Spent yesterday evening watching the film, Taxi to the Dark Side.The central story of TttDS is an affecting one of the entirely innocent Diwar, a rural taxi driver who was tortured to death in US Army custody. That story ought to be far more widely known, if only as a cautionary tale.

At the end of Taxi to the Dark Side you are left in no doubt as to why this film won an Oscar for best Documentary. It is pretty grim watching. Minute after minute of an unrelenting view of a civilisation’s moral quagmire. Most movies, however serious, have a moment, however fleeting,when the audience can release its tension. It may be a moment of unexpected hilarity. With Taxi to the Dark Side, the moment came when it was over and Moazzam Begg (Briton and innocent ex-Guantanamo victim who was featured in the film) and Ahmed Ghappour (solicitor with Reprieve) were having a post-film chat with the audience.

 

Someone asked Moazzam if he ‘made up anything’ under the pain of torture.

‘Yes,’ he confessed.

This was before Guantanamo, in Bhagram. He was undergoing torture, a woman was screaming next door, and they showed him a picture of his wife, and told him that she was being tortured next door. So he decided to tell them whatever they wanted to hear – but he didn’t want to bring any innocents into his hell. What to do?

He invented a terrorist plot in Yemen: a bomb was due to go off, and a suicide donkey was going to set it off. It was to be strapped with explosives and had been trained to walk into a public place… Don’t know what the ‘interrogators’ made of this intelligence. And I’m afraid I cannot confirm that no donkeys were harmed in the aftermath of that confession.

In retrospect, that was not such a ‘comic’ moment after all. For me, the stand-out moment of the film was where the US’ most prized prisoner ‘revealed’ under torture that Saddam Hussein was an ally and collaborator of Osama Bin Laden. His torturers ended the session immediately to rush the intelligence up their chain of command.

Cut to Secretary of State, Colin Powell, deploying this intelligence ‘gathered from a prisoner’ on the floor of the United Nations as evidence on the basis of which to invade Iraq. The so-called confession was subsequently established to be a desperate invention, like Moazzam’s donkey. The documentary latter quotes Powell as identifying that UN moment as the most shameful page of his life.

Quick memo to torturers who will not be watching Taxi to the Dark Side. You will get intelligence. It will not be intelligent

There is a ‘positive’ to take away from the tragedy: one questioner wanted to know what kept Moazzam going, why he did not kill himself like almost a dozen others have done. His answer in part was the ‘good’ guards that he met. And there you have it: the villians of the Abu Ghraib, Bhagram and Guantanamo pieces were the guards. The heroes were also those guards who, resisting the manipulations of their perfidious chain of command, managed to respond to a personal moral compass. Now, if only more leaders had working compasses. Cue somebody?

It is sobering that for all his good guy image, Collin Powell presided over some of those days of shame. It is sobering that for all their racial history in the US, there were black faces in the guards that lent their knees to the killing of the poor taxi driver and others. And although he has started well in ordering the closure of Guantanamo – which has become the US’ most graphic symbol of moral decadence – it is also instructive that under Obama, according to Ahmed Ghappour, reports of torture in Guantanamo appears to have increased rather than reduced.

Time for all of us to hail a taxi to the right side.

Chuma.

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