Posted at 12:40 PM on February 8, 2008
by Euan Kerr
Another of the best documentary Oscar nominees reaches our shores this weekend. Alex Gibney's "Taxi to the Dark Side" examines the story of an Afghan taxi driver who died in the detention cells in Bagram Air Base after being beaten by US soldiers.
It's a sordid tale told compellingly by many of the people who were involved.
Gibney, who also narrates the film, unflinchingly lays out what happened in the cells, and follows the series of policy decisions and communications from the military and the Bush administration, which led to the death of a man who it is now acknowledged was not an insurgent, and just had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As has been shown in other films such as Michael Winterbottom's "Road to Guantanamo" the 'wrong place' was pretty much the whole of Afghanistan for a while.
Using a combination of interviews, news footage and pictures, and some reconstructions, Gibney lays out how interrogators began using what they called "harsh techniques" after getting little or no guidance and training. He also talks to Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Woo who wrote the so-called Torture Memo for the US Department of Justice. Woo argues for the lawfulness of using certain interrogation techniques in the War on Terror, but other senior lawyers and military officials argue against them from a legal, moral, and practical point of view, saying they do way more damage than good.
This is a tough movie to watch, not just because of the graphic images of abuse. Gibney lays out the implications of what was done to detainees, for them as individuals, and for our larger society in terms of the lack of checks and balances in the jails and in Washington. He also lays out the potential repercussions which will be with us for years to come.
"Taxi to the Dark Side" is one of three Best Documentary Oscar nominees to do with an aspect of the War on Terror, the other two being "No End in Sight" and "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience." The nominee list is rounded out by Michael Moore's "Sicko" and "War/Dance" about refugees from the violence in Northern Uganda.
Gibney has been nominated once before for "Enron: The smartest guys in the room."