March 18, 2009 -- Despite the fact that “Taxi to the Dark Side” won the Academy Award for best documentary film of 2007, few people have actually seen it, and that is a shame. It is a truly exceptional film that nails the whole issue of torture of U.S. prisoners and how this treatment, that is, murder, severe injuries, sexual abuse, humiliation and degradation has been covered up and condoned by the Bush Administration at the very highest levels.
This documentary is organized around a single incident of a taxi driver named Dilawar who is captured in Afghanistan and who is later killed by American troops after being tortured in a vain attempt to gain information about a rocket attack on U.S. troops. Other prisoners who witnessed Dilawar's treatment and guards and interrogators who handled him are interviewed for the film. The methods used to kill Dilawar (his death was ruled a homicide by an Army pathologist) are then traced back up the chain of command to memos written by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, head of the Department of Justice, and John Yoo of the Department of Justice. Statements made by Vice President Dick Cheney are also cited in the film. Cheney seems to support water boarding (a technique developed by interrogators during the Spanish Inquisition) and other extreme methods. The film indicates that Dilawar's homicide was not an isolated incident. There were dozens of such homicides in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
Dilawar was thought by U.S. forces to have helped with a rocket attack against U.S. troops. According to the film, it turned out that the Afghani who turned him in was himself behind attacks on U.S. troops and his actions were probably an attempt to shift suspicion from himself to others, including Dilawar. Dilawar and the passengers in his taxi were all detained. The passengers were taken to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and later released. Detention and torture of innocent civilians is not an isolated incident, according to the film, which quotes estimates that as few as six percent of detainees are actual enemy combatants, the so-called “worst of the worst.”
According to interviews in the film, the torture techniques used by American forces are counter-productive. Torture often produces bad intelligence, some of which was used to support the argument for the war against Iraq. Some tortured prisoners will tell interrogators anything they want to hear, true or not. Torture by the U.S. may also be used to justify torture of captured Americans, justify future attacks against the U.S., and it is a great recruiting tool for terrorist organizations. One of the most compelling interviews in the film was that of the filmmaker's father, Frank Gibney (the film was directed by Alex Gibney). Frank Gibney interrogated Japanese prisoners housed near Pearl Harbor during World War II. He said he never used nor did he condone torture of prisoners and that it was counter-productive. He said torture of prisoners by American troops had destroyed his faith in the U.S. government.
A number of people who are experts in interrogation and in the techniques used by the U.S. are interviewed for the film. What is revealed is ugly. It brings shame to us all. Since Barack Obama became president, he has reversed many of the policies discussed in the film, and has said he will close the facility at Guantanamo Bay, which is where many of the torture techniques discussed in the film were first used. Dick Cheney is now arguing that Obama's new policies make the U.S. more vulnerable to attack. According to the film, this criticism is disingenuous at best, criminal at worst.
The film also goes out of its way to attack the popular television show “24” for popularizing torture. In the show, torture is used routinely to extract critically-important information needed to stop imminent terrorist attacks. Those opposed to torture on the show are portrayed as clueless wimps who are putting their country in danger. The film argues the last-second, doomsday scenarios shown in “24” are rare in the extreme, if they have ever really existed at all. The show is blamed for increasing public support for torture because it depicts torture as a reliable and necessary tool in the war on terrorism. It is scary to think our nation's security policies seem to be based (or were based recently) on a fictional, and often outlandish TV show. One way to combat torture policies is a strong injection of reality. “Taxi to the Dark Side” gives us just such a dose of reality. This film rates an A.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.