Taxi to hell

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German title Taxi to hell
Original title Taxi to the Dark Side
Country of production United States
original language English
Publishing year 2007
length Original version:
106 minutes.
Short version:
52 minutes
Age rating FSK 16
Director Alex Gibney
script Alex Gibney
production Alex Gibney,
Eva Orner ,
Susannah Shipman
music Ivor Guest
camera Maryse Alberti ,
Greg Andracke
cut Sloane Klevin

Taxi to Hell (Original title: Taxi to the Dark Side ) is an American political documentary from 2007. The director, screenwriter, co-producer and narrator of the independent film is Alex Gibney . The film criticizes the use of torture prohibited by the Geneva Conventions by the US military and its commissioning by members of the Bush administration during the war on terror . An example is the fate of the young, innocent Afghan taxi driver Dilawar, who was tortured to death in 2002 in the US military prison in Bagram .

The film, shown at several international film festivals , received the award for best documentary at the 2008 Academy Awards , and it also received the Peabody Award . In terms of global box office screenings, the film co-produced by ZDF and arte became a commercial failure . It was first published in Germany on television and on DVD .


US Vice President Dick Cheney

A few days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 , the staff of US Vice President Dick Cheney began to consider changing interrogation practices in order to use them in President George W. Bush's declared war on terror . On behalf of Cheney, lawyer John Yoo formulated guidelines for the legal use of torture by US military personnel. In Yoo's so-called "torture memo," the term torture was redefined so that US military personnel could no longer be charged with torture . These provisions were based on a legal opinion drawn up by Alberto R. Gonzales , Bush's legal advisor, which states that the Geneva Conventions are no longer valid for suspects of terrorism. Cheney explained his intentions five days after September 11th in a television interview that was part of the film's original title:

“We have to work sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows, in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies. "

“We have to work on the dark side, so to speak, if you will. We have to spend time in secret, in the secret world. Much of what needs to be done here has to be done quietly and without discussion and using sources and methods available to our intelligence services. "

Based on Yoo's memo, the Bush administration began to be particularly valuable classified prisoners in the military prison Guantanamo in Cuba to lay, were considered in which neither Cuban nor US law. Among them was Mohammed al-Qahtani , who was suspected of complicity in the 9/11 attacks. Because al-Qahtani resisted the CIA's standard interrogation techniques for eight months, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered the introduction and use of interrogation techniques that go beyond them, while the details of how they were used were left to the interrogation specialists. Al-Qahtani was subjected to sensory deprivation and - also to break his faith and to destabilize him culturally - sexually humiliated. Early December 2002 authorized Rumsfeld in a memo certain interrogation techniques, including phobia -oriented techniques, incommunicado detention of up to 30 days and light deprivation. Alberto J. Mora , Marine Legal Adviser, judged these techniques to result in torture. When he threatened to make the permit public, Rumsfeld withdrew the permit.

On December 1, 2002, the Afghan taxi driver Dilawar set off with three passengers on a trip from the city of Khost to his hometown of Yakubi . Near the US artillery base in Salerno ( Chost province ), he and the passengers were picked up by Afghan militias and handed over to the US military as allegedly complicit in a missile attack on the base that had been carried out that morning. On December 5, he was imprisoned in the Bagram Military Prison as a suspect for the attack .

Dilawar in the Bagram Military Prison
Sketch by a US military policeman showing Dilawar chained to the ceiling of his cell in Bagram Military Prison

Under the direction of Captain Caroline Wood, some of the techniques used in Guantanamo, including stressful postures and sleep deprivation , were also used in Bagram and Dilawar. The aim was to obtain confessions and thus to identify the guilty despite the lack of evidence. Dilawar was interrogated by members of the US military police who had been hired by the military interception service and who had no practical experience with interrogations. The military interception service ordered the prisoners to be prepared for discussion, humiliated and broken. The military police tortured and tormented Dilawar. Among other things, with kicks in his legs while his hands were cuffed upside down and blows in the kidneys. While he was handcuffed, he was jumped onto his back, causing a broken nose . Dilawar was dead on December 10, 2002. According to the autopsy result , his leg muscles had been beaten to a pulp, so that his legs would have had to be amputated .

After Dilawar's death, it turned out that the militia commander who had picked up the taxi occupants had ordered the rocket attack himself in order to hand over innocent suspects to the Americans and thus gain popularity with them. Nevertheless, the other three passengers were moved to Guantanamo. Only five percent of prisoners in Afghanistan were arrested by US troops, more than 90 percent, however, from the Northern Alliance or Pakistanis to bounties to collect.

An example of the numerous photos shown in the film, which document the mistreatment and humiliation in the Abu Ghraib military prison.

Before Wood took over the leadership in Abu Ghraib, she was awarded an Order of Valor for her work in Bagram. The commander of Guantanamo Prison, Geoffrey D. Miller , was transferred to Iraq in 2003 and introduced the interrogation methods only allowed for Guantanamo there.

Dilawar is the second inmate to die in Bagram as a result of torture. Over 100 prisoners died of torture in Abu Ghraib. US Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson , said the Secretary of Defense and other members of the government were expressly looking for ways to put pressure on the prisoners. It was only under public pressure following New York Times articles that the US Army brought charges of ill-treatment.

The prisoners in Guantanamo had no opportunity to defend themselves or to object to their arrest, and lawyers were not allowed to see their clients for years. The prisoners' basic rights were undermined. In June 2004, the US Supreme Court dismissed the US government's position to hold detainees in Guantanamo indefinitely. The army set up a special tribunal, but even there the prisoners had no right to a lawyer. They were detained separately until the US found a destination for deportation. 81 prisoners went on hunger strike and at least four committed suicide.

In 2005 a debate erupted in the US over the abuse of prisoners, national security and the primacy of the law. The Republican US Senator John McCain , who was once a victim of torture himself, introduced a law in October 2005 in the US Congress on dealing with detainees, which also includes a complete ban on torture.

Shortly after September 11, 2001, the CIA received permission to use water torture. The Libyan Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was one of the first to be subjected to it. For this he was brought to Egypt from the USA . There he testified that Saddam Hussein's regime had trained al-Qaeda in chemical and biological warfare. The film cites this as an example of the failure of torture. Thus justifying Colin Powell and the US government before the United Nations the US war against Iraq . A year later, al-Libi was classified as untrustworthy and the statement obtained under torture was false.

Also using the example of the US TV series 24 , two short excerpts from the fourth season , the film goes into the scenario of the “ ticking time bomb ” used by torture advocates , in which a devastating terrorist attack is imminent and the state is due to the limited time Should use torture to avert the attack. The historian Alfred W. McCoy assesses this scenario in an interview as extremely unrealistic. Series like 24 would have paved the way for the Bush administration to endorse the use of torture in the population without undermining laws and agreements.

After the Supreme Court curtailed Bush's powers of war and decided that interrogations were to be conducted in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, Bush was forced to disclose the CIA program. As a result, the Bush administration introduced a new law that bypasses federal court requirements and was approved by Congress. In doing so, Bush agreed to the Geneva Conventions as long as he could define their content and the scope of their application himself. The law pardoned members of the Bush administration, but not soldiers on the front lines, for using torture retrospectively to 9/11.

The film ends with a cab ride through Washington, DC and the credits , which include a dedication to Alex Gibney's father Frank, who died in 2006 and a former US naval officer in charge of interrogations . In a short interview during the credits, Frank says that his support for the Bush administration has been destroyed by torture.

Construction and staging

The nine sections:
  1. Some bad apples
  2. Cause of death
  3. Regulations change
  4. The laboratory
  5. The insider
  6. The wrong man
  7. The worst of the worst
  8. The primacy of the law
  9. The ticking time bomb

Following an introduction, the film is divided into nine chapter-like, titled sections, which are thematically linked and not all arranged in chronological order. Set up like a detective story , the circle of cause and effect expands for the viewer with each section. The film thus examines the chain of command that led to Dilawar's death - the starting point of the introduction - and the consequences of torture. An example of a thematic connection between two sections is the transfer of the officer in charge of the Bagram military prison to Abu Ghuraib prison, mentioned at the end of the introduction, and the investigation of the prison conditions and interrogation methods contained in the following section.

The film is told out of a torture and negative attitude towards people. This is expressed, among other things, with the background music of what has been seen. For example, through the sad-looking music to images, the film inspires Dilawar as a child with his family to feel sorry for the torture victims.

In the original English version, director Alex Gibney acts as the off- screen narrator ; in the German version, it is a German voice. Several sentences he uttered were followed by several interviews, mainly with prison guards, interrogators, former government officials, journalists and family members of victims of torture. In the German version, the interviews are played back via voice-over , i.e. translated into German with the original sound still audible. Exceptions are the press interviews and speech excerpts by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, which are always reproduced untranslated. There are also numerous photos from inside the prisons of Bagram, Abu Ghuraib and Guantanamo. The film also contains re-enactment photos and scenes, that is, recreated situations, for example of the body position in which Dilawar had to endure in his cell, or of the torture of Al-Qahtani. The film tries to convey historicity by overlaying original documents, for example memos from the defense minister.

The interviews with the former employees and inmates in the Bagram military prison were recorded against a black background and with side lighting, through which mostly only half of the face is visible. This staging served to create a prison-like atmosphere and to emphasize the moral ambiguity of the characters.


Alex Gibney

By Alex Gibney also appeared in 2005, Oscar-nominated documentary comes The Smartest Guys in the Room: Enron , which deals with the collapse of the group Enron deals and Gibneys international breakthrough marked as director. The idea for a film about torture came from a lawyer who was positively impressed by Enron ; he was also instrumental in funding Taxi to Hell . Gibney said in an interview that he was creatively independent of the lawyer in making the film. Like Enron , Gibney also made Taxi To Hell with his production company Jigsaw Productions . Several broadcasters were also involved in the production, including ZDF , arte and the BBC . The film budget was US $ 1 million.

In an interview, Gibney said he first visited the Guantanamo Detention Center as part of the production of the film in early 2006, about a month after filming began . A major source of inspiration for Gibney's story told in the film was an article in The New York Times in May 2005 about the deaths of Dilawar and another inmate at Bagram Military Prison. Some of the photos from the Bagram military prison contained in the film had not yet been released before the film was released. Gibney said she received it from an internal source. The staff were not allowed to film in the prison . The interviews contained in the film, including with military police officers, were used by Gibney to relate the story from the perspective of the soldiers.


Film festivals

The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 28, 2007. Until mid-2008, it was also shown at other international film festivals . These include the festivals of Rio de Janeiro , Chicago , Vancouver and Oslo .

movie theater

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) gave the film an R rating, which recommends that under-17s only watch the film when accompanied by an adult. The movie poster , that of the cinema evaluation responsible of the film in the United States film distributor ThinkFilm wanted to use, showed two from the viewer's locomotive US soldiers who pay a prisoner with an attached hood. This poster motif was rejected by the MPAA for reasons of youth protection. ThinkFilm President Mark Urman and Alex Gibney criticized the MPAA negatively for the decision.

Beginning on January 18, 2008, the film was shown in US cinemas. It was shown there until June of that year in only 20 cinemas and reached the same period, grossing of 274,661 US $. The theatrical exploitation of the film in other countries resulted in an additional US $ 20,000. The worldwide box office of less than US $ 300,000 was only a fraction of what the Oscar- winning documentary films An Inconvenient Truth (around US $ 50 million) and The Journey of the Penguins (over US $ 127 million) grossed in previous years had. Given the financial failure strained Gibney before the Independent Film & Television Alliance an arbitration proceeding against Think movie, in which he demanded $ 1 million damages and hire accused the film after the Oscar-winning in February not good enough markets to have. Gibney also accused the distributor of not having been informed of his financial problems early enough. Urman replied in the New York Times that he did everything right with the film. In 2010, the rental company went bankrupt .

TV and DVD

The license for the first broadcast of the film on US television was acquired by the Discovery Channel in June 2007. On February 8, 2008, it was publicly announced that the station would not broadcast the film because it was too controversial. Gibney then accused the station in a press release of operating censorship in view of the November 4, 2008 US presidential election . Two weeks later, two days before the Oscars , it became known that the US broadcaster HBO was planning to broadcast the film uncut in a pay-TV window in September 2008 and that Discovery would retain the broadcasting rights for cable TV, but the film in it only in 2009 want to radiate. Gibney hailed HBO's commitment as an important step in the campaign. HBO aired the film on September 29, 2008 in the evening program. The following day, September 30, 2008, the film was released on DVD in the United States.

In Germany and France, the German-French cultural broadcaster arte showed the film for the first time on October 8, 2007 , in its original length. Arte broadcast the film as a prelude to the 10-part documentary film series Democracy for All? , parts of which were broadcast simultaneously in over 30 countries. This film series was later also released in German as a DVD edition containing five DVDs. Taxi to Hell is only included in this issue in a version shortened to 52 minutes. In the original length of around 105 minutes, the German version was published under the original English title on the day of Arte's first broadcast as part of the Süddeutsche Zeitung Cinemathek DVD series ( ISBN 978-3-86615-678-4 ). ZDF broadcast the film on January 16, 2008, and 3sat on February 22, 2009 .


In the United States, the film received a large number of major newspapers and magazines. In Germany it did not get that much attention. For the most part, the tenor about the film was positive. Based on reviews in English, the websites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic calculated an approval rate of 100 and 82 percent for the film, respectively.


"If recent American history is ever going to be discussed with the necessary clarity and ethical rigor, this film will be essential."

"Whenever recent American history needs to be discussed with the necessary degree of clarity and ethical rigor, this film will be essential."

- AO Scott : The New York Times

The New York Times praised the film for its honesty, among other things with regard to the integration of interviews with John Yoo , Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto R. Gonzales , who respond to their critics. The US trade journal Variety praised the film as "more than just an important document of systematic abuse". Gibney had succeeded in stripping "the rhetoric from the official duplicity," thereby exposing an indifferent disregard for the Bush administration not only for the Geneva Conventions , but also for the vision of the founders of the United States. Claus Christian Malzahn praised the film on Spiegel Online for offering "a precise and disturbing glimpse behind the scenes of the interrogation machinery" in the USA.

The argumentation and research were praised. Jörg Häntzschel, for example, spoke in the Süddeutsche Zeitung of a “captivating argumentation” and a “razor-sharp analysis”. Taxi zum Hölle has been recognized in other reviews as "first-class, uncompromising" and "unrelenting" documentation as well as "one of the strongest, carefully researched studies of the moral and legal side effects of current American military campaigns".

The staging and the point of view of the film also received praise. The US directors' union, for example, emphasized that storytelling dominated over style and that Gibney managed to keep his audience interested. The film avoids any showmanship, said the author of the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The Chicago Tribune said the film avoided bullying or persuading its viewers. The Tagesspiegel judged: “The Kadrage rarely appears by chance, and the sequences are assembled in such a way that they create maximum contrast.” TV Guide judged the “parade” from the images that were put together as a “cruelty exhibition”, but worth seeing.


In the Tagesspiegel it was criticized negatively that Gibney did not go into more detail in the statement of a US soldier involved in the torture, according to which he would act again if he were given explicit orders: “Why is that so, what the varnish replaces civilization, Gibney leaves out. It would be worth exploring a film to find out what makes an apple rot. ”In the Chicago Tribune, the film's field of view was criticized as a little too diffuse; some “trivialities” such as torture in 24 or John McCain's prisoner-of-war experiences were not sufficiently relevant to the central topic. The conservative Washington Times held a similar opinion on the inclusion of 24 and the ticking time bomb scenario . It was also criticized that the film goes a little too far at its end if - following a taxi ride within sight of the Capitol - it is implied that the viewer could suffer the same fate as Dilawar. In addition, according to the Chicago Tribune, Gibney could not always resist using Michael Moore- typical gimmicks , including quotations from Bush taken out of context. Entertainment Weekly complained that some "production frills" like tricky graphic design and sinister music did more than necessary to tell the story.


Alex Gibney (center) and other staff at the Peabody Awards ceremony (2008)

The film won the Academy Award for best documentary at the 2008 Academy Awards. Other major awards include the WGA Award from the US Screenwriters Union and the prestigious Peabody Award . The jury justified the award of the Peabody Award to the film as follows:

"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, Taxi to the Dark Side receives a Peabody Award."

" Taxi zum Hell receives a Peabody Award for its sober, accurate argument that what happened to an innocent Afghan was not a misstep, but rather the inevitable result of a deliberately approved, widespread strategy ."

- Peabody Awards Jury

The documentary film series Democracy for All? , which includes Taxi to Hell , was awarded the Adolf Grimme Prize in 2008 .

price year category People) result
Oscar 2008 Best Documentary, Features Alex Gibney, Eva Orner Won
Gold Hugo ( Chicago International Film Festival ) 2007 Best Documentary Alex Gibney Won
Cinema Eye Honors Award 2008 Outstanding Achievement in Direction Alex Gibney Won
Directors Guild of America Award 2008 Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary Alex Gibney Nominated
Golden Trailer Award 2008 Best Documentary Poster Nominated
National Board of Review Award 2007 Top Five Documentaries Won
News & Documentary Emmy Award 2009 Best Documentary Won
Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Research Salimah El-Amin, Blair Foster Won
Outstanding Investigative Journalism - Long Form Nominated
Peabody Award 2007 Won
Tribeca Film Festival Award 2007 Best documentary feature Alex Gibney Won
Writers Guild of America Award 2008 Documentary screenplay Alex Gibney Won


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Release certificate for taxi to hell . Voluntary self-regulation of the film industry (PDF). Template: FSK / maintenance / type set and Par. 1 longer than 4 characters
  2. Kenneth Turan, 'Taxi to the Dark Side' Examines Torture by US , in: NPR January 18, 2008, accessed February 21, 2015
  3. a b Lesage 2009
  4. Chaudhuri 2013
  5. ^ Rob Feld: The Real Story , in: Directors Guild of America (2010), accessed February 4, 2015
  6. ^ Scott Macaulay: Wrong Turn , in: Filmmaker Magazine, Winter 2008, accessed February 4, 2015
  7. a b Mario Müller: ZDF co-productions win three Oscars , in: TV wish list from August 25, 2008, accessed on March 9, 2015
  8. Cheryl Biggs: Taxi to the Dark Side , in: Variety, December 6, 2007, accessed February 4, 2015
  9. a b Beckey Bright: Director Explores 'Dark Side' Of US Treatment of Detainees , in: Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2007, accessed February 4, 2015
  10. Tim Golden: In US Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths , in: The New York Times, May 20, 2005, accessed March 10, 2015
  11. Release info for the film Taxi to the Dark Side, in: IMDb , accessed on March 7, 2015
  12. cf. IMDb
  13. ^ Anne Thompson: MPAA rejects Gibney's 'Dark' ads , in: Variety, December 18, 2007, accessed February 4, 2015
  14. Taxi to the Dark Side in: Box Office Mojo , accessed March 7, 2015
  15. Christine Kearney: US documentary maker seeks damages over Oscar film , in: Reuters, June 26, 2008, accessed March 7, 2015
  16. ^ Charles Lyons: Filmmaker Says Distributor Failed Him , in: The New York Times, June 26, 2008, accessed March 7, 2015
  17. a b HBO hitches ride to "Dark Side" with documentary , in: Reuters of February 22, 2008, accessed on May 23, 2015
  18. Amanda Terkel: Discovery Channel Drops Plans To Air 'Taxi To The Dark Side' Because It Is Too 'Controversial' , in: Think Progress, February 8, 2008, accessed May 23, 2015
  19. Amanda Terkel: HBO Agrees To Air 'Taxi To The Dark Side' After Discovery Drops It For Being Too 'Controversial' , in: Think Progress, February 22, 2008, accessed May 23, 2015
  20. ^ Special Listings HBO , in: The Futon Critic, accessed May 23, 2015
  21. cf.
  22. Taxi to Hell in the online film database , accessed on May 23, 2015
  23. a b c Verena Friederike Hasel: Torture with a System , in: Der Tagesspiegel from October 8, 2007, accessed on March 7, 2015
  24. Democracy - for everyone? , in: Arte-Edition, accessed on March 7, 2015
  25. Taxi to Hell , in: Online film database, accessed on May 23, 2015
  26. Taxi to the Dark Side (2007) , in: Rotten Tomatoes , accessed on March 20, 2015
  27. ^ Taxi to the Dark Side , in: Metacritic , accessed on March 20, 2015
  28. a b A. O. Scott: Taking a Long, Bumpy Ride to Systematic Brutality , in: The New York Times, January 18, 2008, accessed March 25, 2015
  29. Jay Weissberg: Taxi to the Dark Side , in: Variety from May 3, 2007, accessed on March 23, 2015, original quote: “stripped the rhetoric from official doublespeak”
  30. Claus Christian Malzahn : Documentation on US torture: Taxi in den Tod , in: Spiegel Online from May 3, 2007, accessed on May 23, 2013
  31. Jörg Häntzschel: Do what is necessary! , in: Süddeutsche Zeitung of May 5, 2007, accessed on March 10, 2015
  32. Gerald Peary: Taxi to the Dark Side , in: The Phoenix from February 6, 2008, accessed on February 4, 2015, original quote: “superb, tough-minded”
  33. Will Lawrence: Taxi To The Darkside , in: Empire , accessed on February 4, 2015, original quote: “unflinching”
  34. Wesley Morris: 'Taxi to the Dark Side' is terrifying ride behind US lines , in: The Boston Globe from February 8, 2008, accessed on February 4, 2015, original quote: “one of the most powerful, carefully researched investigations of the moral-legal side effects of current American military campaigns ”
  35. Rob Feld: The Real Story , in: Directors Guild of America , Winter 2010, accessed February 4, 2015
  36. a b c Tash Robinson: Documentary shows grim reality of US interrogation methods , in: Chicago Tribune, February 8, 2008, accessed January 28, 2015
  37. Ken Fox: Taxi To The Dark Side Review , in: TV Guide , accessed on March 23, 2015, original quote: “atrocity exhibition”
  38. GALUPO: 'Taxi' travels to a dark side , in: The Washington Times, February 8, 2008, accessed May 23, 2015
  39. Kim Komenich: Taxi to the Dark Side , in: Entertainment Weekly from January 16, 2008, accessed on February 4, 2015, original quote: “production flourishes”
  40. a b Taxi to the Dark Side (ZDF / ARTE) , in: Peabody Awards, accessed on March 1, 2015
  41. a b Awards of the film, in: IMDb , accessed on March 7, 2015
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on June 2, 2015 .