Taxi to the Dark Side”: Exposé on US Abuses in “War on Terror” Wins Oscar for Best Documentary
Alex Gibney joins us to talk about his Academy Award win for his documentary Taxi to the Dark Side. The film investigates some of the most egregious abuses associated with the so-called “war on terror.”
AMY GOODMAN: Did you catch the Oscars on Sunday night? In his opening bid, host Jon Stewart poked fun at Senator John McCain and his suggestion that US troops should stay in Iraq for the next century.
JON STEWART: Not all films did as well as Juno, obviously. The films that were made about the Iraq war, let’s face it, did not do as well. But I am telling you, if we stay the course and keep these movies in the theaters, we can turn this around. I don’t care if it takes a hundred years, withdrawing the Iraq movies would only embolden the audience. We cannot let the audience win.
AMY GOODMAN: The only political commentary by an Oscar winner came from the filmmaker who won best documentary for Taxi to the Dark Side. The film reveals the story of an Afghan taxi driver who was detained by the United States, then tortured to death. Director Alex Gibney accepted the award in front of more than thirty million TV viewers.
ALEX GIBNEY: Thank you very much, Academy. Here’s to all doc filmmakers. And truth is, I think my dear wife Anne was kind of hoping I’d make a romantic comedy, but honestly, after Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition, that simply wasn’t possible. This is dedicated to two people who are no longer with us: Dilawar, the young Afghan taxi driver, and my father, a Navy interrogator, who urged me to make this film because of his fury about what was being done to the rule of law. Let’s hope we can turn this country around, move away from the dark side and back to the light. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: Alex Gibney’s documentary made headlines earlier this month when the Discovery Channel announced it had dropped plans to air the film. Gibney said the network had told him the film’s controversial content might damage Discovery’s public offering. Well, last week, HBO bought the rights to the film from Discovery. Taxi to the Dark Side features interviews with lawyers, witnesses and US soldiers.
NARRATOR: On December 5, 2002, Dilawar, a young Afghan taxi driver, was brought to Bagram. Five days after his arrival, he was dead.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: A US major checked the box for homicide. I said, “My god, they’ve killed him!”
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It became plausible to me that this man wasn’t even guilty of anything, and he was murdered in detention.
PFC. DAMIEN CORSETTI: You put people in a crazy situation, and people do crazy things.
SGT. KEN DAVIS: People were being told to rough up Iraqis that wouldn’t cooperate. We were also told they’re nothing but dogs.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Interrogators were telling the guards, strip this guy naked, chain him up to the bed in an uncomfortable position, do whatever you can.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You had these young soldiers, very little training, just as the rules were changing, and they weren’t told what the new rules were.
SGT. KEN DAVIS: You start looking at these people as less than human, and you start doing things to them you would never dream of. And that’s where it got scary.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: It was only the night shift. There’s always a few bad apples.
PFC. DAMIEN CORSETTI: The brass knew. They saw them shackled and hooded, and they said, “Right on! Y’all are doing a great job.”
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: There were emails from FBI personnel down at Guantanamo saying, “You won’t believe what’s going on down here. We’ve got to disassociate ourselves.”
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You have no right to a lawyer. You have no right to witnesses. You don’t really know what the charges are. And you certainly don’t know what the secret evidence is against you.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They saw an intentional decision taken at the height of the Pentagon to put out a fog of ambiguity.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We have to work the dark side, if you will. We’re going to spend time in the shadows.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What starts at the top of the chain of command drops like a rock down the chain of command.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: American values are premised upon the notion of human dignity.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We don’t know what revenge is coming down the road.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: There will be no outrages upon human dignity. Is it like—it’s very vague.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the trailer from Taxi to the Dark Side. Director Alex Gibney joins us now on the telephone. Welcome to Democracy Now!, and congratulations, Alex.
ALEX GIBNEY: Thank you, Amy, on both counts.
AMY GOODMAN: How does it feel?
ALEX GIBNEY: It feels pretty good, I have to tell you. You know, it’s really an extraordinary moment, and I was very proud. I’m still probably having some kind of out-of-body experience.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re back on the East Coast from Los Angeles and the Oscar ceremony Sunday night?
ALEX GIBNEY: Excuse me?
AMY GOODMAN: You’re back on the East Coast after Los Angeles Sunday night?
ALEX GIBNEY: Yes, I’m back on the East Coast. I flew back yesterday, just got back here late last night.
AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us about your film? We’ve spoken twice, when the film came out. We spoke when Discovery Channel—well, why don’t you tell us what happened with Discovery Channel and why your show is in now being—the film is now being distributed by HBO?
ALEX GIBNEY: Well, I had been told by Discovery that they had no intention, even though they—the Discovery Channel had bought the film after it won the Tribeca Film Festival, and they bought the TV rights for three years. But then, recently, just before the Oscar nominations, they told me they weren’t interested in showing it this year and probably not at all. Now they’ve sold it to HBO, or sold the TV rights to HBO, and so HBO will be showing it this September, and I’m told Discovery will show it sometime after that on its basic cable channel. But at least for now, my view is that it’s a happy ending to what was a very difficult problem.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m confused. Why did Discovery buy it then?
ALEX GIBNEY: I don’t know. I mean, it’s possible that the previous administration wanted it, and then a new administration decided they didn’t. And also, it appears they were going through a public offering and were concerned about controversy.
AMY GOODMAN: And someone told you this within Discovery directly, from the—representing Discovery?
ALEX GIBNEY: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: So they bought it, they weren’t going to run it, and then you were able to offer it to HBO, and HBO bought it from Discovery?
ALEX GIBNEY: Well, actually, I mean, I think that some of the controversy may have resulted in the fact that Discovery then decided to sell it to HBO, but it was Discovery that had to offer it to HBO. Discovery controlled the rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Quite a coup for HBO to announce, what, a few days before you win the Oscar that they were going—that they have your film, Taxi to the Dark Side.
ALEX GIBNEY: Yeah, I’m sure HBO was very delighted, and I—of course, I was delighted HBO picked it up, because they were very enthusiastic about wanting to show it. And I think they’re going to do a great job with it. But then, they must have been feeling pretty good on Monday morning that the film won.
AMY GOODMAN: So what does this mean for you, Alex Gibney? What does it mean when a documentary wins an Oscar in terms of how it will be seen by the rest of the country—well, and the world?
ALEX GIBNEY: Well, I think in the short term it means that more people are going to pay attention to the film, which is good, is really good, because this is a very tough subject, but I think that everybody I know who’s gone to see the film really appreciated, really understood how it told in human terms something about a very dark chapter in our history. So I think that the Oscar kind of gives it a good housekeeping seal of approval, if you want, lets everybody know it’s a good film, they should go and see it. And, you know, I’m told that Think Film is going to try to put it into some more theaters, and then HBO is going to see it in the fall. So it’s going to bring a lot of attention to this issue, as well.
Now, I’m also told that the film is being screened rather widely in Washington, D.C., particularly as Bush gets ready to veto a new bill that is trying to prevent any further enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA, particularly waterboarding. So that’s a bill that has been passed by both houses of Congress, and I believe Bush is threatening to veto it this week.
AMY GOODMAN: Yours was one of the few political comments the entire evening, your acceptance speech. Can you talk about your message?
ALEX GIBNEY: Well, I mean, the message was the—in a way, it was a personal message, because it talked about both the victim in this case, Dilawar, who had been tortured to death, but also my father, who played such a strong role in encouraging me to push forward with this film. And he was a Navy interrogator, and he believed in the fundamental rule of law and that he was upholding a certain value, certain military values that honored the rule of law and that those had been transgressed. And I’ve talked to a lot of other military who feel exactly the same way, that in this case a civilian administration had tinkered with fundamental values in ways that were deeply upsetting and were causing havoc throughout the military. So that was the message.
The message—and yet, the message also contained, you know, I felt, a certain amount of hope. I sense that despite this dark side to which our national taxi has traveled, that we are turning things around and slowly beginning to exert, you know, the strength of our democracy. Let’s hope so.
AMY GOODMAN: You ended by saying, “Let’s hope we can turn this country around, move away from the dark side and back to the light.”
ALEX GIBNEY: That’s right. That was—I mean, you know, I’m referring to the dark side from the—that’s mentioned in the film, but, you know, that I’m hopeful that we can have higher aspirations, that we’re not lured by this sense of weakness, retribution and revenge that seems to have been—seems to have overtaken our civilian leadership.
AMY GOODMAN: Alex Gibney, thank you again, congratulations again. He won the Oscar for best documentary for his film Taxi to the Dark Side.
ALEX GIBNEY: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you, Alex.