I don’t have the stomach to watch it, myself, but I am going to write about it anyway. Alex Gibney’s Taxi To The Dark Side is about torture in the war on terror.
The free bus paper, the Metro, had a powerful interview with the filmmaker. The full content doesn’t appear in the online version of the review.
Which is a pity, because the director made some very strong points. He said that most of the military whom he interviewed were horrified by the descent into torture. This included an interview with his own dying father who had been a naval interrogator in World war II. His father had said that they would never have condoned torture. Not only was it utterly unethical, the information that it produced would be of no value.
However, when the director showed the film to non-military audiences, he often got the response that the war on terror was different and meant that we had to go to “the dark side” to fight it. The film maker’s response was that Charles Manson had also been uniquely evil, but the USA hadn’t needed to dismantle its entire justice system to convict him.
I am going to pick up on two bits of this interview.
First, Gibney’s brilliant response to the popular idea that there is such a serious threat now that we have to drop human values to confront it. In the UK, Gordon Brown and others seem determined to use the argument that the old rules don’t apply not to justify torture – yet – but to gather support for daily more repressive laws. Brown explicitly said that the old war-on-terror was nothing like the new one. (He pretty well iimplied that the old one was almost cosy homegrown friendly disagreement.)
Just in case, anyone is convinced by this argument. The BBC’s On this Day has a handy Northern Ireland “bombings and shootings timeline.” This shows, for example, that by 1978, 1,000 people had died. That’s barely 7 years from the first event.
Cast your eye down the list. There were attacks on Parliament, on the Tory party conference, on two prime ministers, ambassadors, members of the royal family and so on. You would think that targeted attacks on the members of the establishment would have achieved total repression, if nothing would. And that was quite apart from all the thousands of normal humans who were killed and injured in pub bombings and shopping centre bombings, and so on.
Obviously, that was different. (There were no Americans killed, for a start.) Now, I think the Charles Manson point is unarguable. If the UK didn’t fall to pieces under that terrorist threat, why is it hellbent on doing so now?
Secondly, Gibney’s observation that it was usually people with no experience of the reality of war who are calling for the most horrific measures. This brings up a point that Grumpy Lion blogged about a couple of months ago – the biggest verbal “hawks” tend to be those people who have no idea what they are actually calling upon their troops to do. People, driven mad by fear, somehow lack the imagination see what sorts of actions they are endorsing. Some of the poor buggers who have to carry out these evil actions will themselves be scarred for life, quite apart from the unspeakable effects on their victims.
Sorry for a depressing blog. One of my own armchair warrior faults is that torture enrages me beyond measure. There is never a justification for it. People who condone it are well nigh as guilty as those who carry it out in their name. And there can be no truer sign of descent to “the dark side” than to come to treat it as just another option.