FILMS > 10 DOCUMENTARIES > Taxi to the Dark Side

About this film:
Producer:   Alex Gibney
Director:   Alex Gibney
Editor:   Sloane Klevin
Duration:   complete
Country:   USA, Afghanistan, Iraq

Can terrorism destroy demorcary? - Join the debate

What is terrorism? Who are terrorists? Since the US declared war on terrorism in 2001 we have heard a lot about terrorism and terrorists. They could be anyone. They could live anywhere. In the US and around the world special laws have been made that the government says helps them fight terrorism. These laws make it easier for the police to get information about people, arrest and detain them. Prisoners have been kept at Guantanamo Bay Prison in Cuba for months and even years without access to a lawyer and without ever being put on trial – Both ignoring and violating human rights.

At the same time, Abraham Lincoln one of the most important American Presidents believed that democracy stood for rule for the people, by the people and of the people. If we agree with Lincoln that individual rights are important in a democracy. How far can we fight an unidentifiable enemy within, without breaking the rules that make a democracy? Can terrorism destroy democracy?


Over one hundred prisoners have died in suspicious circumstances in U.S. custody during the "war on terror". Taxi to the Dark Side takes an in-depth look at one case: an Afghan taxi driver called Dilawar who was considered an honest and kind man by the people of his rustic village. So when he was detained by the U.S military one afternoon, after picking up three passengers, denizens wondered why this man was randomly chosen to be held in prison, and, especially, without trial? Five days after his arrest Dilawar died in his Bagram prison cell. His death came within a week of another death of a detainee at Bagram. The conclusion, with autopsy evidence, was that the former taxi driver and the detainee who passed away before him, had died due to sustained injuries inflicted at the prison by U.S. soldiers. The documentary, by award-winning producer Alex Gibney, carefully develops the last weeks of Dilawar’s life and shows how decisions taken at the pinnacle of power in the Bush Administration led directly to Dilawar’s brutal death. The film documents how Rumsfeld, together with the White House legal team, were able to convince Congress to approve the use of torture against prisoners of war. Taxi to the Dark Side is the definitive exploration of the introduction of torture as an interrogation technique in U.S. facilities, and the role played by key figures of the Bush Administration in the process.


ALEX GIBNEY is the writer, producer and director of the 2006 Oscar-nominated film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, which also received the Independent Spirit Award and the WGA Award. A graduate of Yale University (B.A.), Gibney also attended the UCLA Graduate School of Film and Television. In 2003, Gibney served as the Series Producer for The Blues, an Emmy-nominated series of seven films in association with executive producer Martin Scorsese. In 2004 Gibney produced Lightning in a Bottle a film directed by Antoine Fuqua, which premiered in 2004 at the Berlin Film Festival and which was released by Sony Classics. Taxi to the Dark Side has won the Best Documentary Award at the Tribeca Film Festival (2007).


In 2004 members of the US military were exposed in a number of rape, torture, and abuse cases of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq. Since then, international criticism has increased as allegations of torture against detainees not only in Iraq, but also in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in several undisclosed prisons in Europe have surfaced.

Political History
The US declared its independence from the British in 1776. The American constitution was written that same year, and divided the country into three main branches of national government: the executive, the judiciary, and the legislative branch, which remain in place until this day. Since then the US has developed into a “melting pot” of cultures, with a variety of religions and traditions from around the world. The first migrants came primarily from the British Isles. They were soon joined by slaves from Africa, as well as a second wave of migration from Europe.

Significantly, there has been a rise in discontent towards the US over the last few decades. This was openly manifested on September 11, 2001 when three hijacked aircraft were purposely crashed in New York City, and Washington, DC, the first major terrorist threat in America’s history. Since the attacks of September 11, the US has mounted a war on terrorism. Under the mandate of spreading democracy and peace around the world, the United States is now heavily involved in Afghanistan and Iraq in an attempt to counteract a new brand of militant, extremist Islam that has taken root in Muslim communities around the world.

The Political Scene
The US has two main political parties: the Republicans and the Democrats. The Republicans are known as the more conservative party and the Democrats are typically more liberal. However, on several issues the Democrats and the Republicans work together. The war in Iraq has become very unpopular amongst American citizens and President Bush’s approval ratings have been below 30 percent since 2005. In 2006 elections were held for the U.S. Congress and Senate. For the first time in 12 years, the Democrats won control of both the Congressional House and the Senate. This has meant that President Bush’s government has had a more difficult time pushing legislation through.

World Relevance
The first Geneva Convention was written in 1863. Since then the convention has come to include not only the wounded and sick people in the armed forces but also prisoners of war and civilians. Breaking this code of conduct can lead to trial at a national or international court and does without doubt lead to what politicians call ‘naming and shaming’. The US has never signed the Geneva Convention and critics have noted what they see as systematic abuses of international law. Many interpret this as a sign that American administrations consider themselves to be above the law and possibly beyond judgement. America has led the world for a century. The American model has seemed to work, with the U.S. strongly tied to concepts and promises of freedom and prosperity. But if America can no longer live up to its promises, we can question if America will continue to rule the world.

Looking Ahead
In 2008 elections will be held for the successor to Bush. In the U.S. a president can only sit two four-year terms. At the moment the presidential candidates are running preliminary primary campaigns, through which parties elect their presidential candidate. The 2007 Democratic primary election is controversial because a woman, Hilary Clinton, and an African-American, Barak Obama, are running for office. Both have a serious chance of winning the primaries. The change in government will possibly lead to significant changes in the way U.S. foreign policy is run.

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Taxi to the Dark Side online:
Human Rights Watch
Learn more about Guantanmo Bay Abu Ghraib
Abu Ghraib Background

Official White House Website
Learn more about the White House stand on political and social issues

BBC Country Profile: USA
Learn more about the US and the political and economic context for the movie

Heated debate over use of torture - Jonathan Marcus, BBC News

Defining torture in a new world war - Paul Reynolds, BBC News

New US rules on terror detainees - BBC News
Article and Primary Documents

Andrew Sullivan reviews from Tribeca for "The Atlantic Online"

Stephen Farber reviews from Tribeca for "The Hollywood Reporter"

Review from The Reeler - The Tribeca Blog

Review from
Review from

Tribeca Film Festival - TAXI wins award
Tribeca Film Festival

Review from TRIBECA Film Festival Screening

Review from TRIBECA Film Festival Screening

Interview with director Alex Gibney-Wall Street Journal

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