Taxi to the Dark Side, Alex Gibney (2007)

This man, Dilawar, a taxi driver, was beaten to death by American soldiers at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on December 10, 2002. He was shackled while he was beaten. He weighed 122 pounds when he died. He has never been accused of any crime — not that that matters; it is illegal, as far as I know, to beat anyone to death, no matter what they’ve done or haven’t.

This documentary starts with Dilawar’s graphic, dramatic, outrageous story, but then, having seized your attention, turns, as it should, to the political and legal context which made stories like Dilawar’s inevitable. The military and intelligence personnel who have tortured prisoners since 2001 have committed heinous acts, and I believe they should be held accountable. However, none of these crimes would have committed absent the tacit and overt encouragement of administration officials and their attorneys. Many people who should be in prison for crimes committed in the course of military actions since 2001 haven’t been called to account. If I had to make a list of these people, the soldiers who beat Dilawar to death would be low on the list. At the top: George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, David Addington, John Yoo, Jay S. Bybee, Donald Rumsfeld, William J. Haynes II, Steven G. Bradbury . . . That would be a good start.

There are some moments in this movie that I don’t like, where Gibney, understandably overwhelmed by some of the more Orwellian ironies he’s reporting on, indulges in some Michael-Mooreish sarcasm. But on the whole, it’s a remarkably comprehensive and effective document. If you want to understand the Bush administration’s breathtaking, monomaniacal rush to subvert basic longstanding legal principles such as habeas corpus and the prohibition of torture, I’d suggest starting with this movie and Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side.

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