I would say that Taxi to the Dark Side was sheer torture to sit through, but who knows what qualifies as torture these days? Since 9/11, the U.S. military, backed by the U.S. government (the executive branch, anyway), has pursued a definition that's left the Geneva Conventions in tatters. Suspects are detained, shackled, strung up, beaten and subjected to the latest techniques in psychological warfare, all in the name of freedom. And the interrogations can go on for months, even years. (So much for habeas corpus.) Vice President Cheney wasn't kidding when he said, soon after 9/11, that we were going to have to "work the dark side." Darth Vader couldn't have put it any better.
And Darth could perhaps have gotten a few pointers from the interrogators at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and Afghanistan's Bagram Prison, that last one a focal point of Alex Gibney's powerful indictment of U.S. methods, which just won the Oscar for Best Feature Documentary. Taxi to the Dark Side begins with Dilawar, an Afghani taxi driver who was found dead after five days inside Bagram; the coroner's report described his legs as "pulpified." But the movie branches out from there, turning Dilawar's case into a murder mystery of sorts. For who was responsible, ultimately? The interrogators? Their senior officers? The Bush administration? Alas, there's plenty of blame to go around.
And Gibney does a great job of tracking it all down. There are no smoking guns per se, but it's clear that an anything-goes atmosphere was allowed to spread. Rules and regulations were ambiguous, perhaps on purpose. And there was a lot of pressure to produce results. Gibney interviewed all five American soldiers put on trial for Dilawar's death, and their thoughts about what they went through and what they put others through are chilling, to say the least. He also interviewed a full panoply of military officials and outside experts, including UW history professor Alfred McCoy, who helps put today's practices into historical context.
Overall, the movie's an amazing piece of work - impressively thorough and thoroughly shocking.