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Defining the "Dark Side"

From Tim Crain, Alpine, UT:

I haven't seen the film "Taxi to the Dark Side", but I take issue with CPT Bruce's illogical attack on it.

Your response seems like a suggestion that "none of these things matter, because a majority of what we are doing over there is not like that", and then you "argue" (using that oh so common, and oh so unevenly applied, and oh so facile and fallacious "argument") that "you can't have an opinion unless you've been there." (Or perhaps, judging by your condescending “pitying the terrorist” comment, you're suggesting that none of these things matter because they're being done to the "bad guys" -- an utterly terrifying and amoral suggestion.)

Well, I'll suggest that you're wrong, and that the things the films presents are of the utmost importance.

Here's the thing - I don't think Ebert or the film ever suggests that every single interrogation (or even a majority of them) that Americans have participated in in Iraq/Afghanistan/Cuba has involved tactics like those depicted in the film. But the fact that it was allowed to happen at all, and that so few have been held accountable, is rather frightening. Even if 99.9% of our interrogations are legal, even if 99.9% involve no harm to those being interrogated -- the fact is that the tortures at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo (and other places) did happen and they should be condemned (and yes -- we can say that -- in spite of the fact that we haven't been there. And would you have any trouble condemning the use of child soldiers in Sudan, or the massacres in Burma, or one of the hundreds of other human rights atrocities happening in the world, even without "being there?") The fact that these tortures have occurred in more than one place and at more than one time is unjustifiable.

And you reveal your biases when you accuse Ebert of "pitying the terrorists." First of all, it's fairly clear that not everyone that has been tortured by the military is a terrorist -- the taxi driver whose murder is described in the film was not a terrorist. And yet he was killed in the process of "interrogation." And if most of those in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and so on, are terrorists, nothing justifies many of the things that we have done to them. I'm a big believer in moral complexity, but there are some things that are clearly wrong -- and the things depicted in the Abu Ghraib photos, and the murder by American troops of an innocent man (and so on) are clearly wrong. (And you might say that many innocents have died as a result of the terrorists, and that's true, but then you have to be reminded, once again, that at least one (and very likely a fair amount more than one) of the persons tortured was not a terrorist. And that if even a vast majority were terrorists, this sort of behavior is never justifiable -- we're Americans, and not terrorists.)

Once again, I have not seen the film, but I'm fairly confident that the film never suggests that there is nothing good occurring in Iraq or Afghanistan, or that all the soldiers are guilty of torture -- that would be absurd. I'm also willing to bet that the filmmakers (and Ebert) would agree with several of your other points. That most interrogations in the army do not involve the tactics shown in the film, and are in fact fully lawful. And that a vast majority of soldiers and interrogators are deserving of respect. What you don't seem to understand is that you can believe those things, even as you also believe that the existence of situations like those depicted in the film is a sign that there is something seriously wrong.

So yes, CPT Bruce, I do pity those who were tortured (including those who happened to be terrorists) -- and if you think that makes me some sort of liberal hippie, so be it. I personally just think it makes me a member of the human race.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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