Talk taxi

The Oscar-nominated documentary investigates interrogation methods used in the war on terror.

Stephanie Dickrell

War isn’t pretty. Since anti-war protests have taken off in the past few years, the words war and peace, terrorism and troops, national and security, get thrown around without much thought. It’s the rare among us who have experienced these words first-hand, without the comfort of a home-cooked meal and a television set to separate us from these images. Moreover, this latest war, this war on terror, has not been without its controversies – seemingly nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, enemy combatants and detainees, torture and water-boarding. The list goes on. Images of human degradation and humiliation have permeated the airwaves.

“Taxi to the Dark Side”

Directed by: Alex Gibney
Rated: R
Showing at: Lagoon Cinema, 1320 Lagoon Ave., Minneapolis, (612) 825-6006

Alex Gibney’s Oscar-nominated feature documentary, “Taxi to the Dark Side,” breaks down the barrier between television screen and reality, and investigates most of the major controversies surrounding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He truly takes you behind the front lines, into the basements and prisons. They are the very places Vice President Dick Cheney might have meant when he talked about moving to the dark side to catch the terrorists, comments he made on NBC’s “Meet the Press” only days after the events of Sept. 11.

The documentary centers around one prisoner who died in December 2002 in the custody of the U.S. Army at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, a taxi driver named Dilawar. The film follows the investigation of his death, leading to examinations into interrogation techniques employed at the prison, as well as at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay.

The name Abu Ghraib is now synonymous with the abuse of prisoners, stemming from the photos of prisoners forced to stand naked in sexually compromising conditions with smiling U.S. army guards in the background.

The detention center at Guantanamo Bay is where hundreds of detainees, many named enemy combatants, have been housed, outside constitutional jurisdiction. Dilawar’s death has connections to both places, the filmmakers discovered.

The film also follows the chain of command to look into just where these interrogation techniques came from, and who authorized them – all the way to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and comments made by President George W.Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Bottom line: this film makes you uncomfortable. We see things we’d never want to see; we learn things we would never want to know. But we should know them.

“Taxi” is so well-done that it isn’t counter-productive and detrimental to their cause as some political documentaries can be. Instead of pounding the audience with a one-sided message that leaves most people screaming out for objectivity, “Taxi” gently and systematically investigates the alleged abuses, always making sure to at least include the other voice.

While the film clearly has an agenda, the information is presented in such a way that the other side is understood, by including the voices of those on the other side of these issues through press footage. The film even includes an interview with John Yoo, the writer of the so-called “torture memo,” who made an argument for the vast amounts of power the president has when it comes to gathering intelligence to be used in war.

To its credit, it synthesizes much of the news and controversy of the past seven years. It is a good point to start when opening discussion on these subjects. Audiences won’t be able to leave the theater without talking about it, and perhaps that is the place to start.