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Abuse of Authority

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In December 2002, an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar was arrested by a paid informant and turned over to the American Army. Dilawar was transported to Bagram prison where he was held for five days until he was killed by prison guards using the extreme interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration in the aftermath of 9/11. Dilawar was never assigned an attorney, never charged with a crime. But the American Army was told he was the getaway driver after a rocket attack on an American base. His guards were instructed to soften Dilawar up so that he would give information about his terrorist connections. American soldiers deprived him of sleep, hung him from the ceiling by his wrists in the cage where he was held and kicked him in his thighs and calves until his legs were 'pulpified." His legs were so badly damaged they would have had to have been amputated had he lived. Dilawar's death certificate ruled him a homicide victim, but an official Army report stated that he died of 'natural causes." Dilawar's treatment was unacceptable even if had he been guilty of something. But he was innocent. The rockets were launched by the man who turned him in.

Delawar's story is told in writer/director Alex Gibney's searing documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, an unblinking look at the appalling, nay criminal, policies that Vice President Dick Cheney advocated, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld implemented and President George W. Bush approved and has publicly defended. It's the story of how the Bush administration contemptuously jettisoned the principles on which this great republic was founded.

Most Americans have heard of the human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and of the controversial detention center at Guantanamo, Cuba. But the officially sanctioned torture of men detained in the War on Terror began at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan, and Dilawar was among the first tragic victims.

Many Americans were so outraged after 9/11 that they lusted for revenge. An associate of mine swore that we should go after the perpetrators with overwhelming force and not concern ourselves with 'collateral damage," an Orwellian euphemism for the innocents who die in the process. Leaders in the Bush administration obviously agree.

Shows like 24 regularly promote the successful use of torture on our enemies, and Taxi to the Dark Side wonders if such fictional representations have deadened our sensibilities. But, in fact, most authorities on the interrogation of prisoners believe that torture seldom works because the prisoner eventually tells the torturer whatever he thinks the torturer wants to hear. That fact doesn't even address the too frequent examples that have emerged from Abu Ghraib and elsewhere where the torture victim wasn't a terrorist and had nothing to reveal.

In addition to things our soldiers did to Dilawar, here are some of the other things we did in the name of protecting America. We hooded, ear-muffed and blindfolded men and kept them in isolation cells in order to deprive them of all sensory perception, a practice that scientists have proven causes complete mental collapse. We stripped men naked and forced them to wear panties on their heads and to masturbate in front of female soldiers and fellow inmates. We forced them to commit homosexual acts with each other. We used IV drips to force fluids into men until they urinated on themselves. We bound them into 'stress positions" where they were in pain and could not move to relieve it. We waterboarded them. We beat them and kicked them. We let dogs attack them. We shocked them in their genitals with electric current. And we murdered them " Dilawar and others at Bagram. At Abu Ghraib, 107 died, and the self-protective Army admits that 37 were homicides. To avoid the implications of these atrocities, President Bush declared that these men did not deserve the rights established under the Geneva Conventions. And to protect himself and those in his administration from future prosecution as war criminals, the president secured pre-pardon legislation from Congress.

In a concluding voiceover, Gibney summarizes one of his own reactions to this horror, and I will let it speak for mine: 'American values are premised on the notion of human dignity and the sanctity of the individual. To allow cruelty to be applied as a matter of official policy is to say that our forefathers were wrong about the founding principles of inalienable human rights." Yet, some among us still wonder why Americans are hated elsewhere in the world.

American soldiers take prisoners in Alex Gibney's Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side. - 2007 THINK FILM
  • 2007 THINK Film
  • American soldiers take prisoners in Alex Gibney's Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side.

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