Documentary Retroview: Taxi To The Dark Side (2007)

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American Soldiers Are Torture Perps

Alex Gibney’s new film, Taxi To The Dark Side, opening in limited release on January 18, 2008, is a shocking expose about the American military’s use of torture to get confessions–not always truthful ones–from prisoners suspected of terrorism.

Meet The Victims

More specifically, it tells the tale of Dilawar, an innocent taxi driver, who was picked up by American soldiers in Afghanistan, imprisoned at Bagram and tortured to death. Dilawar was completely innocent of any crime. His murder, reported widely in the media, prompted investigations that resulted in court martial for several of the interrogators responsible for Dilawar’s death.

Using the Dilawar story as the film’s structural core, Gibney branches out to include other cases: Moazzam Begg is a British citizen who happened to be visiting Afghanistan when he was picked up by American soldiers, imprisoned and tortured–he was moved incognito from Bagram, where he’d seen Dilawar tortured, to Guantanamo, without any notice to his family.

The film is frequently graphic, as it should be. It’s difficult to imagine that our government and armed forces could behave as brutally, as completely without right or reason, as they are shown to do in this film.

Meet The Perps

Without making excuses for them, Gibney shows the interrogators to be insufficiently trained, inexperienced young men who, when placed in a culture they don’t understand, have no way of discerning who is good and honest, and who is not. They’re under pressure to get results. They follow orders. And, they become, as Gibney says, “perps.”

In intimate closeup one on one interviews, Gibney lets them tell us what they did and why, and what has happened to their lives as a result. The greater perps we meet–Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush, John Woo and others, including Brigadier General Jay Hood and, even, interrogation detail chief Capt. Carolyn Wood (who refused to be interviewed for the film)–don’t seem to be much touched by the situation at all. In fact, we see in the film that Bush has basically pardoned himself, making any prosecution against him impossible.

Gibney’s research is impeccable. His storytelling skills are superb. And, he fully utilizes the tools and aesthetics of cinema to produce a documentary that not only has a strong and important message–it’s a great film.

In fact, this is the kind of film that can make a difference. It’s a wake up call, an alarm, about governmental incompetence and how it’s leading us to the dark side. See this film!

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