Taxi to the Darkside
Directed by Alex Gibney
106 min., Rated R
When you grasp the madness that’s exposed in Alex Gibney’s Academy Award nominated “Taxi to the Darkside,” (Gibney also directed the acclaimed “Enron, the Smartest Guys in the Room”) you wonder if there is a connection between that madness we’re watching on screen and the fact that within 48 hours of the polls closing on ‘Super Tuesday’ Barack Obama raised $5,000 dollars a minute from 170,000 people, and there were twice as many “small d” and green Democratic ballots taken as Republican. Who would have thought the anger at the Bush Administration of the last 3,000 days would take this form?
The film tells the story of an Afghan father and taxi driver (Dilawar) who was murdered by the U.S. Military Police who have been occupying the country since 2002. This murder connects the executive chain of command all the way up to the political administration of George W. Bush.
We watch a flashback of a “Meet the Press” show where in 2002 V.P. Dick Chaney in a “matter of fact” and chilling way, says (to paraphrase) we’re just going to have to go to the darkside and do bad things to bad people who want to kill us and destroy our way of life, and there won’t be any discussion.
Was Dilawar a bad person who was trying to kill us? The evidence the movie lays out suggests that he was not. One question is will Dilawar’s son and family be so forgiving?
The movie is presented to viewers in chapters, short sections packed full of information in which we the American people paid very little attention to even if we read the papers every day.
“Taxi to the Dark Side” makes the case for at least three moral indictments.
The first is the Bush/Chaney/Rumsfeld movement to cross over into more criminal territory. The second is the media, which following the first Gulf War went for media stardom over hard investigative reporting. The third rests with us, the American people, who both turned away and bought into the pandering and fear selling of the Bush/Chaney terror and torture policies. (Polls after 9/11 showed majority American support for torture.)
Those tactics were not necessarily used on guilty people, but we had to produce bad people or why else were we spending a billion dollars a week fighting terror? Once we wrestle with the monster we’ve created, will we be so forgiving?
Super Tuesday suggested at least a 360-degree turnaround in people’s rejection of the continuous warmongering policy. The film suggests that after Jan 20, 2009, US citizens could potentially sign a complaint against Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/etc as war criminals.
They may never leave U.S. soil again for fear of being arrested the way Chilean dictator Pinochet was because of a complaint by a Spanish citizen.
In the film we learn Dilawar and 3 others, who are his fares in his cab, are arrested at a U.S. checkpoint and taken to the prison at the U.S. Bagram airbase. Days later Dilawar is dead. We see the cage he is in, and the chain link that’s connected to the handcuffs at the top of the cage. Dilawar’s hands and arms are stretched up in the air, and if he falls asleep his body weight would tear at his wrists.
On the screen we meet those who carried out the murder. There are at least four different military police, not trained intelligence officers, who’ve had one hour of intelligence training. But their torture training is substantial and developing. They continuously used their knees to whack Dilawar’s upper leg.
After his death, his body is driven home and turned over to his family with a metal box containing his papers in English, which his family cannot read. We learned Dilawar’s death is the second murder in a very short time at Bagram.
Because it’s the second death it merits a small “New York Times” article, and Peter Golden, a reporter, begins to look into the circumstance of Dilawar’s death. It is he who is forced to explain to the family that the death certificate says the death is ruled a homicide. The report notes his legs are “pulpified,” and a doctor explains it’s as though he was run over by a bus.
The four M.P.’s, two white and two black, look directly at the camera and tell their story. We’ve seen the effects of the horrendous torture and murder they’ve committed. But, they seem soft spoken, in control of their language, very reasonable, and they tell their story in a very matter of fact kind of way.
One of them makes it clear that they he had no intention of reporting to the higher ups the brutality they had inflicted. “What was I going to do? Run to my Commanding Officer and tell him we’re being a little rough with this ‘bad guy?’”
Two years after leaving the military, all four faced charges related to the murder but not necessarily charged with the murder.
These charges are framed in the film with what seems like a kinky circus that the U.S. armed forces is sponsoring. We’re watching men with their hands on their privates in another prison in another country the U.S. invaded in 2003, Iraq, along with photos of bizarre sexual poses, live footage of graphic images of the prisoners. The film moves to the section called “Bad Apples,” as if on their own these soldiers decided to be creative.
In one photo we see a mentally challenged U.S. soldier, Lindsey England, who will become pregnant by her commanding officer, hold a leash tied to the neck of a naked prisoner.
This incident sets off a military trial and turned into chaos with her testimony.
The film also looks at “bad apples” in a different world exposing two high-level justice department lawyers, Alberto Gonzales (later becoming Attorney General) and John Woo (who handed out memos that list various techniques of torture, and when applied to Dilawar it leaves him murdered).
We also learn about how the Commanding Officer of Bagram is promoted and moves to Iraq to become the head of Abu Ghraib and later is promoted again to the military’s college of war.
But the most rotten apple of all is expressed by a scene with President Bush at a State of the Union address. He tells Congress we’re winning the war and getting rid of the bad guys literally, with a thunderous ovation. We don’t hear any boos or see anyone sitting down in protest.
Rumsfeld, then head of the Department of Defense, responds to a memo, which is explaining that detainees will be forced to stand for a maximum of four hours. He used a pen and in his own handwriting to writes, four hours, hell, I stand 6 hours consistently every day and I’m 70. Are we babysitting?
Did this send a message to the soldiers that even after they took off the gloves they could get twice as ugly? At the end of the film we’re forced to think weather we acted like the Germans acted between1933 and 1945.
This incredible moment of this massive movement should only grow, but will only grow if we are principled and relevant to the needs of people who have the fewest choices.
Ending this madness is no small task, but there seems to be unlimited energy and an endless supply of young people who have become allergic to the B.S.
And on another note the treatment of Mexican nationals and other Latin Americans, the undocumented workers, is beginning to smell like the treatment at Abu Ghraib as prisoners are held without being given any food and water, no treatment of injuries, separated from family members, insulted and harassed, and tossed across the border in the night with no warm clothes, no money, no sense of where they are or where their family members are. Up to 40 people a day crossing the border are arbitrarily taken, brought into the courtroom in chains and shackles, charged, and put in prisons for up to 160 days rather than being immediately deported. The cells are so full that no one can sit or lie down.