Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Less than human?

If you are interested in the tortured reasoning (as it were) used to justify the use of torture by American forces upon detainees in the so-called “war on terror,” see Alex Gibney’s Academy Award-winning Taxi to the Darkside.

Focusing on the story of an innocent taxi driver who was tortured to death at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, the film is a sober and searing indictment of the Administration’s policies of prisoner abuse and brutal torture, created by Dick Cheney and friends and supported in bizarre legalistic arguments by true believers like government lawyers John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales.

Interviews with low-ranking soldiers who were prosecuted, in lieu of their commanders, for abusing prisoners, illuminate the exigencies of the military chain of command. Soldiers are told that the detainees are less than human and "no better than dogs," and chastised if they aren't rough enough.

A highlight of the film: former death’s head Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's scribbled note, “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?” on a memo in which he approved interrogation techniques at Guantanamo such as forcing prisoners to stand for hours, stripping them nude and threatening them with dogs. That's right; Rumsfeld's standing up at his polished wood desk in his comfortable Pentagon office was about the same as the conditions under which these prisoners are forced to live.

It's well known that meaningful intelligence — whatever that might mean in this fictional war — is not gained by torturing captives, but through humane means that earn confidence. But the objective of "harsh interrogation methods" — torture — isn't information, it's subjugation.

The Discovery Channel was originally set to broadcast Taxi to the Darkside but changed its plans when it realized the film's controversial subject matter might threaten its upcoming public offering. HBO has decided to air it, so if it’s not showing in your town, check the HBO schedule.

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