Review: Revisiting the road to Gitmo

Lest there be anyone laboring under the delusion that the abuse of detainees at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan — and, later, at the Guantánamo Bay detention center and Abu Ghraib — was the work of “a few bad apples,” “Taxi to the Dark Side” cites a wealth of damning evidence to the contrary.

Written and directed by Alex Gibney, who previously examined white-collar corruption in “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Taxi” is difficult to watch, as any document of torture must necessarily be.

But it is essential viewing for those wishing to understand how the Bush administration’s War on Terror has affected America and its image abroad.

It begins with a single instance of wrongdoing — the unjustified arrest of a 22-year-old Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar, who would be found murdered in his Bagram holding cell just five days later — and uses it to illustrate how government-sanctioned brutality became a matter of policy.

Dilawar, as it turned out, had no ties to either al Qaida or the Taliban. Taken into custody by Afghan authorities eager to collect U.S. reward money for terrorist sympathizers, he was bound and beaten to the point that his legs were quite literally shattered — had he survived, both would have required amputation.

The American servicemen implicated in his death speak frankly about their role in the murder of an innocent, but these are not the chilling confessions of born killers. They are the candid, unflinching observations of men led to savagery by superiors with no regard for the humane restraints of the Geneva Convention.

It was Vice President Dick Cheney, after all, who ominously predicted that the U.S. would need to visit the “dark side” to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in the Middle East.

Through a series of interviews and archived news footage, “Taxi” allows the architects of American military policy — men like former Justice Department official John Yoo and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — an opportunity to rationalize their spirited defenses of torture in the form of sexual humiliation, physical abuse and sensory deprivation.

While there is never any doubt where Gibney’s sympathies lie, “Taxi,” though selective no doubt in its details, is no overheated polemic. It is dispassionate, lucid and painstakingly thorough, tracing the origins of modern techniques of torture and following the practices’ long and legally ambiguous journey into U.S. prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba.

For those willing to go along for the ride, it is a harrowing experience, as Gibney makes his case that the United States, in its haste to retaliate for the atrocities of 9/11, has itself crossed a bloody line in the sand.

CREDITS

Taxi to the Dark Side

(Three and a half stars)

Written and directed by Alex Gibney

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

San Francisco Sheriff candidate Paul Miyamoto in a meeting with the Examiner editorial board on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
New shelter-in-place order gives tenants a temporary reprieve from eviction

Sheriff’s Department briefly resumed regular enforcement this week

Under stay-at-home orders effective Sunday in San Francisco, outdoor dining is not allowed, and there are new limits regarding the number of people that can be indoors at essential businesses. <ins> (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Bay Area counties to shut down outdoor dining, non-essential businesses

Regional stay-at-home order to take effect Sunday, sooner than statewide order announced Thursday

Former Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant received his 2017-18 Championship ring at Oracle Arena in Oakland on Oct. 16, 2018. Durant, now playing with the Brooklyn Nets, will play against his former team at Chase Center in February. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Kevin Durant to face former teammates at Chase Center in February

Schedule released Friday calls for Warriors to play Christmas and New Year’s Day games

San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert’s (31) return from injury last week was key for the team’s offense. <ins>(Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner)</ins>
49ers fighting for final NFC wild-card spot in Monday’s game against the Bills

Bills at 49ers When: Monday, 5:15 p.m. Where: State Farm Stadium, Glendale,… Continue reading

The Smashing Pumpkins’ 2020 recording is the 20-song “CYR.” (Courtesy photo)
Billy Corgan continues to confound expectations

Smashing Pumpkins release retro-sounding ‘CYR’

Most Read