A look at tightrope walker Philippe Petit's daring, but illegal, high-wire routine performed between New York City's World Trade Center's twin towers in 1974, what some consider, "the artistic crime of the century."
Jean François Heckel,
Using the torture and death in 2002 of an innocent Afghan taxi driver as the touchstone, this film examines changes after 9/11 in U.S. policy toward suspects in the war on terror. Soldiers, their attorneys, one released detainee, U.S. Attorney John Yoo, news footage and photos tell a story of abuse at Bagram Air Base, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay. From Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Gonzalez came unwritten orders to use any means necessary. The CIA and soldiers with little training used sleep deprivation, sexual assault, stress positions, waterboarding, dogs and other terror tactics to seek information from detainees. Many speakers lament the loss of American ideals in pursuit of security. Written by
Pointing out serious problems does not make this film Anti-American
There is something you need to know about this film: it is not about real insurgents or terrorists or about real soldiers, and it is certainly not an anti-American film.
It is about how senior military and civilian officials demand results from their subordinates, even if the results are to be obtained by unconscionable, immoral, and illegal means, up to, and including, torture and murder. The fact that many of these results - what the military like to call "the mission" - are faked or just wrong is of no particular concern to them. Naturally, you'll never find a document signed by any of those officials advocating torture and murder. The most you'll ever find is a reference to "enhanced interrogation techniques" (i.e., torture). And if a detainee dies, the senior officers and officials always benefit from "plausible deniability" and claim that it must be the fault of junior "bad apple" troops. If terrorists are murderers, some of our own troops have certainly engaged in murder, too. To reveal this is not anti-American; it's just a simple fact. Because the troops often do it in a group they think they're not murderers. Just as, I imagine, someone who participates in gang rape does not consider himself, individually, to be a rapist.
While most Military Police (MP) troops are fighting hard on the ground every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, one group of troops which this film examines are those Military Police who are used as prison guards. The other troops examined in the film are some military intelligence ("MI") troops employed as interrogators in prison camps.
If you don't know already, Military Police are usually despised by their own troops. If you give a soldier special power over his fellow soldiers he will often abuse it. I still recall an Australian friend of mine mentioning that many of the Aussie "Red Hats" (MPs) who sailed for home after WWII never made it back; their fellow troops threw them overboard.
The old saw about military intelligence being a contradiction in terms is never more apparent than in the case of interrogators. When you hear the word intelligence here you must forget all about spies, codes, and the stuff of James Bond novels. The interrogators of MI are an example of soldiers who are ill prepared, in general, to carry out work that would normally take years to master. They are mostly low-ranking enlisted men and women, privates and sergeants, almost none of whom speak with any proficiency the language of the detainees they're interrogating.
So, imagine the scenario: senior officials demanding intelligence, no matter how it's obtained; unqualified interrogators using whatever means they can think of to satisfy their superiors' demands; and MP prison guards who have the power of life and death over their detainees, with almost no restrictions on what they can do to them. Behind all this is the unwritten understanding that if something goes wrong, the troops will probably not be prosecuted. God help the innocent person swept up into this sadistic, bureaucratic system. But as we all know, if you've been arrested, you must be guilty. Right?
The elephant in the closet in all this is the Central Intelligence Agency, an organization that regards itself as above law, morality, and civilized behavior. It gets away with much of what it does by having the military, foreigners, and contractors to do its dirty work for it. And when somebody has to take a fall, well, that's what privates and sergeants are for. If your kids are MPs, interrogators, or just in the military, advise them always to watch their backs around those people.
This may be a disturbing film for civilians, but it won't include many surprises if you've served in the armed forces, or on a police force, or in a prison. Those are the people who know about this, but they're not about to tell you. No wander the USA has pulled out of the War Crimes Treaty. But what officials do not want to admit, even to themselves, is that war crimes are war crimes, no matter if you're a treaty signatory or not.
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