Remember the Taliban? We don't hear much about them anymore, but when the War on Terror shifted its focus from Afghanistan to Iraq, they were given a golden opportunity to regroup, rebuild, rearm. A somewhat token American military force, when it's not looking under various rocks for Osama bin Laden, tries to track down whatever remains of the Taliban and al-Qaida. And if Carmela Baranowska's 45-minute documentary, Taliban Country, is any indication, it's both abusing its power and blowing its mission.
In May and June of last year, Baranowska, an Australian journalist, spent three weeks embedded with 800 U.S. Marines as they conducted security sweeps in a remote and dangerous part of Afghanistan. And the documentary includes footage of these operations, which seem pretty much by the book. There's even a semi-comic moment when a soldier attempts, over and over, to kick a door in, life failing to play out like a movie. But after Baranowska's official visit ended, she did something only a brave and committed, not to mention foolhardy, journalist would do: She went back and interviewed local villagers.
Their testimony would have been a lot harder to believe before the revelations of Abu Ghraib. Some men claim to have been stripped, photographed, even submitted to having fingers inserted in their anuses. And an elderly gentleman makes a cryptic reference to 'wetness.' Whether what they're saying is true can be considered open for investigation, and the military has conducted one as a result of Baranowska's documentary, but because I've only seen a lengthy excerpt I can't tell you what's been determined. Nor can I tell you how the situation in Afghanistan has changed since the October elections, which reportedly dealt a blow to the Taliban.
But Baranowska can. And she'll be here on Tuesday, Feb. 15, to screen the film and answer all your questions. The screening, sponsored by the Madison chapter of Amnesty International, is at 7:30 p.m. in Room 1641 of the UW's Humanities Building.