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Taxi to the Dark Side

A movie directed by Alex Gibney

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Are we ready for what will come next

  • Jan 10, 2009
Pros: Expertly presented details of the way bullying became torture became policy.

Cons: The structure leaves truly untold the symbol of the film.

The Bottom Line: If you want to learn the most possible with the least amount f rhetoric about the "torture" performed by the US, this is the documentary to watch.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.

For The Taxi to the Dark Side I believe I have to go to W. H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939." This has often been quoted since the events in middle September 2001 that none will forget. The problem is that the event will always be remembered, but an old saw put in a succinct way will be, and to our detriment be forgotten (again and again): "I and the public know / What all schoolchildren learn / Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return."

The Taxi to the Dark Side is the Oscar winning documentary by Alex Gibney that explores the genesis and extension of torture from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib, and finally to some level of justice for some involved. 
The story is bookended by the 5 lethal day detention of an Afghani young man, Dilawar, from a village who used his new car as a taxi. He was taken into custody and murdered (his death was ruled a homicide by the US military). Between the bookends, Mr. Gibney explores the way that techniques grown from the anger in Afghanistan became essentially established as militarily acceptable, even written, standards of interrogation.

I think anyone reading this review will already be familiar with the events uncovered in 2004, briefly glossed over a bit after and then was defended as proper policy around the mid-term election in 2006. What makes this story different from the ones before is the access the filmmakers had to those either in some level of power or decision and the men and women trying to gain some level of legal communication with those imprisoned. This is the reason to watch this film. There is so much noise and rhetoric, so many prurient pictures and accounts in other documentaries that they all mesh together and disappear. How many times can we hear about Lindy England and ultimately care? Mr. Gibney was able to talk with John Yoo who was the man principally responsible for concluding in early 2002 that what would ordinarily be defined as torture was something that the administration could fudge.

The Taxi to the Dark Side is important because it is a legal look into the process behind early activities at Bagram AFB in Afghanistan to the debate over the legality of water-boarding about 4 years later. This is the documentary that cuts through the prurience and spectacle; this is the mature documentary that will survive a decade from now. This is why something as difficult and harsh as the way some in the US military have treated those in custody is important to see. The question arises: is this balanced? The answer is very complex and left to the viewer. This viewer says that, to the extent possible, Mr. Gibney does his very best to do so. The problem becomes how you define balance against something that to the layperson appears to be torture. Do we need to see the Marquis de Sade's good side before we can decide that what he espoused is intolerable? 

This documentary does what others have investigated. The famous "A few bad apples" remark from many in the Pentagon is put under a magnifying glass. The documentary mentions something called "force shift." Essentially this is how one marginally bad thing can lead to more heinous things and even worse beyond that. The Taxi to the Dark Side does its best to show the men in direct contact with prisoners, guilty of some level of mistreatment of prisoners, as guilty but also as the scapegoats. No one higher than an enlisted man was ever found guilty and the highest ranking person charged was a captain exonerated basically because he couldn't have really known what was happening, at least according to those in his hearing. I am giving nothing away. In a documentary like this, the viewer goes in knowing more than just the basics; this just fills in gaps and raises both questions and gives evidence that we may not have considered before. 

The most important part of the film is the story of Moazzam Begg. He is British and was in Pakistan at the wrong time. I will leave it at that.

My complaint about the film is the structure. I have no problems with Mr. Gibney choosing the taxi driver as his subject. Choosing an innocent man is of course a great way to create a metaphor for the disgusting events between the bookends. The problem I have is that is exactly what Dilawar was: a quick metaphor to jump into very hostile waters. We are given more than basic details of the young man's life, but not much more than that. In this one sense the documentary fails because it leaves truly unexamined the life of this man rather than focusing nearly entirely on his shameful death.

And to close my own bookend. The cultures the US has invaded have a code of conduct that requires action of some sort because of the evil done to them. Now that the arguably rogue administration is about to depart, are they and the rest us ready for the evil in return? Evil done to us done to them done to us. I am a never-believer, but it seems that someone with a sense of true justice will have to find a way to stop this global notion of "force shift."


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More Taxi to the Dark Side (2007 mo... reviews
review by . April 25, 2010
Pros: disturbing, intense, thought provoking     Cons: none     The Bottom Line:   "The lunatic_is_in my head   You raise_the_blade, you make_the_change   You re-arrange me 'til I'm sane.   You_lock_the door   And throw away_the_key   There's someone in my head but it's not me."   ~Pink Floyd       I recently watched the disturbing documentary, Taxi to the Dark …
review by . October 03, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
`Taxi to the Dark Side' is an eye-opener. Starting with the case of Dilawar, a taxi driver from Afghanistan, the documentary traces the lives of terrorist suspects imprisoned in Bagram in Afghanistan; Abu Graib in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba. Showing ample evidence of beatings and abuse, the film has several photographs and much testimony with which to work.     Among the interviewees are some of the suspects who were either court marshaled or imprisoned for their offenses …
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Among the slew of documentaries inspired by the post-9/11 war, arguably none is more important than Alex Gibney'sTaxi to the Dark Side. The story it has to tell, with compelling thoroughness and no recourse to rhetoric, should be as disturbing to Americans supporting the war as it is to opponents. In December 2002, Dilawar, a young rural Afghan cabdriver, was accused of helping to plan a rocket attack on a U.S. base, clamped into prison at Bagram, and subjected to physical torture so relentless that he died after two days of it. But Dilawar was innocent--and he'd been denounced by the real culprit, who thereby took the heat off himself and won points with U.S. forces by giving them "a bad guy." Dilawar was the first fatal victim of Vice President Dick Cheney's devotion to "working the dark side"--torturing, humiliating, and otherwise abusing prisoners in the "Global War on Terror." His story, developed in horrific detail with testimony from the soldiers who tortured him, and also from two New York Times investigative reporters, becomes a prism for slanting light onto the "dark side" policy and the mindset behind it. The program at Bagram was deemed such a success that it served as the model for Abu Graibh the following year in Iraq, and both prisons became pipelines to the detainee facility at Guantánamo, Cuba.

The film's impact is powerful and complex. We come to see the very soldiers who broke Dilawar's ...

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Director: Alex Gibney
Genre: Documentary
Release Date: January 18, 2008
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Alex Gibney
DVD Release Date: September 30, 2008
Runtime: 1hr 46min
Studio: Velocity / Thinkfilm
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