a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Discovery is more than the name of their company…

Posted by Thomas Nephew on February 12th, 2008

…it may be the very opposite of what they’re doing.

The Silver Spring, Maryland based Discovery Channel bought the rights to “Taxi to the Dark Side“, a documentary by Alex Gibney investigating the 2002 torture killing of the Afghan taxi driver Dilawar at Bagram Air Base, and the policies that led to it. (Dilawar was chained to an overhead wire, and his legs were subjected to such repeated and heavy beatings and kneeings that the medical examiner described them as “pulpified.”) A trailer for the movie can be seen here; it was shown during the AFI Silverdocs Festival in Silver Spring last year.

Now ThinkProgress reports that the documentary channel heavyweight is dropping plans to air it, apparently claiming the film is “too controversial,” despite the high praise and accolades the film has received, including an Oscar nomination. In an interview with ThinkProgress, Gibney comments:

Torture, even though the Bush administration never uses that word, they say “We don’t do torture,” because they define it out of existence.

He didn’t add that they don’t need an (alleged) documentary television channel‘s help with that. The subject matter of this film could not have come as a surprise to the company. Under those circumstances, buying it, promising to air it, and then reneging on that promise would be an act of censorship that should rebrand the company. Dibney: “In refusing to air the film, Discovery is perpetuating what has become the policy of this government: It is OK to employ torture, just not to show it.”

The Washington Times’s Jennifer Harper quotes a “source close to the situation” as claiming “These statements are both premature and unfounded. A final decision on airing this film by Discovery Communications has not been reached yet.”

I hope they’ll make the right decision — or undo a wrong one. The Discovery Channel and the local AFI Silverdocs festival will lose a lot of their luster if Discovery follows through with smothering a timely documentary — and if activists mobilize to protest that.

NOTE: I’ve posted about Dilawar’s case here and here (“Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny.”) The leg-beatings were called “compliance blows” using “peroneal [muscles and tendons attaching to the knees] strikes.” As I wrote at the time: “”Compliance blows” doesn’t sound like bad-apple-talk, it sounds like Pentagonese, don’t you think?”

4 Responses to “Discovery is more than the name of their company…”

  1. janinsanfran Says:

    We just saw the film in theater release last week in San Francisco. To my surprise (and appreciation) it drew quite a good audience on a Saturday night.
    It is very comprehensive, connects the parts of the torture program in a way that makes sense out of what inattentive consumers of news might perceive as scattershot horror stories.

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    It’ll be at the National Archives here this Thursday at 7pm (part of their Oscar Documentaries series this week.) I think I’ll try to make it. Maybe I’ll wear my yellow poncho).

  3. » Blog Archive » Department of followups — Taxi to the Dark Side edition Says:

    […] Discovery is more than the name of their company…, 02/12/08 — “Taxi to the Dark Side” is an Oscar-nominated documentary about torture and other human rights violations by the United States in the wake of 9/11. After acquiring the rights to the movie, the Discovery Channel got cold feet and announced it might not air the documentary, saying the “film’s controversial content might damage Discovery’s public offering.” […]

  4. » Blog Archive » "Taxi to the Dark Side" wins Oscar Says:

    […] On a final note: hey, nice going, Discovery Channel! How does it feel to be the a$$h0les who unloaded a documentary for “controversial content” just before it won an […]

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