Taxi to the Dark Side
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  • Guilty until proven innocent; Good Luck!
    "No End in Sight" was the front-runner for the Oscar as Best Documentary Feature, but it lost to "Taxi to the Dark Side". That surprised me, until I realized that Alex Gibney produced and directed both films. "No End..." was about government mistakes in Iraq. A powerful film. What makes "Taxi" special, is that it's about real people affected by our involvement, and the failure of those in command to take responsibility for unconscionable actions, blaming younger recruits, resulting in their dishonorable discharges. Rumsfeld and Cheney and even President Bush are shown to condone the torture and stuff; after the fact, it turns out that most of those tortured and killed had nothing to do with anything, except trying to live their lives in peace. This film is so powerful, and not for the weak of heart. Very thought-provoking and definitely a point of view to be considered. The paranoia of certain military commanders in Afghanistan needs to be addressed, and forcing innocent soldiers to commit atrocities against detainees should be cause for those soldiers to rebel. So much is said; so much is sad; and the upper-crust is always gonna squash the little guy. This seems to be prevalent in our military system and it's sickening (as much as I respect our soldiers). It's very clear that, after our torture and abuse of innocent victims, that the US will be hated, and propaganda, as it will, can only deteriorate our intentions. The initial intentions were brought out in "No End..." Where do we go from here? Powerful film, highly recommended. Gibney is a very smart man. ...more info
    I would like to say that this Oscar winner stunned me but it didn't. My brother served in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba a decade ago and he told me back then how they treated the refugees and I was appalled. For that reason I may have been a little more prepared for the severity of this story than the average person who will watch it. I will not write a disclaimer such as "not for the faint of heart" because I think that everyone needs to see this film however sensitive they are to violence.

    Dilawar was an Afghan cabdriver and was going about his day to day life until he was arrested after being accused of participating in a rocket attack of a U.S. base. He was really arrested for no reason but that didn't stop the paranoid U.S. forces from subjecting him to the most vicious torture at Begram prison.

    Dilawar died after two straight days of torture and the complete story is told by some of the soldiers who actually tortured him. They used sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, extreme acts of violence, and all because he was *suspected of helping to aid in an attack.

    As we've come to learn with these torture stories the blame for Cheney's "Dark Side" torture policies is always placed on the soldiers who were ordered to commit the acts. They did kill Dilawar but they also had systemic tolerance in the military toward torture and the chain of command never went upward when it came down to the punishment of the people who implemented the policies. The torturers turn out to be victims too, basically scape goats for the policies regarding torture. Dilawar was found to be innocent it should be noted.

    Alex Gibney is the most skilled of filmmakers in that he puts faces and horrific results on on Bush and Cheney's so called "War on Terror." He deftly makes the case that these torture tactics were taught which is made obvious through recounting many of the similar tortures that happened in Guantanamo and, most infamously, at Abu Graibh. Now we see the victim without a hood and, in much the same way, our violations of the interrogation restrictions of the Geneva Conventions without the hood of secrecy that our government has desperately tried to keep hidden from the world.

    America doesn't look at all virtuous after this. This is a must watch for anyone with a Gung-ho attitude about war and anyone who is concerned with the concept of human rights, guilty until proven innocent and the notion of Habeus Corpus.

    Once can also benefit greatly by listening to the audio commentary. Such as with his film "Enron; Smartest Guys In The Room" he further elucidated on some of the aspects of the film that couldn't be fit into a feature length documentary.
    This should be required viewing.

    Kevin W. Mattingly
    Harrisburg Times.
    ...more info
  • What about individual responsibility?
    This is a fascinating documentary that shows how the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld administration allowed the torture and murder of detainees to happen (and they should be held accountable for this), but I found it disturbing how the makers of this documentary portrayed the military personnel who were actually responsible for the death of Dilawar (and were held accountable) so sympathetically. Yes, the rules of Bagram were not clear and the personnel were not properly trained, but beating a person to "a pulp" (the way the coroner described Dilawar's death) is beating a person to a pulp. No matter what the context, each individual knows right from wrong and is responsible for his or her individual actions....more info
  • Shining a light in "dark" places
    This was an excellent documentary. The film covered the United States' recent torture of civilian population in the Afghanistan and Iraq areas as well as the Guantanamo Bay detainees. Be warned, this documentary has some very graphic material, such as images of men being forces to masturbate and other types of psychological torture.
    I found the movie to be pretty consistent with what I have read, it is really the polar opposite of such feel good stories such as "Three Cups of Tea." If you want to be informed about the side of American politics and military that they DON'T want you to see then watch this movie. It also may lends some understanding as to why the people of the Middle East hate Americans so much. ...more info
  • One-sided, poorly researched hatchet job
    Don't listen to the praise that the "professional" film critics heap on this poorly researched "documentary" that is a purely one-sided presentation of its opinions. Film critics get their jobs, after all, because they're incompetent journalists or screenwriters. Documentary filmmakers get their jobs because they wouldn't survive in broadcast journalism or Hollywood. No effort is made by director Alex Gibney to present any opposing viewpoint (and filming a New York Times reporter typing on a laptop does not count as original research). The movie's targets in the Bush administration and the Department of Defense are demonized without being offered the opportunity to defend themselves--but a hack documentary filmmaker wouldn't know that. The military first conducted investigations into the alleged torture committed on Afghan and Iraqi prisoners, long before any reporter caught wind of it, and started prosecutions. Enough with the back-patting among these filmmakers! Oh, and by the way, the Obama administration will continue these same practices in stepping up its "good war" in Afghanistan and Pakistan....more info
  • Exceptional Documentary That Focuses On Everyone Involved Post 9/11
    I often complain about the lopsidedness of documentaries. And more often than not, whenever I mention this, people pepper me with insults because they believe "that's what documentaries are designed to do." I beg to differ. Let me show you what I mean.

    There are some seriously stilted documentaries that look at one side (and ONLY one side) of an issue and never give credence to the other. How about an interview with someone who opposes the views that the documentarians are putting forth? How about some information that might refute what is being told? This one-sidedness is just too easy to find. Things like After Innocence, The Future of Food, and Religulous are prime examples (there are tons more but I don't have the time nor inclination to mention them).

    Occasionally - if not extremely rarely - a documentary will come along that allows both sides to speak. And such is the case with the Academy Award winner TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE.

    The story starts and ends with the murder of Dilawar, a taxi cab driver in Afghanistan who is mistakenly picked up by U.S. forces and sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for interrogation. Once there, he soon dies from injuries sustained at the hands of his captors. The middle of this documentary is the meat and potatoes of what went horribly wrong with the U.S.'s war on terror. It's a serious eye-opener. Not because it focuses on the problems the U.S. had with its detainees after 9/11, but because it allows everyone to speak about the successes and failures of torture. Yes, torture.

    From the men on the ground (staff sergeants and privates) to the President's advisory attorney at the U.S. Dept. of Justice (John Woo), we get to hear from just about everyone on the topic of the incarcerated detainees and their treatment at the hands of untrained and unprepared interrogators. It is astonishing, too, to learn that not a single person above the rank of sergeant was punished for the death of Dilawar (nor any other detainee who was abused). You mean to tell me that these grunts were responsible for ...everything? Give me a break!

    I don't delude myself any longer. The U.S. (either overtly or covertly) now uses "enhanced interrogation techniques" (e.g. torture). Make no doubt about it. We do it because we want to protect ourselves. But at what cost to our own moral compass? We claim to follow The Geneva Convention, but do we? Not as far as I can tell. And don't take my word for it. Watch ALL of the people in this documentary talk about this very subject and come to your own conclusions....more info
  • 'Dead Wrong' -- Literally
    Finally! -- a documentary that makes no excuses for the behavior of U.S. military personnel in torturing people and which puts the so-called "war on terrorism" into a much clearer perspective for viewers worldwide.

    As the title of this documentary implies, this is a dark (and often depressing) film. The torture-induced homicide of Dilawar, an innocent Afghan taxi driver, by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan serves as the focus of the movie, which then goes on to explore the U.S. torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The common thread of torture as an officially permitted policy of the former Bush administration links these three internationally condemned prisons, and through the film's narrative, director Alex Gibney does a good job of holding both lower-ranking and higher-ranking U.S. military people accountable.

    This point was a major weakeness of another movie on the subject, "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" by filmmaker Rory Kennedy of the politically powerful Kennedy clan. Rory Kennedy's film (correctly) puts the blame for torture on the Bush administration and U.S. military brass -- yet the director herself describes the lower-ranking U.S. soldiers involved in torture at Abu Ghraib as quote-unquote "sweet" and "likable" young persons. This kind of liberal thinking comes across as not only condescending but also downright insulting to the morals of decent people around the world.

    Fortunately, director Gibney seems to have learned well from Kennedy's mistakes and has made what is, in my opinion, the best documentary on this subject so far. Apparently the elite of Hollywood thought so too, for "Taxi to the Dark Side" won an Academy Award in 2007 for best documentary feature. Very unusual, yes, but understandable when you watch this film and see how well it is edited and produced.

    The movie is divided into chapter subtitles on the screen, making it easier for viewers to follow a plot that can get complicated at times. I also liked the use of graphics and music -- and especially the lack of humor that you would find in, say, a Michael Moore movie on the same subject. "Taxi to the Dark Side" stays serious from beginning to end, yet manages to inform and educate without preaching to the choir.

    The part of the movie that I found most enraging was the sheer arrogance of some U.S. military personnel, as characterized in the comments by U.S. Army Sgt. Thomas Curtis, an MP at the Bagram base, in explaining why he did not step in and stop the torture of the Afghan taxi driver, Dilawar, before he was killed in U.S. custody. Curtis says in the film, quote: "It was us against them. I was over there, I didn't want to appear to be going against my fellow soldiers. Is that wrong? You could sit here and say that was dead wrong. Go over there [to Afghanistan] and say that."

    My response to Sgt. Curtis and any others like him would be simply this: You and your fellow soldiers were *all* wrong -- dead wrong, literally -- regardless of where that homicide took place. By not appearing to go against your fellow soldiers, you indeed saved their face and yours....but in the process, you went against the norms of all civilized people everywhere who hold higher moral values than that. Take responsibility for that, sergeant, and feel ashamed.

    Beyond that, I highly commend director Alex Gibney for standing up and making a film that is not afraid to place the responsibility where it really lies: in the conscience of every U.S. citizen. A dark and depressing movie it is, but that is only because the so-called "war on terror" itself is dark. By shedding some light on the dark side, Gibney and his staff have indeed done a great service to us all.

    If there was any weakness in this movie, I think it would be that the focus was on interviews with U.S. military insiders. That is fine, but I would have liked to have seen more interviews with former prisoners than just the one interview conducted with Moazzam Begg, a British citizen who was unjustly imprisoned at Afghanistan (at the same time as Dilawar, the taxi driver) and later at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But so powerful is Begg's testimony in this film that such a weakness could easily be overlooked in following the much bigger picture.

    Now, with this excellent film having been made, the next logical step would be to link the recent cases of U.S. military torture of brown-skinned people overseas to the longtime, routine torture of brown-skinned people within the vast domestic prison system of the United States. Any takers out there among filmmakers to produce a documentary that directly links Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay to the U.S. jail system and U.S. prison-industrial complex?...more info
  • One fare you don't want to pay
    Even though I heard it was great and it won the "Best Documentary" Oscar, I put off viewing TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE. I'm not sure why I procrastinated, but seeing I am only the fifteenth person to review it here, perhaps others are dragging their feet, too. Even my public library already demoted the TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE D.V.D. to its no-charge borrow section while older titles - many of them garbage - are still in the rental area.

    But seconds into TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, its compelling story of the Bush administration rejection of the Geneva Convention drew my attention like a soldier pointing a gun at you as you approach a checkpoint. While it centers on the murder of an Afghan taxi driver by American troops at a Bagram, Afghanistan military base, TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE covers the fares innocent people have paid at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and secret prisons in the so-called war on terror.

    The poor use terrorism to wage war. The wealthy use war to terrorize. What a war on terror is supposed to be, I don't know, but as TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE documents, neither does George W. Bush. Just as Bush's approaches to invading Iraq and responding to Hurricane Katrina demonstrated no organization, TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE shows the same non-oversight of prisoner interrogation in the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Director Alex Gibney, in an interview on DEMOCRACY NOW!, said American soldiers who tortured prisoners to death "had no training, and they were forced to do things that ultimately they're deeply haunted by. It's not something that they ever signed up for. And so, you see how that process worked. As one person says in the film, they were engulfed in what was called a fog of ambiguity, tremendous pressure to get intelligence but almost no training and no guidelines."

    TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE reports that none other than the United States military declared no fewer than 37 of these deaths of suspects to be homicides. One is too many.

    See TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE....more info
  • America's Deepest Shame
    In early December 2002, a young Afghani named Dilawar picked up three passengers destined for his hometown, but he never made it there, and he never saw his family again. He was rounded up in a sweep by the US military and incarcerated in Bagram Prison where he was designated as a PUC, or person under control. Deprived of sleep and shackled to an overhang, which prevented him from falling asleep because of the pressure it would put on one's wrists, he began crying out for his mother and father. American soldiers tried to shut him up by kicking him with their knees to the fleshy part of his thighs. Every one of them got their "kicks" and Dalawar died in custody, the second man in as many weeks. He weighed 122 lbs at the time of his death. The coroner listed his death as a homicide. She would later testify that his legs had been "pulpified." They would have had to have been amputated had he survived. His family was given his body and a death certificate--in English.

    Dilawar is the beginning story of this fascinating video about an American policy of torture that has taken place in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay. I kept watching this sickening story over and over again with the disbelief that Americans could institute cruelty as evil as what Nazis, Japanese, and Koreans had perpetrated against us and our allies, evils that we have executed past tormentors for.

    The enlisted personnel involved make it clear, usually in their own words, that the beatings, deaths in custody, and torture were not random acts of rogue sadists men who decided to act on their own. They were encouraged to torture and humiliate with the tacit approval of their command and from Washington D. C. to commit these acts.

    As the video shows, it begins with Dick Cheney, telling Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" that we [Americans] have to turn to the dark side to gather in intelligence in the same manner that our enemies do, and do whatever it takes to get it. This televised interview takes place one week after 9/11.

    Next, Alberto Gonzalez writes a policy declaring Afghanistan a failed state. Therefore, he concludes, Article III of the Geneva Conventions does not apply. Anyone taken into custody will not be treated as a prisoner of war.

    Mild-mannered John Yoo of the Justice Department belies his soft-spoken nature by doing the rest. He writes an opinion for the White House that states torture can only occur if it results in organ failure or death. (The only problem is that it is too late to realize that you have tortured someone if you achieve one or the other). But, Yoo goes further offering another opinion that the President of the United States can do virtually anything he wants, and it will not be outside the law.

    Donald Rumsfeld joins in with a memorandum in which he pens, "What's wrong with standing 4 hours? I stand 10-12 hours a day." This means the gloves are off, and officers and enlisted men who seek guidance on what limits they have are never given any. They are told to get actionable intelligence, and get it fast. The torture begins.

    Detainees are stripped naked upon arrival, given cavity searches, and disoriented by darkness and loud sounds. They are then put into isolation and deprived of sleep. (The sleep deprivation boards that list how much time to let a detainee sleep or how long to keep him awake will be removed during International Red Cross inspections). Some will be beaten or water-boarded. The latter makes the victim feel he is suffocating through drowning. And as studies in the 1950s had shown, depriving a person of stimuli, visual and auditory could induce psychosis in as little as two days. Visiting generals and SecDef, Donald Rumsfeld compliment the staff on the fine job they are doing.

    Policy is based upon a belief that such treatment will startle the victim into talking, and he will tell the truth. This is tried with one victim who states Saddam Hussein is acquiring nuclear weapons, and that there is a connection between Saddam and Osama bin-Laden, information he is prodded to give through waterboarding. His "confession" will be rushed to the White House and to Colin Powell, in time for his speech before the United Nations. It will become further proof that torture does not provide accurate information.

    In Hamden v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court writes an opinion of outrage declaring that Americans are entitled to habeas corpus and detainees must be accorded the status of Prisoners of War. President Bush is furious. He quotes the Geneva Convention: "'...outrages upon human dignity.' That's vague! What does that mean?"

    While the Supreme Court thwarts George Bush and Dick Cheney, they are still capable of playing the scoundrels. They threaten to withhold the support of the conservative base of the Republican party from John McCain in his presidential bid, unless he supports the Military Commission Act of 2006. This law bypasses the Supreme Court decision by allowing the accused to have their trials, but they will not be released from custody unless the White House says so. There is also a provision that pardons the President, the Vice President, Rumsfeld and a number of generals from prosecution for torture. It does not include enlisted men.

    More than a dozen investigations begin with all them aiming downward, not one officer is convicted by a court martial. Instead of the President following the recommendation that Major General Miller be disciplined for bringing his Guantanamo style of incarceration to Abu-Ghraib, he is awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and retires.

    Our military picked up seven percent of the detainees. Ninety-three percent were turned over to the US by forces of the Northern Alliance, Pakistan, or from neighbors who were eager to get the $5,000 bounty that the US government was offering. This also allowed the snitch to take over the neighbor's farm or poppy crop. There have been 87,000 detainees in American custody. Not one of them has been brought to trial.

    The Northern Alliance guard who turned in Dilawar, the taxi driver was himself later brought to custody for having directed fire against US bases, and for having turned in innocent victims after each attack.

    This DVD should not be missed. It will command your attention. It should be burned into your memory forever. It should serve as a reminder that being American does not exclude one from becoming a Nazi, and if we don't hold our leaders accountable, we are no different than they are.

    In twelve more days and a wake-up we should start finding more answers.

    This is dedicated to Army Specialist Joseph M. Darby for having had the guts to act like a true soldier.


    Mayer, Jane, "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals," Doubleday, 2008

    Hurwitz, Tom, "The Ghosts of Abu-Ghraib," DVD

    Miles, Steven, M. D., "Oath Betrayed: Torture, Complicity, and the War on Terror," Random House, 2006.

    Milgram, Stanley, "Obedience to Authority, An Experimental View, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2004

    Zimbardo, Philip, "The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil," Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2008.

    Wright, Ann, "Voices of Conscience," Koa Books, 2008....more info
    I am amazed this film survived U.S., British and Israeli intelligence censorship. Evidently when pressure is applied to politicians they will give up their morals rather than give up their political careers. It's not uncommon for blame to flow downhill. Having served in the armed forces I am not amazed at what happened. Blind revenge seems to be the driving force for people's inhumanity to man and after 10,000 years of continuous religious war mankind has still not learned that this kind of thinking does not lead to world peace....more info