Taxi To The Dark Side

posted February 18, 2008 05:11:32 PM CST | 0 comments

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In last year’s critically acclaimed HBO documentary, The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, director Rory Kennedy explored the abuses that occurred in 2003 at the notorious Iraqi prison through gripping interviews with perpetrators, witnesses and victims alike. The film, which questioned how policy decisions made by the upper echelons of the Bush Administration ultimately affected the psychology and behavior of our men and women in uniform, served to open viewers’ eyes to how America could justifiably be seen as an “evil empire” in the Arab world. But Taxi to the Dark Side, the latest film from the Oscar-nominated director of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, delves even deeper, providing a compelling case that we as a nation should be angry and ashamed at the atrocities being committed in our name.

The film begins with the story of Dilawar, a 22-year-old taxi driver from rural Afghanistan with no known affiliation to terrorist organizations of any sort, who was never accused of any crime. Picked up by U.S. forces and imprisoned at Bagram Air Base on December 5, 2002, the young man was found dead five days later, his legs beaten so badly that they would’ve had to be amputated if he had lived, his wrists chained apart overhead, and his death ruled a homicide on the coroner’s report. Director Alex Gibney (who also executive produced the Oscar-nominated No End In Sight) wisely allows the horrific tale to unfold via testimony of the people directly involved in Dilawar’s life and death, from his friends and the soldiers assigned to interrogate him to the journalists who initially investigated the story.

From there, Taxi to the Dark Side explores the broader issues of U.S. military policy, from similar torturous abuses in Abu Ghraib to the policies of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, tracking their origins from military grunts all the way up to Vice President Dick Cheney (who famously said that the United States would have to get its hands dirty and work through “the dark side” in order to achieve the Administration’s intelligence goals in the war on terror). With each passing piece of documented evidence or first-hand testimony, Gibney builds his case of controlled outrage, insisting that what was once dismissed as the actions of a few bad apples in the military is actually institutionalized torture that flies directly in the face of the Geneva Convention. In the end, all fingers of blame point to the White House and the Pentagon, and the director smartly provides unimpeachable evidence to back it up.

With its damning Abu Ghraib footage, unflinching depictions of torture and somber tone throughout, this gripping documentary is far from easy viewing, but its message remains absolutely necessary. In a country in which our justice system is built on the premise that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, just how far are we as citizens willing to allow our military leaders to go in the War on Terror?

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