A Trip to Hell: Taxi to the Dark Side

A new documentary about prisoner abuse premiered at the New York Film Tribeca Film Festival. It’s narrative centers around the death of a Taxi driver who simply took a wrong turn. A wrong turn that cost him his freedom and eventually his life at the hands of American jailers.

Andrew Sullivian described his reaction with,

Longtime readers of this blog know all too well many of the details – but this film does what a parasitic blog cannot, and what even all the innovative reporting on the subject has not yet been able to do. It puts it all together. It represents a moment in this war when we can actually stop and look back from rising ground, and see how far we have come from the civilized norms of warfare that the United States represented in the last century.

Tom Tomorrow from Huffington Post reacted similarly,

I have to be honest, it’s not the easiest thing to sit through. The film, which primarily focuses on abuses at Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, contains footage of the Bagram base that’s never been seen anywhere else, as well as the shockingly familiar images from Abu Ghraib, uncensored and high res. The filmmaker, who attended last night’s screening at Yale, described it beforehand as a sort of murder mystery, using as its springboard the story of Dilawar, the young taxi driver who was apprehended by Afghan militia and turned over to the U.S. military at Bagram, where he was, in fact, eventually murdered. And that’s not hyperbole — the official coroner’s report lists the cause of death as “homicide.” (The film notes that out of more than 100 deaths in U.S. custody, 37 have been officially declared homicides by the U.S. military itself. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that only seven percent of Guantanamo detainees were actually apprehend by the U.S. military — the rest have been turned over by Afghan warlords, Pakistanis, bounty hunters, etc., any of whom may have had agendas having nothing to do with the American war on terror. Dilawar’s captor, for instance, turns out have been the person actually responsible for the rocket attacks of which the taxi driver was wrongly accused).

Speigel Online (German) holds out the hope that Taxi to the Darkside, produced and directed by Oscar nominated Alex Gibney, might bring some light into the shadows thrown by the torture scandals created by the Bush presidency. That the documentary might bring new life into the discussion of American use of torture in a world after everything changed.

I hold no such hope.

To show what I am talking about I’d like to follow the story back; not to it’s start in the dusty villages and roads of Afghanistan but to where it should have started; to the pages of the New York Times. When the story should have entered the American consciousness, those halcyon days back in 2005,

The story of Mr. Dilawar’s brutal death at the Bagram Collection Point – and that of another detainee, Habibullah, who died there six days earlier in December 2002 – emerge from a nearly 2,000-page confidential file of the Army’s criminal investigation into the case, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.

Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths.

In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.
[…]
“What we have learned through the course of all these investigations is that there were people who clearly violated anyone’s standard for humane treatment,” said the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Larry Di Rita. “We’re finding some cases that were not close calls.”

This story ran over two years ago. It made a brief blip on the radar of American consciousness only to disappear like Dilawar did. Largely forgotten. Unremembered like a bad dream.

This movie will do little to change how an America thinks; an America that (rightly) mourns 32 fallen University students but ignores the 120 Iraqis who die the same day. An America that doesn’t mourn the Iraqi deaths passing through the headlines and scrolling subtitles day after day after day; mourn the Afghan deaths that don’t even make it that far.

There is little chance that policies supported by people like Alberto Gonzales, someone who plays a role in the documentary, are will be condemned unless it effects Americans; Americans like US attorneys, who are, I might add, still among the living. Then it becomes scandal.

And Taxi to the Dark Side? Go ahead, watch the preview for yourself.

It will be a shame that this documentary will be seen as just one more attempt by a liberal media to ‘influence’ the public. It will attract those who already know there is a problem with America. Those interested in upholding American principles, American honor; American honesty. It will be ignored by the very people who need – no – must see it and must be shown the path down which America has been taken.

It looks to be a powerful film. I urge you to at least blog the title, at least link to a review. At least get the ‘Google Factor’ up. Even if the film isn’t widely spread, it’s message needs to get out.

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