'Taxi to the Dark Side' Examines Torture by U.S.

Taxi to the Dark Side is as shocking and disturbing as its title. Its subject matter is torture as a weapon of choice in the war against terror. There are pictures and videos from Abu Ghraib. But most distressing is how readily the U.S. government turned to torture.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A documentary filmmaker has been sending out warning signs of his own. He examines troubling social stories. Alex Gibney was nominated for an Academy Award for his film "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room."

Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan says his new film deserves another nomination.

KENNETH TURAN: "Taxi to the Dark Side" is as shocking and disturbing as its title. "Taxi"'s subject matter is torture as a weapon of choice in the war against terror, so it can be difficult to take. We see pictures and videos from Abu Ghraib not suitable for family viewing. But what's finally the most distressing thing about "Taxi" is how readily our government turned to torture.

"Taxi to the Dark Side"'s title sounds like simply an adroit metaphor, but it has very concrete origins. The dark side comes from a post-9/11 interview with Vice President Dick Cheney.

(Soundbite of movie, "Taxi to the Dark Side")

Vice President DICK CHENEY: We have to work sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows, in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies.

TURAN: As to the taxi part of the title, writer-director Alex Gibney has loosely structured his film around the death of an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar, who died after five days of American military interrogation. His U.S. death certificate listed the cause of death as homicide, traceable to beatings he received while in captivity.

Filmmaker Gibney interviewed the clearly haunted soldiers who are put on trial in military court for the man's death. We hear exactly what they did, as well as the circumstances that put ordinary decent men in interrogation situations without the kind of written guidelines they desperately requested.

"Taxi to the Dark Side" also looks at where our change in interrogation policy came from and talks to people all across the political spectrum who are upset about it.

Here's what former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora has to say.

(Soundbite of movie, "Taxi to the Dark Side")

Mr. ALBERTO MORA (Retired General Counsel, U.S. Navy): The argument that we have to apply abuse to detainees in order to protect American lives I find to be violative of our deepest values and to the very safety of our country. We fight not only to protect lives, we fight to protect our principles.

TURAN: "Taxi"'s most poignant interview is with the director's seriously ill father, Frank Gibney. He interrogated Japanese prisoners during World War II and he asked to be unhooked from his oxygen machine so he could speak out against the new policies. It's got to stop, he insists. And his son's significant film shows both why he cares so passionately, and why we should, too.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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