Film News

Enron filmmaker focuses on U.S. torture

NEW YORK (Reuters) - After examining corruption at energy giant Enron, director Alex Gibney has turned his lens on what he calls the “corruption of American values” in a new film about U.S. torture in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

“Taxi to the Dark Side,” which had its premiere at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival this weekend, examines the case of an Afghan taxi driver who was mistakenly detained and died after sustained beating by U.S. guards in December 2002.

From there, the film draws a picture of a pattern of abuse it says spread with a “nod and a wink” from the U.S. military base in Cuba to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and then to Iraq, notably to the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

Part of the problem, the film contends, is that there never were written orders authorizing many of the abuses -- a situation that led to prosecution of lowly enlisted soldiers branded “bad apples” while senior officers remain untouched.

U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly denied measures approved by his administration amount to torture and the Pentagon has said the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal and other similar cases were isolated incidents.

Gibney said he was pitched the idea of the film by “some very angry lawyers” after his 2005 film “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” which was nominated for an Oscar.


The title “Taxi to the Dark Side” refers to remarks on intelligence gathering by Vice President Dick Cheney just a few days after the September 11 attacks in 2001. “We also have to work the dark side, if you will. We have to spend time in the shadows,” Cheney told NBC in the interview shown in the movie.

The film includes interviews with several soldiers prosecuted for beating the taxi driver and a British man detained in Afghanistan and held for nearly two years in Guantanamo who witnessed the death of the taxi driver.

Others interviewed are former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora, whose concerns about torture appeared to be brushed aside, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005, and John Yoo, who drafted key memos for the White House on aggressive interrogation tactics in 2001 and 2002.

Gibney said he wanted to tell a balanced story.

“I’m not one of these people who believe there’s a few men in a black tower who said, ‘This is going to be the way it works,”’ he said. “But I think they were reckless and possibly not very bright ... I don’t think the people responsible for this really knew what they unleashed.”

The film suggests that when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized certain harsh interrogation tactics for a single detainee at Guantanamo, said to have been a conspirator with the September 11 hijackers, similar tactics spread to Bagram in Afghanistan and from there eventually to Iraq.

“I ended up doing a film about corruption -- corruption of the rule of law and corruption of American values ... What I was most surprised by was just how dark the dark side was.”