As we swing toward election Tuesday, Taxi to the Dark Side sits idly on the DVD rental shelf, waiting for viewership. The Oscar-winning documentary stings with fiery poison at the idea of state-sponsored torture as orchestrated by the United States in Iraq, and is not kind, for good reason, to the current Bush administration. A high quality, factual and disturbing picture, Taxi to the Dark Side is worthy of the Best Documentary Award it received.
I'm a democrat. I'm liberal. But even though I hate the Bush administration, I go both ways when it comes to torture. While torture is awful, I've never been convinced that torture has no proper place in this world. I've also been raised in a culture of CIA movies and "24," where torture isn't only common and common knowledge, but it's a necessity to get fast results out of people who are otherwise committed to their cause. We live in a world where there are zealots deeply committed to their cause, and if being imprisoned isn't enough, how do you extract necessary information?
But Taxi to the Dark Side has me leaning farther away from torture than I have ever before. The movie, written and directed by Alex Gibney, stems from a taxi driver in Afghanistan who was picked up U.S. troops and placed in Abu Ghraib. Five days later, he died from what was reported as natural causes. In reality, he was beaten to death. The movie focuses heavily on the atrocities in Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison where guards conducted interrogations, photographed themselves with prisoners placed in sexually humiliating positions and committed a variety of other abuses. From there, it shifts to who is responsible (not the guards, but the leadership in charge of the guards), the interrogation and torture policies implemented by the Bush administration and the fragrant disregard for the Constitution.
Taxi to the Dark Side is disturbing, shocking and downright glaring. Even assuming a liberal slant, the picture is pretty painful in its depiction of how the U.S. government has corrupted itself to "adjust to the times." Regardless of what you think of torture, the fact that the U.S. has ignored or adjusted its definitions of torture to comply with the Geneva conventions and its own constitutional restrictions on torture should be disconcerting to any citizen. Beyond that, the point that the United States was once seen as a savior in the world and has now been embarrassed and identified as a country that tortures people - presumably some innocents as well - should also be well received. Also, wouldn't you say anything your captors wanted to hear if you were being tortured?
I am not completely sold that torture is never necessary, but Taxi to the Dark Side has pushed me closer to one side than I have ever been before. This is an excellent documentary, and I hope teachers are showing this to their students.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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