Nov 15, 2008

On Snowfalls, Institutionalized Torture, and Dilawar

I rented a disquieting film about the system of torture that evolved in the years since the terrorist attacks of 9-11 entitled Taxi to the Dark Side. The film, in a detached and almost surreal fashion, soberly examines the history of the maltreatment of prisoners designated "enemy combatants" by the U.S. government, and brings to a wider audience first-hand accounts and interrogation video that document the subversion of such cherished American ideals as habeus corpus and the rule of law.

I finished watching the documentary, and even I - a jaded and cynical observer of the world who finds little new in the pantheon of atrocities that human beings commit against each other - even I was shaken. Alex Gibney's film, in an understated and austere manner, gradually builds upon previous scenes with a deceptive sluggishness, like a plodding and disinterested donkey climbing a crooked mountain pass in the desert sun.

Yet the languid pace fits the subject matter, for it has been over seven years since the United States began its descent down the slippery slope of ignoring the Constitution and international law in the treatment of detainees in the so-called War on Terror. For if I am uncomfortable during what actually turned out to be 106 minutes of information on torture, consider how a period of years might feel to a detainee at Guantanamo, denied access to attorneys, due process, and even the right to a trial.

I then looked out the window and saw thick snowflakes falling from the sky, covering up the still-warm ground and covering up the last of the unraked leaves. My mind turned away from the film for a moment, and I thought that composing a quick post about the year's first significant snow accumulation would be an easy 10-minute effort in updating my blog.

Then I thought about Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver killed in 2002 by U.S. interrogators while he was a prisoner at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility in Afghanistan. Dilawar's legs were beaten to the extent that the military coroner described them as "pulpified," and had he lived Dilawar would have needed the amputation of both legs to survive.

Had Dilawar lived, of course.

My dogs needed to go outside, and I took some photos of my canine friends romping in the snow. My mind, however, wandered to disturbing images from the film of unmuzzled guard dogs used as devices of torture, as well as the obvious fact that Dilawar will never again feel snowflakes on his face in his small village of Yakubi at the base of the Hindu Kush mountain range.

I really meant to write more about the snow here in Northwest Ohio, you see, as I am an avid weather enthusiast and the first snow of the year is normally a source of awe and wonderment to me.

Except on days like today, when I learned about the 23-year-old taxi driver named Dilawar.

So you can choose to allow distractions like the new fall of snow to take your mind away from troubling topics like dead Afghan villagers, systemic torture, or the trampling of the U.S. Constitution. Let the cover of fresh snow bury your lingering doubts about the legality and even value of state-sanctioned torture, abuse, and murder, and let it bury those pangs of conscience that bother you for not standing up against injustice.

Hell, I wouldn't blame you: watching films like Taxi to the Dark Side is hard work, and there are images that will terrify you more any horror film you could rent. And recommending this film to a few friends - especially friends who like lighthearted romantic comedies and animated Pixar flicks - why, people are going to think that you are some kind of radical or doom-and-gloomer, or that it is you who has the problems, not the U.S. government.

You might say that life is too short to waste 106 minutes hearing about some dead towel-head, right? Like, sorry about the torture and murder and all, and the wife and baby he left behind, but Dilawar is just an unfortunate casualty of war, right? Besides, there are some excellent college football games on cable this afternoon, plus the NFL tomorrow, and who likes to be weighed down with all that guilt?

Or instead you can drive to the video store, rent this film, and force yourself to do the difficult work of being an informed citizen. Of course, you will not walk away from the film with a warm and content feeling like you would by going to see a new release animated comedy like Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and the faces and voices of torture victims are always unpleasant to experience.

On second thought, do not rent this film tonight. Shit like Taxi to the Dark Side is probably just a bunch of anti-American propaganda, undoubtedly financed by Islamist extremists, and I'll bet we could find a way to link Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi to this plot if we connected enough dots. No, friend: grab a beer and watch the snow, and be comforted knowing that all this torture shit is far, far away from your Barcalounger.


Mad Jack said...

I'm sorry to learn about Dilwar, but I'm glad you wrote the piece. The problem is not confined to Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay. Check this out:

Prosecutors widen Chicago police torture probe

CHICAGO (AP) — The investigation of decades-old claims that Chicago police tortured suspects with beatings, electric shocks and games of Russian roulette won't stop with last week's federal indictment of a controversial homicide commander.

It seems that the torture officially started in 1982. In 2003 four men are released from death row. By 2006 an independent study concludes that torture was systemic, but that the perpetrators couldn't be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations. In October of 2008 Burge is arrested at his home in Florida. Here's the link:,burge-torture-timeline-102108.article

This case has been ongoing for 26 years. If the United States government refuses to keep its own house clean, what else can we expect from our military when they are in a foreign country?

microdot said...

Of course I have a lot to say about this subject, but, to put it into perspective...How many "nice" people do you know that if you were to bring up the moral issues raised in this film would fervently state that we need to be able to use torture to protect ourselves?

There are a lot of little lines you have to cross when ever you compromise your ideals and morality, but fear makes it a little too easy.

Mad Jack said...

Microdot: The nice people I know don't believe in using torture. The not so nice people I know don't believe in using torture either - although, to give credit where it's due, the reasoning includes the fact that torture doesn't work. The two people I know that might use torture tend to be sociopaths. I wouldn't be surprised if one was a serial killer, and I know the other has all the empathy of a chain saw.

So no. No torture.

microdot said...

whoa, that some heavy stuff there...i wouldn't click on any of those links if I were you!

Madjack...of course I was being sarcastic when I said nice people...
but in reality, I know too many people who when asked if the use of torture was okay, would slap you down with righteous anger just because you dared to suggest that perhaps it was morraly unjustified.

These people all think they are nice moral christians, but in reality they are damaged goods...
frightened angry chicken shits.

I'm reading a great book now about personal morality and having the stregnth to stand up for your beliefs when push comes to shove.

Strange Defeat by the French Historian, Marc Bloch.
It was written after the German Occupation of France while Marc was an active member of the Resistance.
It was published posthomously after his torture and execution by the Germans when his group was informed on by fellow French Citizens.

Very interesting because it touches on the attitudes of a society living in fear and the breakdown of moral standards and ideals.

I'm finding a lot of parellels.

historymike said...

Spammer duly deleted.

Mad Jack said...

I know too many people who when asked if the use of torture was okay, would slap you down with righteous anger...

Whereupon I would respond by turning the other cheek, and if that didn't work I'd resort to the old tried and true hay maker to snot locker closely followed by size nine applied between the wind and the water.

Seriously though, I know what you mean. When pressed, these are the same folks that offer they do it to our soldiers... as justification. I'm always reminded of two young boys and the ubiquitous He started it!.

I'll see about picking up a copy of Strange Defeat. I know three people, two men and a woman, who were a part of the French resistance. One was with the OSS and operated behind enemy lines, organizing, gathering intelligence and killing the enemy. The other two were from Belgium and were given US citizenship as a reward for their efforts in WWII. At one point the man had to cross the Alps to escape the Germans. After the first day, his shoes fell apart and he had to hike three days barefoot. He told me it was the hardest thing he ever did.

From what I've read about WWII, I'm not certain that some of the Nazis were entirely human. How a human being could do some of these things is beyond me.