Taxi to the Dark Side

"Excellent"

Taxi to the Dark Side Review


Many Americans have not been terribly thrilled about their country's name being associated many times over the past few years with episodes of prisoner abuse and torture that would have seemed downright abhorrent to our forefathers. This is understandable, as the practices of setting dogs on naked prisoners, denying that the right to habeas corpus has any real applicability, and using sensory deprivation techniques thought to have been discontinued years ago all have a tendency to conflict with the way that many citizens prefer to see their own country. A very flawed but still noble paragon of some sort of justice and democracy, that sort of thing. But for some reason, this recoiling from ugly and un-American practices hasn't been universal. A random sampling of the citizenry would most likely (if years worth of polling, and a general lack of public outrage, can be believed) come up with a good number of people who may not like torturing all them Middle Easterners, but hey, it's an ugly world....

It's for those people in particular that Alex Gibney's deeply unsettling documentary Taxi to the Dark Side should be required viewing, though just about any citizen should feel the film worthy of their time. Gibney, who did a smart job of untangling the tortured and headache-inducing mess that was the Enron case with 2005's Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, does similarly swift work here cleaving through the morass of obfuscation and half-truths that have veiled the country's involvement in torture and extralegal detention since 9/11.

As an entree into the matter, he uses the story of Afghani taxi driver Dilawar, who in 2002 was picked up by some militiamen who accused him and his passengers of aiding and abetting a rocket attack on a nearby American base. In short order, Dilawar is processed into the detention center at Bagram Air Base and subjected to a range of coercion and abuse, ranging from being hung by his shackled wrists from the ceiling for hours at a time to severe beating. Dilawar died. An autopsy then revealed that his legs had been so severely pounded by the guards that if he hadn't died, they would have to have been amputated. As far as can be determined, nobody questioning him knew why he was there, except that he had been suspected of something. It was later revealed that the men who had turned Dilawar in had themselves attacked the Americans and were looking for a stooge -- and reward money.

From Dilawar's sad and purposeless death -- related via an incredible gallery of witnesses, including many of the untrained and confused Bagram guards who had gotten the message from higher up that, as the infamous phrase goes, the gloves were off -- Gibney spirals his story outward to encompass the whole of the Bush administration's post-9/11 attitude toward torture, detention, and the rules of war. Instead of deploying the expected battery of anti-Bush experts and investigative journalists (though the latter are present), Gibney turns instead to the people who were in the thick of things, not just the previously mentioned guards (who knew that the brass wanted them to toss out the Geneva Convention but would be left out to dry afterward because no explicit order was ever given) but people like the Navy's former general counsel, Alberto Mora, and FBI interrogator Jack Cloonan.

Having the likes of Mora (who vociferously protested the illegal and immoral ways in which codes of military conduct were being bent by Rumsfeld and Cheney's seeming eagerness to engage in the same barbarities as the Taliban and al-Qaeda) and Cloonan (who, from extensive experience, ridicules the notion that torture can ever elicit useful intelligence), turns Taxi to the Dark Side not into just a moral polemic but a serious policy argument about the future of the country. Along the way, Gibney also handily demolishes the fallacy of the "ticking time bomb" scenario always envisioned by pro-torture advocates. The film downs such arguments as mere wishful thinking by those looking for reasons not to follow codes of conduct once so quaintly thought of as civilizing factors that highlighted the greatness of America, not weaknesses. Ably illustrating that final point is the coda, in which Gibney shows his recently-deceased father, a former military interrogator himself, saying in no uncertain terms exactly how everything from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib had sickened him and practically unseated his previously firm belief in his own country's goodness.

It would be nice to think that there are many others out there like Gibney's father, who hold such beliefs so close to their heart. The dreadful silence that has followed much of the debate, however, and the general lack of interest in such necessary films like Taxi to the Dark Side, doesn't give much reason for hope.

60 cents a mile.



Taxi to the Dark Side

Facts and Figures

Run time: 106 mins

In Theaters: Friday 23rd January 2009

Box Office Worldwide: $274.7 thousand

Budget: $1000 thousand

Distributed by: ThinkFilm

Production compaines: Jigsaw Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 91

IMDB: 8.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: , Eva Orner, Susannah Shipman

Starring: Brian Keith Allen as Soldier - New York studio shoot reenactment, Moazzam Begg as Himself - Torture Victim (as Moazzam Beg), Christopher Beiring as Himself - Captain, as Narrator (voice)

Also starring:

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