May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
May 25, 2009
When G.K. Chesterton wrote that reason and justice grip even the remotest and loneliest star, he did so presuming their presence on the planet earth as well. But Taxi to the Dark Side raises the age-old question once again: Where is the justice? With news footage, grainy video, and still photographs interspersed with interviews of the principal players, Alex Gibney has fashioned a scathing attack on the policies and the policymakers he believes were responsible for the ill-treatment of prisoners the United States captured and held during the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Gibney brilliantly roots his film about torture in the story of one Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver captured by an Afghan militia and turned over to the U.S. on suspicion of his involvement in a rocket attack on a U.S. base. Dilawar died within five days of his incarceration at Bagram Prison due to repeated beatings he received from the guards, a case the doctor on the ground registered as a homicide. In addition, Dilawar and the men in his cab at the time of his arrest were eventually exonerated of the crime of which they were suspected, captured and turned in by the militia that carried out the original attack.
While Gibney’s film investigates and excoriates many of the policies that created the circumstances of prisons at Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay, it’s Dilawar’s human side of the story that is most affecting and where the question of justice comes into view most clearly.
The stories of each of these individuals, alongside that of Dilawar, cry out, “Where is the justice?” As important as it is to have policy discussions about issues like torture or economics or even something as mundane as roads and bridges, none of it matters unless all parties involved have the human cost at the forefront of their minds. And this is the brilliance of Gibney’s film. It frames a discussion of torture by placing a series of human beings in front of us—dying people and broken people and guilty people—but people, one and all. The film is smart enough to realize that injustices like torture are carried out by people, not policies. Changing policies will definitely limit a soldier’s ability to carry out certain injustices on the ground, but ultimately, it always comes back to the people, from the highest of the higher-ups to the lowliest solider in the Army. Gibney’s film shows us the catastrophic human cost of the poor, misguided, and, dare I say, evil choices that people often make, ironically enough, in the name of justice.
Though Gibney finished the film in 2007, as of 2009, the prison at Guantanamo continues to hold over 200 prisoners without a definite end in sight. Political perspectives on Guantanamo aside, none can deny the fundamental importance of a just society. More than anything, the subject of Taxi to the Dark Side reminds us what a world without justice looks like. It obliges us to envision a world dark and terrible and chaotic. It compels us to consider a realm beyond even Chesterton’s remote and lonely star. And it forces us to wonder if that imagined place is far nearer than we ever would have believed.
(A very welcome guest review from John Adair.)