Taxi To The Darkside Review

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This year’s Oscar-winning documentary from Alex Gibney uses the dubious arrest, incarceration and subsequent murder of an Afghan taxi driver by US soldiers to explore the American administration’s use of torture in penal institutions Bagram, Abu Ghraib an


In December 2002, a young Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar was arrested, on the advice of a local informant, and taken to the US prison at Bagram. There he was held without trial and, despite a lack of evidence, was tortured so terribly that he died after five days. The coroner’s report, delivered with the body to Dilawar’s parents, described the death as a “homicide”. It is at this point that filmmaker Alex Gibney, who directed Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, begins his journey, tracing a map from the cabbie’s death in Bagram through to the mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib and then to the policies that dictate prison conditions in Guantánamo Bay.

Gibney blends a fair-handed if not entirely neutral editorial with an investigative diligence as he exposes his nation’s breach of the Geneva Conventions. He elicits a string of candid interviews from American servicemen (some of whom were actually court-martialled in connection with Dilawar’s murder) and yet his enquiry aims higher, scaling the chain of command before laying the blame on the uppermost echelons of the US administration.

Gibney identifies a “draftsman” and an “architect” for this systemic use of torture. The former is Vice President Dick Cheney, whose post-9/11 rhetoric reveals a need to “work the dark side” and “use any means at our disposal”. The latter is legal counsel John Yoo, whose employment of semantics to circumnavigate international law bids to protect the US government from potential war-crime charges. The bitter irony is that by warping the definitions of torture, and by depriving the incarcerated of habeas corpus, the government is flouting the principles that prompted their ancestors to fight the War of Independence. The current regime would like to rewrite the US constitution; instead, they just duck into the blind spots.

Much of the film’s imagery is profoundly disturbing, the grimmest horrors rendered by scenes of psychological, rather than physical, persecution. As Gibney expands his themes, he suggests that torture is a far from effective method of eliciting ingenuous information and yet it is a torture-induced confession linking Saddam Hussein with al-Qaeda that provides the “evidence” that initiated the invasion of Iraq which is perhaps the most shocking revelation of all.

An unflinching documentary that exposes one of the darkest chapters in American history.