Sometimes I feel like the only person who remembers pre-9/11 New York City. Back before I moved to Cincinnati in 2000, I remember watching reports and coverage of news stories from the city dealing with police abuse cases, situations where New York's finest had fired 41 bullets at a black immigrant in front of his apartment building or where officers took another immigrant into a bathroom at a police precinct and sodomized him with a plunger.
It was "Giuliani Time," and law and order were not to be fucked around with in the new and improved New York City.
Along came the attacks of 9/11, and this mini-crusade prepared to go global as the United States began hunting for the terrorists responsible for threatening the safety and security of the world's great, lone superpower. We declared war and began bombing a country and its people in order to free them from tyranny and to protect us. We could and should be willing to do anything to achieve that end.
Now Alex Gibney's Academy Award-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side examines the codes and applications of torture used by the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay by following the case of a young Iraqi taxi driver who died after being tortured by the U.S. military back in 2002. The film delves into questions about specific brutal techniques and practices, the chain of command that gives the OK for such practices to be initiated and, more disturbingly, how the notion that final criminal responsibility for such actions rests in the hands of the enlisted men and women rather than the military brass that issues the orders.
By focusing on the tragic situation of a humble taxi driver seeking to provide what little support he could for his family, Dark Side casts aspersions on the notion of our country's ability to lay claim to the moral high ground. To be brutally honest, though, one could ask when we've ever had the right to plant our flag on this hallowed territory?
Gibney's film joins a long line of recent documentaries (like Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight, which Gibney produced and which was also nominated for Best Documentary Feature) on the war efforts that go beyond what the conservative hawks would call mere "unpatriotic" propaganda and forces audiences to consider the means in which our country seeks to spread democracy around the world. Is it "unpatriotic" to highlight our own failings in our dealings with the rest of the world? Does our moral superiority justify such abuses? Is it any wonder the world sees us as a dark superpower?
Gibney's film and its Oscar win should serve as a warning to our leaders, both military and political, that we can shine a light on ourselves and hopefully find the right path away from the dark side.
I should warn readers that reading this review during these trying political times could amount to charges of anti-American behavior, but the greater challenge for the truly patriotic would be to step out of our suburban comfort zones, drive to our multiplexes and art houses and purchase tickets to see Taxi to the Dark Side. Walking out, whether you agree or disagree with Gibney's sentiments, strike up a conversation with someone, either the person you're with or a stranger beside you.
Probing debate, not the kind of run around we've been getting from the political talking heads, illuminates the darkness that surrounds us. Finding fault and taking responsibility is what can truly set us back on course. Grade: A
Opens Feb. 29.