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Heroes of the Zeroes: Taxi to the Dark Side

by on October 22, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Taxi to the Dark Side”
Rated R

On Dec. 1, 2002, Afghani taxi driver Dilawar was detained at Bagram, a detention center, on slim suspicions of abetting a terrorist attack.

He then was shackled in stress positions, sleep-deprived and repeatedly beaten. Five days later, Dilawar died, legs “pulpified” and, had he lived, in need of amputation.

The George W. Bush administration’s blind engagement of “the dark side” by combating terror with torture proved tragic far beyond Dilawar: Barbaric interrogation of al-Qaeda trainer Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi yielded “intelligence” that Iraq possessed WMD — a later-invalidated linchpin for Iraq incursion.

“Taxi to the Dark Side,” Alex Gibney’s Oscar-winning 2007 documentary, is consciously depressing, draining and damning, yet its dizzying, disorienting tone befits its indictments against vulgarly abused power.

Housing terrorism’s worst since 9/11, Guantanamo Bay was a testing ground for aggressive physical interrogation. Even overseen by specialists and directed at known extremists, brutality is historically ineffective compared to bargaining; Jack Bauer’s success is pure fiction.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, such tactics fell to untrained military policemen. In lieu of written orders to safeguard higher-ups, they were told infantrymen would die if intelligence weren’t extracted, so gruesome imaginations or fears of discharge prompted Abu Ghraib and Bagram’s horrors.

Gibney avoids judging these soldiers’ painful candor. They already were punished in accordance with a system of blame traveling down, never up (evidenced by the administration’s legal loophole to avoid war-crimes prosecution).

Many of these men and women were extremities, not the brains behind the evil they did.