Dilawar’s Thigh: Deep Inside the Dark Side

By Donald Gutierrez

In the documentary film Taxi to the Dark Side, the audience beholds an American soldier well over 200 pounds time after time savagely kneeing the thigh of a small adult Afghan male named Dilawar. The kneeing assault had occurred off and on for five days. Dilawar, his arms strung to an overhead beam by handcuffs, was totally vulnerable. He died the next day, officially listed as a homicide, his death ascribed to a blood clot in his brain that apparently resulted from the continuous battering of his femoral artery.

Dilawar’s fate embodied extreme punishment preceding judgment, an act all too typical in the justice accorded Arab and Muslim terrorist suspects. According to Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, (who appears in Taxi), of 98 deaths in detention, 25 were homicides. As it turned out, Dilawar was later declared innocent of the charge that he had been involved in a rocket attack on an American air base. But it was too late — he had been gradually beaten towards death over a period of five days. The several low-level soldiers immediately involved in Diliwar’s brutalization either received bad discharges, prison sentences or other punishments.

What was obvious in the film is that these American soldiers are themselves victims of a policy and climate of extreme mistreatment of detainees going up the ranks to, and emanating from, generals and ultimately from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney, legally backed by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Virtually all of these higher-ups, generals like Geoffrey D. Miller (the “Gitmoizer” of Abu Ghraib) and Ricardo S. Sanchez, got off scot-free. So of course did Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush. Rumsfeld was finally removed from office, but not for imposing a regime of detainee torture. As for Cheney, he of course remains in office, doing his utmost to prevent light illuminating what his and Rumsfeld’s directions have been perpetrating inside the darkness: Dilawar’s thighs being so pulverized by heavy knee slam after knee slam, that, according to a medical evaluator, had Dilawar lived, amputation of both legs would have been necessary.

But what kind of treatment should a detainee suspect of “high interest” receive, someone like Ibn Sheik al-Libi, said to be head of an al-Qaeda training camp? As one FBI agent put it (according to Alfred W. McCoy’s A Question of Torture), they didn’t beat the truth out of him but what they wanted to hear. The crucial consideration that the false information tortured out of al-Libi was used by Secretary of State Colin Powell to formally justify starting the war harbored a felonious dishonesty that should have exposed not only Powell but the top Bush administrators to impeachment if not legal indictment.

Beneath the vast horror of the war against Iraq and the radical evil of the Bush administration in starting it resides the dreadful image of a powerful American-military knee slamming into a man’s totally vulnerable thigh, the screams this and other forms of beating wrenched from Dilawar, and, as the movie narrates, the sadistic, crazed fury of the military guards continuing to beat Dilawar to silence his screams. I focus on Dilawar because particularizing his atrocious plight might aid in particularizing and dramatizing the plight of thousands like him in American detention globally. There are many thousands of Middle and Far East people in American military incarceration, and, according to reliable authorities, most of them are innocent. Nevertheless, those caught adjacent to the violent death of American soldiers, even if innocent, are likely to become convenient targets either of savage American military vindictiveness and retaliation or of local warlords selling captive “terrorists” to American authorities. And the result of such vindictiveness and greed, as a Marine Sergeant A. at Forwarding Base Mercury said in 2005, is that “... half of these guys get released because they didn’t do nothing. ... But if he’s a good guy ... now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him,” The New York Review of Books, (11/3/05), a “treatment,” according to this whistleblower Sergeant, resulting in detainee broken bones from baseball bats wielded by FBM Marines. The unconscious implication of this attitude of course is that turning “good guys” into “bad guys” through extreme abuse turns the abusers into “bad guys” and the civilian authorities at the top into super “bad guys.”

Meanwhile, many innocent Iraqis, Afghans and others languish in Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo, Diego-Garcia’s “Camp Justice” and elsewhere in undisclosed locations in the hands of black-masked Elite Forces and contract agents. All too many of the thousands of detainees, either being knee-whacked, chained naked and handcuffed for hours to floors or window-bars above their head or caged like animals, are also being psychologically tortured. Indeed, detainees claim that psychological torture is worse than physical torture. According to the lawyer Clive Stafford Smith cited in Jane Mayer’s April 30, 2007, New Yorker article “The Black Sites,” his detainee/client, Binyam Mohamed, said that speakers “blared music into his cell while he was handcuffed...”, which included “ear-splitting rap anthems.” Mohamed found this incessant horrible noise more intolerable than, according to Stephen Gray’s Ghost Plane: The CIA Torture Program, experiencing several ordeals of razor cuts to his penis when later held in a Moroccan detention center.. Psychological torture has driven some detainees insane, as it can most people, and sometimes within 48 hours, which would explain why, again, according to Mohamed and other witnesses, some detainees have endlessly banged their heads against walls or have attempted suicide at Guantanamo and other sites.

And, as if all of this accumulative physical and psychological pain is not sufficiently formidable, these detainees are victims of what McCoy has meticulously shown to be CIA modes of the “clean” torture of sensory deprivation—their bodies and minds cut off from sound, sight and touch by ear pads, heavy goggles and thick gloves, further inhibited by being shackled at waist and ankles when taken out of cages or windowless isolation cells. Even if the “Gitmo” prisoners were, in Rumsfeld’s infamous phrase, the “worst of the worst”, this crazy-making treatment, according to American and international legal sanctions, itself constitutes an extreme violation of the treatment any imprisoned person should receive. But then who tells Bush’s Washington what it can or cannot do to detainees even if not yet proven guilty, even if not tried for years—or forever? The Military Commissions Act of 2006 has allowed Commander-in-Chief Bush to do anything he wants to anyone, including any American. Now, however, with the Supreme Court’s crucial decision on Guantanamo detainees having a legal right to habeas corpus, King Bush can no longer decide everything.

Dilawar is only one extreme example of the massive criminal abuse of Near and Far Eastern peoples being perpetrated primarily by the United States under the fallacious assumption that all these thousands of detained human beings have to be held to prevent them from fighting again. They have in effect been assumed by ethnic or religious identity or superficial, false accusation to be guilty before having been legally proven so—a gross violation of human rights in any society regarding itself as just or civilized. Thus, innumerable detainees—some just children— have been wasting away for years in American torture prisons in gross violation of habeus corpus.

Supposedly the clinching argument for continuing incarceration of “War on Terror” detainees is the “Ticking-Bomb” scenario. A captive could, allegedly, harbor the secret knowledge of an imminent bomb disaster, so torture to get at the truth. But according to scholars of torture like McCoy and Darius Rejali (author of the authoritative Torture and Democracy), such key individuals are very unlikely to get caught. And even if they were captured, torture would most likely produce false information, as the case of al-Libi proved catastrophically enough. Furthermore, most arrested detainees, according to experienced FBI agents, know nothing. Might they fight if released? Surely, that depends on the kind of treatment they experience during confinement, whether the reputed FBI mode of winning their confidence or the CIA mode of brutalizing alienation.

Meanwhile, where is the presence and pressure of American moral indignation? There certainly are voices and NGOs rising in opposition to Bush-Cheney’s administrative savagery. For example, the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York tried to have Rumsfeld served with a warrant when he was in Paris in 2007. But the protest against torture has no swelling of societal condemnation against Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld being responsible for covert (and now overt) policies in which military and even contracted guards expose detainees naked to freezing cold and extreme heat, beat them like dogs, punch and kick their groin, force them to stand in place for 24 hours or more until their feet and ankles are swollen to twice their natural size, thereby causing horrible pain and possible kidney failure—and so on and on.

Institutional torture of any individual should torture our conscience. Indifference to the ongoing or excruciating torture of other human beings reduces our essential humanity and being. When our government tortures in our name, it criminalizes everyone of us not only as citizens but as members of a nation traditionally famous for, and rather boastful about, its civil liberties and rule of law. Punishment before judgment, as in Dilawar’s case, becomes punishment as illegal and criminal judgment. Dilawar’s thigh, rightly understood, is our thigh.

Meanwhile, Diliwars’s wife and pre-teen daughters, subsisting in an Afghan village, no longer have a husband and father. If nothing else, one hopes they never hear of a film called Taxi to the Dark Side.

Donald K. Gutierrez is professor emeritus of English at Western New Mexico University. Email dongut@juno.com.

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2008

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