THE BLOG
02/06/2008 03:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Moving Past Torture: A Review of the Film Taxi to the Dark Side

Soon after the photos of Abu Ghraib were
released, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the U.S. Congress
that the
world should "watch how a democracy deals with the wrongdoing and with
the scandal and the pain of acknowledging and correcting our own
mistakes and
our own weaknesses."

The Secretary went on to appoint a
dizzying number of investigation teams -- more than two dozen. Each was
tasked with an isolated aspect of the abuse to investigate. None of
them looked
at the big picture. "The problem is that they have created a patchwork
of
investigations and a lot will fall through the cracks," warned retired
2-star Admiral John Hutson in an interview with the New York Times.
While the
investigations netted several bad apples (seven junior soldiers went to
jail in
connection with Abu Ghraib), many of the policies (and policymakers)
that made
torture possible are still in place.

Taxi to the Dark Side, a documentary film about Dilawar, an
Afghan taxi driver who was tortured to death by U.S. forces, turns over
stones
Department of Defense investigators avoided touching.

Alex Gibney, the filmmaker, interviews the
guards who beat Dilawar; they kicked him so hard that his legs
"pulpified" according to one medical examiner. Their comments are
revealing. They did it, because that is just how they operated and that
is what
they thought they were supposed to do. They didn't do it because they
thought Dilawar was guilty. Indeed, they thought they had "the wrong
man."

And here is where the film goes further
than former Secretary Rumsfeld was ever willing to go. It explores what
led
more or less average Americans to think they should torture a detainee,
or to
be more exact all the detainees.

Many of the root causes lie with a
fundamental misunderstanding on the part of administration decision
makers
about the efficacy of torture. In a particularly illuminating -- and very
creepy -- sequence, Gibney interviews Alfred McCoy, an author who has
researched the CIA's use of torture.

Many of the same techniques that were used
on Dilawar (and in other instances of abuse such as Abu Ghraib) stem
from a
manual the CIA put together in the 60s. As it turns out the manual is
based on the research of a psychologist from Canada (of all places). It
jumps to
wild conclusions based on limited studies he did with students. For
example,
this is the genesis of the idea of subjecting detainees to sleep
deprivation
and sensory deprivation at the same time. But as the psychologist
himself
explains (in old video dug up by Gibney): depriving someone of sleep
for 72
hours combined with sensory deprivation often leads to psychosis.
People become
incoherent. They hallucinate. Everything they say is unreliable.
According to
Department of Defense documents, the Army subjected one suspected
terrorist to 49
days straight of this regimen.

Perhaps one reason the former Secretary of
Defense, the Vice President and others have gotten this so
spectacularly wrong
is that they have not reached out to seasoned interrogators to solicit
their
views on how interrogations ought to be performed. About two-thirds of
the way
through the film, Gibney introduces Jack Cloonan, a 25-year veteran
interrogator with the FBI. Cloonan looks directly into the camera and
explains
how he broke suspected terrorists and other bad guys for the FBI. It
wasn't by shooting them in the leg, or breaking their fingers. It was by
talking to them and appealing to their self-interest. Cloonan's approach
may not land him a role on the FOX show "24", but it gets results.

Gibney, the filmmaker, has done his
homework. He is interested in harder questions than simply, "who did
this?" He wants to know why and how it could be done better. And, in
this
way, the film is both thoroughly depressing (you want to cry the
last time you see Dilawar's picture flash on the screen) and at the same
time offers a sliver of hope. Because what makes Taxi so compelling and
watchable is that it doesn't
just document the abuse, it begins to point to a better way.