On Dec. 5, 2002, a 22-year-old rural Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar, suspected of ferrying terrorists, was picked up by U.S. forces and imprisoned at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Five days later, the prisoner was dead, his legs beaten to such a literal pulp while his wrists were chained overhead that his death was ruled a homicide on the coroner's report. Like a guided road trip through a hell of our nation's own making, the usefully horrifying documentary Taxi to the Dark Side follows a map that leads from Dilawar's death in Bagram to the notorious prison abuses in Iraq's Abu Ghraib to policies in the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, and from ground-level soldiers all the way up to the implied sanction of the Vice President of the United States. (It was Dick Cheney who articulated the necessity of being able to work through ''the dark side'' to achieve U.S. intelligence aims in the war on terror.) As argued by filmmaker Alex Gibney with controlled despair and outrage, the headline-making human rights violations ascribed, at the time of the Abu Ghraib scandal, to a ''few bad apples'' are in fact the result of fear turned into institutional madness, in lawless contradiction of the Geneva Conventions and generally accepted conventions of humanity.
Gibney, who won awards for Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, also served as executive producer of No End in Sight. And here, as in that vital Iraq doc, he achieves maximum force with the direct testimony of many involved in Dilawar's life and death, including the soldiers assigned to his interrogation and the journalists who first investigated the story. But where No End is cool and measured, Taxi is hot, anguished, and sometimes as difficult to watch as pictures of torture ought to be, with the damning Abu Ghraib footage in particularly clear focus. Occasionally, extraneous production flourishes tricky graphic design, redundantly ominous music push harder than necessary to tell the story. Then again, if music and shocking pictures are key to consciousness-raising, then hey, crank them up. A-