Taxi to the Darkside
Taxi to the Darkside is a film which does what I thought Standard Operating Procedure (Filmstalker review) would do. It looks at some of the individual events of torture and abuse in Abu Ghraib and not only goes wider into the allegation of abuse, but also deeper than Standard Operating Procedures did.
The film examines other American terrorist prisons and shows a pattern of behaviour and operating methods, and looks at the people involved from prison to prison. Then it starts tracing back the command structure to see just how far the chain leads, and that's some way.
This is perhaps the most damning view of America's treatment of terrorist labelled detainees that I've seen and provides a frightening view of reality that hasn't fully been put together in one place before.
The film opens with some stunning facts which immediately put a perspective on the film. Eighty three thousand detainees since September 11th 2006. That's a frightening number, especially when you start considering how these people could have been treated and what they feel now.
That figure is heightened by a quote later on in the film from a British detainee from Guantanamo. He was told by a US interrogator that if he wasn't a terrorist before he sure will be after they'd finished with him, something most definitely worth thinking about.
The story starts off on a very small scale by showing us the tragic story of a Taxi driver who died in U.S. imprisonment. The entire film is bookended by his story and it manages to connect the bigger political piece that seems so far away in both distance and reality, firmly to the audience.
We find that the taxi driver picked up a fare of two people who were considered to have launched a rocket attack on a nearby U.S. base. They were captured, detained, tortured and interrogated, and the driver died in captivity, a U.S. doctor noting on his death certificate that he was murdered.
When we get to this point of the story it has already begun to open wider, looking at the soldiers involved and finding out why they had carried out the beatings, what they believed their orders were and how woefully ill trained and prepared they were for this kind of work.
It also presents these soldiers in a more sympathetic light, showing that they had orders to follow and that their choices were limited by circumstance and command. We see that these soldiers have not escaped unscathed from the experience and are far from the instigators, they too have had their lives ruined by the events.
From here the film's scope gets bigger and bigger, looking at America's early adoption of torture in interrogation, the methods first used by the CIA, and how they have been adopted by the Army and the Government.
We then begin to see that the abuse has started well before Abu Ghraib and that the running of prisons in this manner was now pretty much procedure as defined in Afghanistan and before.
As the chain of command gets higher the evidence doesn't stop either, and the Bush administration continue to make themselves seem utterly incompetent and much like they belong in this axis of evil themselves.
Some of the revelations in the film, particularly those about the people higher up in the chain, are utterly frightening. Seeing their words both written and spoken, from the highest positions of power within the United States, reveals just how little regard there is in current U.S. foreign policy for human life. These sections show how the U.S. Government created this standard use of torture, how they perpetrated it and managed to completely circumvent the Geneva Convention on war crimes.
The film is truly frightening, but also incredibly fascinating. The insights it gives into the involvement, motivation and beliefs of the key figures in the perpetration of such crimes are quite surprising, and it will leave you stunned at key moments.
It spends the right amount of time explaining events and manages to present a very complex and multi-layered story easily and highly effectively to the audience. It expertly shows what happened and who is accountable for various aspects of the events and policies.
What it also does is not just show what's wrong within the current U.S. policies for the detention, interrogation and general handling of people detained under terrorist laws, but it offers suggestions to what individuals, officials and the Government could have done. This is just another strong facet of the film and adds to its strength.
The film presents a very strong point of view and historical fact that is hard to deny or find an argument against. It grows and grows in strength and momentum until it returns to the story of the taxi driver, at which point we're brought back to the human impact after hitting the heights of the White House.
A superbly made film that deserves to be high up on the list of must see documentaries as well as required watching by all voting Americans.