TAXI TO THE DARK SIDER
Documentaries about the war in Iraq often seem as if directors simply slapped narrations and scores onto whatever footage was available. Few have mounted as persuasive an argument as Taxi to the Dark Side. Director Alex Gibney makes an indisputable case that leaders of the Bush administration have made torture an integral part of United States policy in the Middle East. It is a devastating account of detainees killed, soldiers corrupted and principles abandoned. Released on top of news reports of the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes, Taxi to the Dark Side could not be more timely.
Gibney, who also directed the scathing Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, builds his film around Dilawar, an Afghani taxi driver who was arrested, along with three passengers, in December 2002. He was sent to Bagram, a former Soviet air base converted into a detainee interrogation center. Five days later, he was dead.
Guards explain in matter-of-fact terms how Dilawar was shackled to the ceiling and beaten until his legs were "pulpified," according to the coroner's report. Interrogator Glendale Walls told his superiors that Dilawar was innocent, but guilt and innocence turned out to be secondary factors in a government-sanctioned campaign to terrorize Afghani and Iraqi natives. Gibney broadens the focus of the film to show how Dilawar's death, which was ruled a homicide, was part of a pattern of abuse. (It's no surprise that some of the officers responsible for the torture in Bagram then moved on to Abu Ghraib.) Chilling statistics emerge. Only seven percent of the detainees were captured by coalition forces; the rest were turned in by locals, often for bounties. The man who informed on Dilawar was later arrested for the very crime that led to Dilawar's death.
The film traces the evolution of torture tactics from sensory-deprivation experiments in the 1960s. Along the way, experts—both civilian and military—demolish efforts to justify torture on intellectual or moral terms. More important, Gibney connects these techniques directly to the people in government who ordered them: John Yoo, a lawyer who drafted an infamous "torture" memo; former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, unable to answer the most basic questions at a Congressional hearing; former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Vice President Dick Cheney; and President George W. Bush.
Gibney lets no one off the hook. The sight of politicians giving Bush's "tough" talk a standing ovation, or television celebrities like Tim Russert giving Cheney a platform to dehumanize the enemy, reminds us that we are ultimately responsible for our government. Not one of over 86,000 detainees has been brought to trial. Bush succeeded in getting Congress to pass a law that deprives detainees of the right of habeas corpus (and that exonerates him from any future war-crimes charges). Torture continues, if not in Guantanamo, then in foreign countries under the euphemism of "rendition." As more than one soldier points out, if the detainees weren't terrorists when they arrived, they will be by the time they get out. Taxi to the Dark Side should be required viewing for anyone who thinks that torture should be part of the military's arsenal.