I showed the second half of Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), director Alex Gibney’s Academy Award-winning documentary on U.S. torture policies and practices from Guantanamo to Afghanistan to Iraq, to a classroom of sociology students last night. The film follows the case of Dilawar, an innocent cab driver from Yakubi, Afghanistan, who was tortured to death by American soldiers while detained at Bagram Air Base near Kabul in 2002.
Forewarning students about a film’s possibly offensive content and informing them it is all right to leave if they are offended is standard operating procedure for me anywhere and is perhaps especially important in Afghanistan, where the dominant norms are conservative compared to Western ones. Footage of forced male nudity, a tactic designed to humiliate detainees, was my primary concern and the only female student in the class was headed for exit abut 10 minutes into the film. I wondered whether the nudity offended or whether she left to escape the judgment of the male students had she stayed.
While setting up my laptop and projector for the second part, I asked my students for their initial reaction to the first installment. Silence. By this point in the film, Dilawar’s cause of death had been ruled a homicide by the physician who signed the U.S military’s death certificate.
“Who do you believe should be held responsible for Dilawar’s death?” More silence. “I am not talking to hear myself. I asked you a question. Who do you believe should be held responsible for his death?” The quiet melted. The soldiers who beat him, said one student. The people who gave them their orders, a second said. All of them, another added. “Can you elaborate?’
The news that day carried reports that more than 100 civilians, including as many as 20 children, had been killed earlier in the week as a result of U.S. airstrikes at suspected Taliban in Farah province, western Afghanistan. Hundreds of people protested in the town of Farah on Thursday. “Witnesses said the crowd chanted ‘death to America, death to the invaders’, and demanded US forces leave Afghanistan,” reported BBC News.
“How does this make you feel about the prospect of Pres. Obama sending another 21,000 U.S. troops here?” I asked.