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.