Taxi To The Dark Side: The US Prisons


By Iymon Ganaie

Documentary films do often bring an agitation after which it is apt to shed tears. Agitation, which must be perceived as the out coming of human barbarism. Taxi To The Dark Side written and directed by Alex Gibney is one of the films, which shows the true face of human barbarism. After watching the film, I remembered German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who once said, “He who fights monsters must take care lest he become a monster.”

After 9/11, United States and its allies declared a “war on terror”. It was more than a war – it was revenge. In revenge, people tend to cross the boundaries of humanity and thus use barbarous procedures to avenge those who have hurt them. In Taxi To the Darker Side, Gibney tries to show how United States forgot the basic values of humanity in order to avenge the death of its citizens. The film examines the brutal interrogation techniques used against the prisoners captured by U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The film starts with a man, Dilawar from Yakubi village in Afghanistan, who was killed in custody at the notorious Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Bagram Air Base is one of the three jails in the world, which came into limelight after 9/11 for the inhumane tortures to the prisoners, the other two being Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Guantanamo bay in Cuba. The film proceeds by taking the testimonies of the interrogators who were responsible for Dilawar’s custodial killing. It features the interview of New York Times journalists, Tim Golden and Carlotta Gall who followed the case and brought world’s attention towards Dilawar’s death.

The film then widens its focus to include evidence of mistreatment by US military and how the US policy on torture was framed. The film uses interviews with soldiers, former government and military officials, lawyers, journalists, detainees and their families as well as other research such as videos especially the leaked video footage from Abu Ghraib and Bagram Air base with other leaked textual documents.

Prisoners at Guantanamo bay, Cuba.

The tortures shown in the film from leaked footage which were inflicted on detainees range from water-boarding to stress positions like forced standing, sexual assault primarily masturbation and homosexuality, sensory deprivation which often lead to mental breakdown, removal of clothing, use of detainees phobia techniques like dog or snake fear. Not all these tortures come in the Geneva conventions for war prisoners but the problem is that these detainees were not considered war prisoners. Bush administration worked closely so that Geneva conventions could not be applied on the detainees because if they do, these tortures could be war crimes. Soldiers were told that these detainees do not come under Geneva conventions.

The film reveals some astonishing facts about the detainees about whom George W. Bush, former US president says “Worst of the worst” and “the bad people”. Ironically, only seven percent of these “bad people” had alleged links with Al-Qaeda. The film clearly makes a point that the Bush administration was working according to the phrase, “Give a dog a bad name and kill him”. Many of us would have seen the leaked videos of Abu Ghraib in which it was shown how dog tricks were played on detainees. Those videos showed how U.S. compares humans to dogs to lower down their self-esteem.

In the whole film the reason, why soldiers interrogated these detainees through inhumane techniques, is that, “they wanted information from detainees”. But at the same time, the film brings into attention the positive techniques which are far more humane. As Rear Admiral, John Huston says, “breaking down the barriers between you (interrogators) and them (detainees), gaining there (detainees) confidence is the best way to get it (information)”. The information gained through tortures is never worthwhile, he argues.

Dilawar at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

At the end of the film, Dilawar’s brother says he can’t taste food now due to his brother’s loss who he considered as his own child. “My brother was innocent,” he laments. It is every man’s cry that he is innocent after he was captured. In Dilawar’s case, it was proven and the soldiers involved were booked for their crime. Though the soldiers were convicted but still Dilawar’s little daughter will remain an Orphan. Her innocent face and her little hands playing with her grandfather’s beard will bring tears into your eyes.

In Kashmir, we too hear the same cries. If Bagram Air base was for Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib for Iraq, Kashmir had its own ‘Papa 2,’ a notorious torture centre on the outskirts of Srinagar city. Hundreds were tortured in this jail using callous techniques which most of us have read in Basharat Peer’s haunting memoir, Curfewed Night, as well from other sources. I wish Taxi To The Dark Side could have been a film on every torture centre of the world especially Papa 2. It is not. However, I hope someone will do the honors.

The film is the best example of investigative journalism. It brings all the aspects of policies of torture and tries to simplify them for the common audience. However, despite its simplicity, one has to go for further research to know what actually happens at the detention centres and the complication of war crimes and Geneva conventions.
Taxi To The Dark Side is a must watch film, not only for those who think that U.S. uses atrocities on prisoners and who oppose U.S. policies. But it is a must watch film for those who think that we live in a safer world when all the helm of security affairs of world is run by U.S. and its allies including India. After watching the film, they will certainly feel that the country who had promised to fight monsters has itself become a monster and needs to be controlled.

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