Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Alex Gibney, Director's Statement, Taxi to the Dark Side

“Man torturing man is a fiend beyond description. You turn a corner in the dark and there he is. You congeal into a bundle of inanimate fear. You become the very soul of anesthesia. But there is no escaping him. It is your turn now… “ - Henry Miller

Only six weeks before he died last year, my father, a journalist and author named Frank Gibney, asked me to get my video camera. He wanted me to unhook him from the oxygen machine so that he could speak to me about the film that I was trying to make about torture and the war on terror. My father had been a Naval interrogator in World War II. He questioned Japanese prisoners on Okinawa, one of the bloodiest battles of the war and had risked his life trying to persuade some of those soldiers to leave the caves from which they were launching futile last-ditch suicide missions. (Years later, bathed in the rippling neon lights of downtown Tokyo, he would introduce me to some of those former prisoners over bottles of sake in a neighborhood sushi bar.)

But on this day in Santa Barbara, overlooking the ocean on which he had sailed into battle 60 years earlier, my father was very angry at the ongoing revelations of how, in the so-called “Global War on Terror (GWOT)” American soldiers had tortured prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo and in various secret sites around the world. His fury was directed at some of the top officials in the Bush Administration - George W. Bush himself, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld (whom he knew slightly) and Alberto Gonzales – who had invented and rationalized a new policy of “coercive interrogation techniques” as the only way to combat a unique, new terrorist threat from enemies brutal enough to turn commercial airliners into suicide planes.

But my father had been there before. In the waning days of the Pacific War, the Japanese had shown us the “kamikaze” – literally “wind of God” – a wave of pilots who, like the Islamic terrorists many years later, turned their airplanes into suicide bombs. Yet, in interrogating these supposedly fanatical Japanese
prisoners, my father and his fellow interrogators – all of whom had extensive language training, unlike most of the interrogators in the GWOT – discovered that most of the prisoners were not so different from their interrogators. They had wives, children and dreams of a better future for themselves and their families.

More important to the military mission, they were rather free with information and provided important intelligence once they had established a rapport with their interrogators. It never occurred to my father to ask for permission to employ some of the brutal techniques that the Japanese had used against our soldiers.

“Why,” I asked. “Well,” he said, “because we didn’t need to and because we thought our principles gave us a strength that our enemy didn’t have.” He was furious at the Bush Administration because he felt that, in condoning techniques like water-boarding that had once been employed by the Spanish Inquisition, they had sacrificed the very principles we were supposed to be defending. The rule of law, he told me, is what we thought we were fighting for. “It’s what made us different,” he said. He despaired that, to wage a war on terror, we were taking on the values of the terrorists. “It’s got to stop,” he said.

This film is dedicated to my father – his righteous anger and his sense of possibility. Through him, I discovered that the issue of “torture” is not really about interrogation techniques. It is about a pandemic of corruption that ensues when the rule of law is weakened. He taught me that torture is like a virulent virus –
spreading, mutating, building resistance to attempts to stop it – that infects everything in its path. It haunts the psyche of the soldier who administers it; it corrupts the officials who look the other way; it discredits the information obtained from it; it weakens the evidence in a search for justice, and it strengthens a despotic strain that takes hold in men and women who run hot with a peculiar patriotic fever: believing that, because they are “pure of heart,” they are entitled to be above the law.

- Alex Gibney, filmmaker

Press kit
[Trailer on YouTube]

Blog reviews:
The Cylinder
Why Democracy?

Recommend this Post

Sphere: Related Content