark Side beholds to the global audience what the Bush administration had been doing in their bid to “work the dark side.” (Dick Cheney)

Taxi opens with the death of a young Afghan taxi driver, Dilawar at the hands of American soldiers at the American prison at Bagram, Afghanistan. Deemed to be a terrorist by a paid informer, he was tortured so violently at the prison, that he died five days after his arrival. Even though the official report stated that Dilawar died of “natural causes”, Tim Golden and Carlotta Gall of The New York Times uncovered the autopsy report which clearly stated that Dilawar’s death was homicidal in nature. The report further stated that his lower limbs were so badly compromised because of excessive beatings, that had he lived he would have had to go through double amputations; there was just no way to save his legs.

Establishing the brutality early on with the death of Dilawar, Gibney goes on to showcase the US Government’s use of legalised torture in the prisons in Iraq and Guantanamo. The government’s scrupulous way of hiding behind the legal jargon and bending the laws at will to deny the “suspected” terrorists their basic rights, while at the same time blatantly flouting the Geneva Convention took the world by shock. And yet no one dares to speak against the super power. The documentary is a well-researched investigation, and positions itself as a counter argument against the administration’s “justified” use of “necessary means” to bring justice to all those who “lost” on 9/11. 

Taxi includes frank interviews of a number of service men who were responsible for “breaking” Dilawar. While some stated that they actually believed what they were doing was right, some admitted that even if it affected their humane feelings for Dilawar, they could do nothing about it as the orders came from “the top”, which were “break your detainees”. The documentary also has sound bites of Dick Cheney, the then Vice President and George W. Bush, then President of United States of America. One particular sound bite of President Bush disturbed me; he announces gleefully to the American public that the ‘War on Terror’ is on its right course, after yet again another air attack on an Afghan Village. He says, “One by one the terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice. Well, let me put it this way, they are no longer a problem to the US and her friends.” What president talks like this?! This is identical to a Martin Scorsese movie quote about mob bosses. Well, President Bush sure did prove himself to be the mob boss alright. 

The documentary raises question regarding the legitimacy of modern day interrogation techniques. Gibney also points out that popular TV series like 24 may have contributed to the rise of these ‘new and modern interrogation techniques.’ What is chilling is that, John Woo, the Justice Department lawyer and the mastermind behind legalizing torture and denying the suspected terrorists the Geneva Convention Protection, graciously gave interviews to justify his actions. Gibney captures the CIA’s ruthlessness by portraying how thrilled they were when Water boarding (a torture technique popularized in the modern era by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia) and Sensory Deprivation were okayed as valid interrogation techniques.

The film is convincingly graphic and visual. Amid all the sound bites and interviews are illustrated the humiliation that the prisoners, especially in Abu Ghraib faced. Some of the service men in the interviews stated that they were told to ‘dehumanise’ their detainees. They sure did manage to achieve that.

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