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Spending Time in the Shadows

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Taxi to the Dark Side, directed by Alex Gibney (who previously created Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), is an uninhibited look at the policy of torture that America has created in the “war on terror.” The graphic elements and order in which the torture policy is explained is sharp-witted so much that you feel that Gibney is carrying out his own form of torture on you by making you uncontrollably angry at an administration that has been allowed to terrorize the world for the past five to six years. 

Stop and think a minute though---That's how we all should feel.  

The film opens with the story of an innocent taxi driver who was the victim of a homicide committed by interrogators. He then introduces this policy of going to “the dark side” that has been the publicized motive for creating such camps as Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib in the “war on terror.”

As Dick Cheney put it in an interview with Tim Russert, the Bush administration felt that it would have to work in “the dark side, if you will." Cheney went on to say, "We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”

Continuing, Dick Cheney described the “need to be able to penetrate these organizations.” He said, “You need to have on the payroll some very unsavory characters if, in fact, you're going to be able to learn all that needs to be learned in order to forestall these kinds of activities. It is a mean, nasty, dangerous dirty business out there, and we have to operate in that arena. I'm convinced we can do it; we can do it successfully. But we need to make certain that we have not tied the hands, if you will, of our intelligence communities in terms of accomplishing their mission.”

Those unsavory characters on the payroll were to be people like John Yoo, Brigadier General Jay Hood, Sgt. Ken Davis, and others who would conduct and advise on operations to be conducted in the shadow world the Bush administration would be entering.

Tim Russert followed that answer with a rhetorical question saying, “These terrorists play by a whole set of different rules. It's going to force us, in your words, to get mean, dirty and nasty in order to take them on, right?” Russert’s rhetorical question and refusal to openly condemn the torture policy America was about to carry out instantly made him a conspirator in the “war on terror,” which has essentially been a war consisting of shock treatment that has been carried out on our perceived enemies who are created by the U.S. to make it seem like Americans are in danger. Enemies, if existent, can only be the result of blowback from CIA operations or clandestine actions taken years ago by the U.S. government.

Naomi Klein with the release of her book The Shock Doctrine provided the public the origin of this “venturing into the shadows”-policy that those who govern and rule in America have become accustomed to using.

In Argentina in 1976, a junta seized power from Isabel Peron. Now, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina were all being run by U.S.-backed military governments and would be “laboratories” of the kind of shock economics being used by Friedman and the Chicago School at the time. 

The military government in power operated with a policy of disappearing people and capturing those who they deemed a threat to their rule. Captured people were taken to one of the hundreds of torture camps Argentina had constructed to send a message that opposition to the military-backed government would not be tolerated. To ensure that the people in Argentina would get the message, these camps were run in athletic clubs, schoolhouses, and in hospitals. The thin walls of these camps made it impossible for residents to not hear people screaming in terror during the torture they were experiencing.

Intelligence agencies in Argentina located “subversives” to round up through a computer system that was state-of-the art and that was also provided by the U.S. government. This allowed Argentina to conduct cross-border kidnappings in Latin America and torture. This computer system essentially helped create the basis for what America now uses in its rendition network of “terrorists” in the world today. 

Around the time the government was conducting torture, the U.S. was training military officers in the region in interrogation techniques. The officers attended “torture classes.” “Practical demonstrations” were carried out with “beggars off the streets” who were test subjects for the kinds of practices the officers would later perform on residents of Argentina deemed to be “subversive.”

The classes led to a wide practice of early morning arrests, hooding, intense isolation, drugging, forced nudity, electroschock, etc. Floodlights would be kept on for 24 hours every day. Meals would be given to prisoners out of sequence. Blankets were put over prisoners’ heads causing sensory deprivation. 

Those carrying out torture specifically designed techniques that were “tailored to each individual’s psychological profile---a method now used at Guantanamo Bay.”

The shock treatments that went on at McGill University in the 1950s, which were later employed by the CIA, became a key component of interrogation techniques in Latin America too and later went on to be used by interrogators in Bagram Air Force Base, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and other secret prisons all over the world. 

Naomi Klein’s coverage of shock treatments and torture in Latin America does not make it into Gibney’s film.  A connection to the Nazis in Germany or a look at the Nuremberg trials where torture and later on waterboarding were on trial fail to be mentioned either. However, the film does offer one of the best looks at what happens when wartime powers are allowed to expand to the point where the executive is undermining the principles that the United States was founded on.

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Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure." He was an editor for
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