Taxi to the Dark Side

Taxi to the Dark Side

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alex Gibney
Produced by Alex Gibney
Eva Orner
Susannah Shipman
Written by Alex Gibney
Music by Ivor Guest
Robert Logan
Edited by Sloane Klevin
Distributed by THINKFilm
Release dates
  • April 30, 2007 (2007-04-30)
Running time
106 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Mugshot of taxi driver Dilawar at the Bagram prison where he died.

Taxi to the Dark Side is a 2007 documentary film directed by American filmmaker Alex Gibney, and produced by him, Eva Orner and Susannah Shipman. It won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. It focuses on the December 2002 killing of an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar,[1] who was beaten to death by American soldiers while being held in extrajudicial detention and interrogated at the Parwan Detention Facility at Bagram air base.

It was part of the Why Democracy? series, which consisted of ten documentary films from around the world questioning and examining contemporary democracy. As part of this series, the documentary was broadcast in over 30 countries from October 8–18, 2007. The BBC showed the film in its Storyville series.


Taxi to the Dark Side examines the USA's policy on torture and interrogation in general, specifically the CIA's use of torture and their research into sensory deprivation. The film includes discussions against the use of torture by political and military opponents, as well as the defense of such methods; attempts by Congress to uphold the standards of the Geneva Convention forbidding torture; and popularization of the use of torture techniques in TV series such as 24.


The documentary background to the death of Dilawar, an Afghan peanut farmer, who gave up farming to become a taxi driver, and who died after several days of beating at Bagram detention center.

Dilawar left his home of Yakubi in eastern Afghanistan in the autumn of 2002, investing his family money in a new taxi to make money in a larger city. On 1 December 2002 he and three passengers were handed over to US military officials by a local Afghan warlord, accused of organising an attack on Camp Salerno. The warlord was later found guilty of the attack himself, but had been ingratiating himself (for $1000 per person) by handing over alleged terrorists.

Dilawar was held at the prison at Bagram Air Base, and given the prisoner number BT421. Chained from the ceiling, he received multiple attacks on his thighs, a standard technique viewed as "permissible" and non-life-threatening. It is likely that the severe attack caused a blood clot which then killed him. His official death certificate created by the US military to pass to his family, with his body, was marked "homicide". Medical conclusion stated that Dilawar's legs were "pulpified" and, had he lived, would have required amputation.

The film explores the background of increasingly sanctioned "torture" since 9/11 in contravention of the Geneva Convention.

Looking at the exposures of Abu Graib and the humiliations brought about by Linndie England and others, it claims these were systematically introduced at Bagram under the direction of Cpt Caroline Wood, under the command of Col Lawrence Wilkerson.

Interviews include Tim Golden of the New York Times who brought the case into the international spotlight, and Moazzam Begg, a British citizen imprisoned at the same time, and witness to the events. Military interviewees include Damien Corsetti the main interogator, and Sgt Anthony Morden. Cpt Christopher Beiring explains how he was the only person charged (charged with derliction of duty).

The documentary claims that of the over 83,000 people incarcerated by US forces in Afghanistan up to 2007, 93 percent were captured by local militiamen and exchanged for US bounty payments. Also that 105 detainees had died in captivity and that 37 of these deaths had been officially classified as homicides up to 2007.[2]

The film also looks at Guantanamo Bay and how the same techniques were implemented there.


The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 28, 2007.[3]

Reception and awards

Taxi to the Dark Side appeared on some critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008. Premiere magazine named it the fifth best film of 2008,[4] and Bill White of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named it the seventh best film of 2008.[4] The film also scored 100% for critic approval, out of 91 reviews, on Rotten Tomatoes.[5]

It was named by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as one of 15 films on its documentary feature Oscar shortlist in November 2007,[6][7] and won the Oscar on February 24, 2008.[8] In his acceptance speech for the "Best Documentary Feature" Academy Award, Gibney said:

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.[8][9]

It also won a Peabody Award in 2007 "for its sober, meticulous argument that what happened to a hapless Afghani was not an aberration but, rather, the inevitable result of a consciously approved, widespread policy."[10]

Controversies and legal disputes

Alex Gibney and the crew of Taxi to the Darkside at the 67th Annual Peabody Awards

In June 2007, the Discovery Channel bought the rights to broadcast Taxi to the Dark Side. However, in February 2008, it made public its intention never to broadcast the documentary due to its controversial nature.[11] HBO then bought rights to the film and announced that it would be broadcast in September 2008, after which the Discovery Channel announced it would broadcast Taxi to the Dark Side in 2009.

In June 2008, Gibney's company filed for arbitration, arguing that THINKFilm failed to properly distribute and promote the film following its release and Oscar win.[12][13]

See also


  1. Eliza Griswold (May 2, 2007). "The other Guantánamo. Black Hole". The New Republic. Retrieved 2007-05-03.
  2. Phillips, Richard (28 March 2008). "Taxi to the Dark Side: Murder of young Afghan driver exposes US torture policies". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  3. Beckey Bright (April 28, 2007). "Director Explores 'Dark Side' Of U.S. Treatment of Detainees". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2007-05-05.
  4. 1 2 "Metacritic: 2008 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Archived from the original on January 2, 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2009.
  5. "Rotten Tomatoes review of Taxi to the Dark Side". Rotten Tomatoes. 2008-01-22. Retrieved 2008-01-22.
  6. "80th Annual Academy Awards Nominees". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 2008-01-22. Archived from the original on 2008-01-23. Retrieved 2008-01-22.
  7. "Shortlist for docu Oscar unveiled". The Hollywood Reporter. 2007-11-20. Archived from the original on July 5, 2008. Retrieved 2007-12-21.
  8. 1 2 ""Taxi to the Dark Side": Exposé on US Abuses in "War on Terror" Wins Oscar for Best Documentary". Democracy Now. 26 February 2008. Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  9. UCLA Magazine
  10. 67th Annual Peabody Awards, May 2008.
  11. Democracy Now! 12 Feb 2008 transcript, retrieved on 12 Feb 2008.
  12. Christine Kearney (2008-06-26). "US documentary maker seeks damages over Oscar film". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-06-26. He sued for over damages, claiming that the film has grossed only $250,000 up to June 2008 due to inadequate promotion.
  13. Charles Lyons (June 26, 2008). "Filmmaker Says Distributor Failed Him". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-21.

External links

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