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HomeArts/Leisure'Taxi to the Dark Side' details U.S. torture

‘Taxi to the Dark Side’ details U.S. torture

Taxi to the Dark Side PosterFrom the director of “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” Alex Gibney’s Taxi to the Dark Side is a gripping investigation into the reckless abuse of power by the Bush Administration.

By probing the homicide of an innocent taxi driver at the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, the film exposes a worldwide policy of detention and interrogation that condones torture and the abrogation of human rights. This disturbing and often brutal film is the most incisive examination to date of the Bush Administration’s willingness, in its prosecution of the “war on terror,” to undermine the essence of the rule of law. The film asks and answers a key question: what happens when a few men expand the wartime powers of the executive to undermine the very principles on which the United States was founded.

Incorporating rare and never-before-seen images from inside the Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons, and interviews with former government officials such as John Yoo, Alberto Mora and Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, interrogators, prison guards, New York Times reporters Tim Golden and Carlotta Gall (who wrote the first stories about the homicides in Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan) and the families of tortured prisoners, the film dissects the progression of the Administration’s policy on torture from the secret role of key administration figures, such as Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales and others to the soldiers in the field.


In the face of thousands of prisoners passing through the system, an astonishing number of admitted homicides, and a hastily drafted law – the Military Commissions Act – that retroactively grants immunity to government officials for crimes against humanity while denying the fundamental right of habeas corpus to others, forces us to ask why, in the face of so much evidence of the ineffectiveness of cruelty as a means of obtaining information, we sought to insist on its use? Have we, by pursuing such ruthless means, lost the moral high ground in the war on terror and made ourselves less safe? Even more important, have we compromised our own sense of humanity, our democratic values and our effectiveness as a world leader?

American soldiers guard a group of detainees
This film won the 2007 Best Documentary Award at the Tribecca Film FestivalRelease date: January 11, 2008 (NY); January 18, 2008 (LA)
Running time: 106 minutes
Rating: “R for disturbing images and content involving torture and graphic nudity”
Offical web site: http://www.taxitothedarkside.com/

MPAA Controversy

The MPAA unleashed a storm of controversy due to it’s refusal to allow the use a a movie poster showing a hooded detainee being lead off into the distance by two soldiers. They described it as being “not suitable for all audiences.”

According to ThinkFilm, which produced the documentary, the MPAA objected to the “image of the hood.” Last year, the MPAA also censored the poster for the documentary The Road to Guantanamo, because it showed a detainee “hanging by his handcuffed wrists, with a burlap sack over his head and a blindfold tied around the hood.” – Think Progress

A spokesman for the MPAA said: “We treat all films the same. Ads will be seen by all audiences, including children. If the advertising is not suitable for all audiences it will not be approved by the advertising administration.” But with the following posters having been approved for all audiences…

Other movie Posters previously approved for all audiences by the MPAA.  Image captured from Think Progress.

It leads me to believe that the actual reason might be more political. Take a look at the following movies posters which were rejected, compare the posters below with the posters above. Which do you think should have been rejected?

Taxi to the Dark Side Poster Road to Guantanamo Poster

The only reason seems to be is, that the movies they are for are critical of the Bush Administration.

About the Production

“We also have to work through…the dark side…it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.” Vice President Dick Cheney to Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” (2001)

Soldiers with detaineesTaxi to the Dark Side, The latest prize-winning documentary from Oscar-nominee Alex Gibney, confirms his standing as one of the foremost non-fiction filmmakers working today. A stunning inquiry into the suspicious death of an Afghani taxi driver at Bagram air base in 2002, the film is a fastidiously assembled, uncommonly well-researched examination of how an innocent civilian was apprehended, imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately murdered by the greatest democracy on earth. By using documents and records of the incident with candid testimony from eyewitnesses and participants, the film uncovers an inescapable link between the tragic incidents that unfolded in Bagram and the policies made at the very highest level of the United States government in Washington, D.C. Combining the cool detachment of a forensic expert with the heated indignation of a proud American who holds his country to a high standard, Gibney’s stunning film reveals how the Bush administration has systematically betrayed the very ideals it professes to uphold.

Gibney first got the idea for Taxi to the Dark Side from the men who would eventually go on to serve as the executive producers of the project. “The idea of doing a film on torture was brought to me – separately – by Don Glascoff, Sid Blumenthal, and Rob Johnson,” he says. “Once I took on the assignment, with the urging of my father, I went looking for a story that could carry the burden of the subject.” He first came upon the story of Dilawar, the Afghan cab driver who died while in custody at Bagram prison, in a New York Times article by Tim Golden and, before long, he realized that this was the central story he had been searching for.

Detainee mugshot
“I was haunted by it,” he recalls, “because of the brutality of the murder, because of Dilawar’s obvious innocence, and by the very last paragraph of the piece. In it, Golden quotes one of the soldiers who remarks that, after the third day of interrogation, the Bagram prison personnel had concluded that Dilawar was innocent, yet they continued to pummel his legs. That was an important detail that remained with me because itc testified to the momentum of torture: once prohibitions are removed, the ‘dark side’ of human behavior is inexorably unleashed. It reminded me of the Milgram Experiment that I included in “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” which showed how, with encouragement from authority figures, individuals allow themselves to engage, incrementally, in ever more vicious acts of cruelty.”Shahpoor Dilawar’s brotherHe continues: “Dilawar’s story was critical in suggesting a narrative for a film about a vast network of detention and interrogation centers – a policy of torture. His story connected Bagram to Abu Ghraib and, through the passengers in his taxi, to Guantanamo. And, of course, all those centers were connected to the Administration in Washington, D.C.” In this one life – and death –Gibney found material that went well beyond the merely anecdotal. In fact, to him it represented everything that was wrong with the way our government conducts itself in the current “war on terror.” Thus, the key theme of Taxi which Gibney describes as “the corruption of the human spirit,” is perfectly illustrated by the Dilawar story.

“I think that the subject of corruption unites my films,” says Gibney. “‘Enron’ was about economic corruption, and TAXI is about the corruption of the rule of law. Both are about the corruption of character—how good people can end up doing very bad things. ‘The Trial of Henry Kissinger’ fits into this model as well. I also tend to make films about perps rather than victims. It is true that Dilawar – a true innocent victim – is at the heart of the story of TAXI. But the thematic subject of the film is an investigation into how a small number of Americans took our nation to the ‘dark side.’”

Donald RumsfeldHaving found his subject, Gibney wisely chose not to approach it journalistically but, rather, to give it the more classically cinematic structure of a whodunit. “I think of every one of my films as a kind of detective story,” he says. “Detectives – or private eyes – are truth seekers who often discover things they didn’t expect. Putting that process at the heart of the narrative gives my films a kind of momentum, I think. ‘Enron’ was a ‘heist film;’ TAXI is a murder mystery.” And, Gibney observes, once the murder is solved, as in all true murder mysteries, you understand who was responsible. “But,” he continues, “like the best murder mysteries of, say, Raymond Chandler, TAXI is not merely a whodunit. The movie is really about the mood, the atmosphere surrounding the murder, and ‘how and why’ the murder was committed.” Obviously, in TAXI, the mystery as to who killed Dilawar is important, but far more important says Gibney, “is understanding the ‘dark side’ and how this Administration took us there with the ease of a late night taxicab ride across Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C.”

Like a latter-day Sam Spade, Gibney hunted down dozens of potential witnesses in order to figure out all of the “who’s,” “how’s,” and “why’s” of the Dilawar case. “For films like this,” he stresses, “it is critical to get ‘inside’ the story. You don’t want experts; you want participants. I went in search of anyone who was at Bagram during the time Dilawar was imprisoned there –prisoners, guards, and interrogators. I also went in search of lawyers for detainees, the architects of the Administration policy, dissidents in the Administration, military officers, etc. In the end we did obtain interviews with some interrogators who questioned Dilawar, and some MPs who were directly responsible for his homicide. This was particularly difficult, but I think our quest was aided by the fact that these men really wanted to talk about what had happened, and they were bitter that they were being prosecuted when the men and women who ordered them to commit crimes were barely even investigated, much less prosecuted.”

While some of these people surprised Gibney with their willingness to talk, others whose testimony might have been very helpful to the “case” would not. “Carolyn Wood has consistently refused to be interviewed by anyone,” he says. “She’s not a high-ranking officer, but her testimony would reveal much about the way the Bush Administration conducted its interrogation and detention policies.” He continues, “I also tried to talk to other Administration officials who declined to be interviewed. The more that is revealed about this story, the more it makes sense why most Administration officials didn’t want to speak: they are concerned that they may be prosecuted for what they have done. A few dissident voices – like Jack Goldsmith, who declined to talk to me – have come forward more recently. One of the things that struck me was that many of the fiercest critics of the Administration (including those like Alberto Mora and Lawrence Wilkerson, who did speak to me) were conservative republicans. This story was not about left and right,” Gibney learned, “it was about right and wrong.”

In addition to interviews, Gibney unearthed photographs, videotapes and documents – particularly from the mysterious Bagram prison – that have never been seen before. And the videotape of the senior JAG officer in Afghanistan acknowledging a defacto policy of knee strikes that, according to the Army coroner, “pulpified” Dilawar’s legs, is a cathode ray vision of the banality of evil.

When a director plays detective in this fashion, there will not only be discoveries, digressions, and disappointments, there will also be difficulties. “The problem with this approach in a documentary,” observes Gibney, “is that the story has to be rewritten constantly in the cutting room. I find that the best documentaries end up being structured like good fiction films. But, this is very hard to do in practice, because the ‘script’ of a documentary is written during and after shooting.” Gibney also finds that the story he is trying to tell is often at odds with his key thematic concerns. “I always want to include key ideas,” he notes, “and am frustrated when they seem to get in the way of the story. So, there’s a tension in the cutting room. At some point, on every film, the evolving story seems to raise its head and demands to be given its due. When I don’t listen to that insistent voice, I usually do so at my peril.”

Gibney’s persistence in finding the perfect form for his material, and his desire to match the structure and narrative drive of a fiction feature to non-fiction material, makes Taxi to the Dark Side stand apart from other documentaries covering similar subject matter. It is interesting to note that, though Gibney served as executive producer on Charles Ferguson’s “No End in Sight,” providing guidance on key production and story issues, TAXI has a look that is very different from that and all of the so-called ‘Iraq films.’ Gibney cites as his unexpected chief stylistic influences a number of filmmakers who worked in dramatic films. “I love Sergio Leone,” he says, adding that “Once Upon a Time in the West” is a favorite film – for stylistic reasons – and that “the title sequence in TAXI – with its middle eastern ‘western’ look – is my doc nod to Sergio.” Other favorites are Luis Bunuel, Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Kurosawa (“High and Low” makes me think of “Enron,” he notes), and Jacques Tourneur’s intricately strucured noir thriller, “Out of the Past.” Even his non-fiction preferences are as notable for their groundbreaking form as for their significant subject matter: The Maysles’ “Gimme Shelter,” Marcel Ophuls’ “The Sorrow and the Pity,” and Alain Resnais’ “Night and Fog” (“Anyone who thinks narration doesn’t belong in docs,” he says, “should watch ‘Night and Fog!”).

Many politically-urgent documentaries are being made these days, but Alex Gibney is one of few practitioners of the genre who values timelessness as much as timeliness. He notes that “TAXI is not an ‘Iraq film.’ It’s not really about the war in Iraq, though we do include some materials and stories about it. Rather, the film is about GWOT, the acronym the Bush Administration uses to describe its ‘Global War on Terror.’ But, in a more fundamental sense, it’s not really about that either; it’s really about the American character and whether we have become something rather different from what we imagine ourselves to be.”

Acknowledging that for Taxi to the Dark Side to be of lasting quality, it must speak to audiences both now and decades from now, Gibney concludes, “In the here and now, I want viewers to get mad and make our leaders accountable for the damage they have done. Over the long haul, I hope TAXI will stand as cautionary tale of how people and their society can be corrupted by fear and rage. While I hope it will be seen as utterly irrelevant twenty years from now, I don’t think it will be.”

Here are some of the interviewees:

PFC. Willie Brand

PFC Willie BrandWillie Brand was a MP Guard at Bagram Air Force Base, a detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan. Brand faced court martial for his role in the deaths of detainees Dilawar and Habibullah at Bagram. In his trial, Brand and his attorney spoke out about what they considered a lack of necessary training and clear rules for MP’s. Brand was convicted by a military jury of assault, maltreatment, maiming and making a false official statement. He was given a reduction in rank and pay to private.

Special Agent Jack Cloonan, Ret.

Former Special Agent Jack CloonanAn FBI special agent from 1977 to 2002, Cloonan started working Al Qaeda cases in the mid-1990s. Cloonan, an advocate of the FBI’s humane methods of interrogation, cultivated former Al Qaeda operatives Jamal al-Fadl and Ali Mohammed as cooperative sources in the years before 9/11. Cloonan also interrogated Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who ran an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and who was one of the highest-ranking Al Qaeda operatives captured in the first months of the war in Afghanistan.

Now in the private sector, Cloonan is President of Clayton Consultants. Since retiring from the FBI, Cloonan has also served as a counter-terrorism consultant and commentator for ABC News.

SPC. Damien Corsetti

SPC Damien CorsettiCorsetti, a Military Intelligence soldier in Bagram and Abu Ghraib, was given the nickname “Monster,” and “King of Torture” by soldiers in his unit, and was allegedly called upon by other interrogators to frighten prisoners using the interrogation technique known as “Fear up, harsh.” Other detainees, such as Moazzam Begg, describe Corsetti as a sympathetic interrogator who never engaged in abuse, and was helpful in enduring detention. As part of the Army’s investigation into prisoner abuse at Bagram, Corsetti was charged with dereliction of duty, maltreatment, assault and performing an indecent act with another person. Corsetti was later found not guilty of all charges.

Carlotta Gall

Carlotta GallCarlotta Gall is a New York Times correspondent based in Kabul, assigned to cover Afghanistan and Western Pakistan. She has been covering the Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgency from the start, and led a journalistic investigation into the cause and culpability of the death of the 22-year-old Afghan detainee Dilawar.

Tim Golden

Tim GoldenTim Golden is an investigative reporter for the New York Times and a writer for the New York Times Magazine. Prior to joining the Times’ staff he worked for the Miami Herald and United Press International. He was a member of the Times team that won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for articles about drug corruption in Mexico. While working at the Miami Herald, he shared a 1987 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for stories on the Iran-Contra affair. Golden, along with Carlotta Gall, reported on the prisoner abuse of Dilawar and other detainees in Bagram, Afghanistan.

Scott Horton

Atty Scott HortonScott Horton a New York based attorney working international law, human rights law and the law of armed conflict, Horton lectures at Columbia Law School, and is a life-long human rights advocate. He is a co-founder of the American University in Central Asia, and has been involved in some of the most significant foreign investment projects in the Central Eurasian region. Scott recently led a number of studies of abuse issues associated with the conduct of the war on
terror for the New York City Bar Association, where he has chaired several committees, including, most recently, the Committee on International Law. He is also a member of the board of the National Institute of Military Justice, the Andrei Sakharov Foundation, the EurasiaGroup and the American Branch of the International Law Association.

SPC. Tony Lagouranis

SPC Tony LagouranisSpc. Lagouranis was a U.S. Army interrogator from 2001 to 2005, and served a tour of duty in Iraq from January 2004 to January 2005. He was first stationed at Abu Ghraib; in that spring he joined a special intelligence gathering task force that moved among detention facilities around the country. There, he learned first hand about the “culture of abuse” permeating interrogations throughout Iraq. Lagouranis is one of a number of Iraq War veterans who have provided first hand accounts of torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military. Other U. S. military personnel have described torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners while shielding their identities. His book, “Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator’s Dark Journey through Iraq” will be published in June 2007.

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI)

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI)Carl Levin is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he was an early and consistent advocate of efforts to prepare the American military to combat terrorism and other emerging threats of the post-Cold War world. The National Guard Association of the United States presented Senator Levin with its 2004 Harry S. Truman Award for distinguished service in support of national defense. The award cited Levin’s “long-standing, diligent and impassioned commitment on the readiness, morale and welfare of our military forces, their families and the modernization of our armed forces.” To ensure accountability in the intelligence community, Senator Levin has continued to press the Bush administration to clarify which intelligence entity is responsible for specific intelligence objectives.

Alberto Mora

Alberto MoraIn December 2002, Alberto J. Mora, then general counsel of the United States Navy, was alerted by Navy investigators to reports that detainees held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay were being subjected to cruel and unlawful interrogation practices. Mora, whose civilian position accorded him a rank equal to that of a four-star general, soon came to learn that the cruel and abusive practices of United States military interrogators at Guantanamo were the result of significant policy shifts at the highest levels of the U.S. government. Over the next three years, Mora waged a campaign inside the Bush Administration to prevent military and civilian leaders from codifying any policy that might implicitly or explicitly sanction the mistreatment of Guantanamo detainees as part of the war on terror. For his moral courage and his commitment to upholding American values, Alberto Mora was honored with the 2006 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

Tom Wilner

Tom WilnerWilner, once a schoolmate of Al Gore’s at Washington’s prestigious St. Albans School and a fraternity brother of George W. Bush’s at Yale, is now a managing partner at Shearman & Sterling, LLP. He heads their International Trade and Global Relations Practice. Wilner has represented the human rights cases of a several Kuwaiti citizens detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba since May 2002.

John Yoo

John YooYoo joined the Boalt Hall faculty at Berkeley in 1993, then clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court. He served as general counsel of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee from 1995-96. From 2001 to 2003, he served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he helped author a series of memos that have come to be known informally as “The Torture Memos.”

Professor Yoo has received the Paul M. Bator Award for excellence in legal scholarship and teaching from the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy. He has testified before the judiciary committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and has advised the State of California on constitutional issues.

Director Alex Gibney’s Statement

“Man torturing man is a fiend beyond description. You turn a corner in the dark and there he is. You congeal into a bundle of inanimate fear. You become the very soul of anesthesia. But there is no escaping him. It is your turn now… “ – Henry Miller

Director Alex GibneyOnly six weeks before he died last year, my father, a journalist and author named Frank Gibney, asked me to get my video camera. He wanted me to unhook him from the oxygen machine so that he could speak to me about the film that I was trying to make about torture and the war on terror. My father had been a Naval interrogator in World War II. He questioned Japanese prisoners on Okinawa, one of the bloodiest battles of the war and had risked his life trying to persuade some of those soldiers to leave the caves from which they were launching futile last-ditch suicide missions. (Years later, bathed in the rippling neon lights of downtown Tokyo, he would introduce me to some of those former prisoners over bottles of sake in a neighborhood sushi bar.)

But on this day in Santa Barbara, overlooking the ocean on which he had sailed into battle 60 years earlier, my father was very angry at the ongoing revelations of how, in the so-called “Global War on Terror (GWOT)” American soldiers had tortured prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo and in various secret sites around the world. His fury was directed at some of the top officials in the Bush Administration – George W. Bush himself, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld (whom he knew slightly) and Alberto Gonzales – who had invented and rationalized a new policy of “coercive interrogation techniques” as the only way to combat a unique, new terrorist threat from enemies brutal enough to turn commercial airliners into suicide planes.

But my father had been there before. In the waning days of the Pacific War, the Japanese had shown us the “kamikaze” – literally “wind of God” – a wave of pilots who, like the Islamic terrorists many years later, turned their airplanes into suicide bombs. Yet, in interrogating these supposedly fanatical Japanese prisoners, my father and his fellow interrogators – all of whom had extensive language training, unlike most of the interrogators in the GWOT – discovered that most of the prisoners were not so different from their interrogators. They had wives, children and dreams of a better future for themselves and their families. More important to the military mission, they were rather free with information and provided important intelligence once they had established a rapport with their interrogators. It never occurred to my father to ask for permission to employ some of the brutal techniques that the Japanese had used against our soldiers.

“Why,” I asked. “Well,” he said, “because we didn’t need to and because we thought our principles gave us a strength that our enemy didn’t have.” He was furious at the Bush Administration because he felt that, in condoning techniques like water-boarding that had once been employed by the Spanish Inquisition, they had sacrificed the very principles we were supposed to be defending. The rule of law, he told me, is what we thought we were fighting for. “It’s what made us different,” he said. He despaired that, to wage a war on terror, we were taking on the values of the terrorists. “It’s got to stop,” he said.

This film is dedicated to my father – his righteous anger and his sense of possibility. Through him, I discovered that the issue of “torture” is not really about interrogation techniques. It is about a pandemic of corruption that ensues when the rule of law is weakened. He taught me that torture is like a virulent virus – spreading, mutating, building resistance to attempts to stop it – that infects everything in its path. It haunts the psyche of the soldier who administers it; it corrupts the officials who look the other way; it discredits the information obtained from it; it weakens the evidence in a search for justice, and it strengthens a despotic strain that takes hold in men and women who run hot with a peculiar patriotic fever: believing that, because they are “pure of heart,” they are entitled to be above the law.

– Alex Gibney, filmmaker



  • Jul. 6, 1955 – Senate unanimously gave its advice and consent to the ratification of the Geneva Conventions


  • Oct. 27, 1990 – Senate unanimously gave its advice and consent to the ratification of the Convention Against Torture, article 2(1) of which obligated the United States to “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.”


  • US ratifies UN Convention Against Torture.

  • While the U.S. Senate ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) on October 27, 1990, President Clinton did not deposit the United States instrument of ratification of the Convention with the United Nations Secretary General until October 21, 1994. The United States’ obligations under the Convention Against Torture took effect 30 days later, on November 20, 1994.


  • The US Congress passes the War Crimes Act. The law defines a war crime to include a “grave breach of the Geneva Conventions.” The law applies if either the victim or the perpetrator is a national of the United States or a member of the U.S. armed forces. The penalty may be life imprisonment or death.

Ten years later, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that Common Article 3 of the Third Geneva Convention applied to the War on Terrorism, with the unstated implication that any interrogation techniques that violated Common Article 3 constituted War Crimes.

The text of Common Article Three: “…the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever…”

  • Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

  • Taking of hostages;

  • Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;

  • The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”


  • Aug. 4, 2001 – US refuses entry to Mohamed al-Qahtani at Orlando Airport by an immigration official and deports al-Qahtani back to Dubai

  • Sept. 25, 2001 – John Yoo writes memo stating President has “broad constitutional powers” for waging war.

  • Oct. 7, 2001 – U.S. invades Afghanistan

  • Oct., 2001 – Dick Cheney visits CIA to try to get legal opinion allowing greater latitude for coercive interrogation. CIA Gen. Counsel does not give Cheney the decision he wants.

  • Nov. 6, 2001 – Office of Legal Counsel’s Patrick Philbin sends 35-page confidential memo to Alberto Gonzales saying the president has “inherent authority” to establish military commissions. It also says that trying terrorists under the laws of war “does not mean that terrorists will receive the protections of the Geneva Conventions or the rights that laws accord to lawful combatants.”

  • Nov. 10, 2001 – While senior military JAGs are preparing a response to the draft military order, at the White House, Cheney, Ashcroft, Haynes and White House lawyers have their own meeting (according to the NY Times, Cheney advocated withholding the draft from Rice and Powell).
  • November 11, 2001 – Capture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi in Pakistan.

  • Nov. 13, 2001 – Bush signs an Executive Order authorizing the Defense Secretary to hold non U.S. citizens in indefinite detention. The Military Order: “Detention, Treatment and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in War Against Terror” authorizes detention and trial by military commissions that should not be subject to principles of law and rules of evidence recognized by US courts or the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

  • Dec., 2001 – Capture of Mohamed al-Qahtani in Afghanistan

  • Dec. 16, 2001 – Rumsfeld visits Afghanistan.

  • Dec. 19, 2001 – Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi transferred to US control at Bagram Air Force base. FBI agents begin questioning him. But the FBI refuses to use any “coercive interrogation techniques.” According to FBI Agent Jack Cloonan, the interrogation produces information regarding Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui. Despite this progress, at the request of George Tenet, the Bush Administration decides to transfer al-Libi to the custody of the CIA. (see January 2002 below.)

  • Dec. 28, 2001 – Patrick Philbin (Deputy Asst. Attorney General) and John Yoo write memo on habeas corpus and Guantanamo (federal district court could not properly exercise habeas jurisdiction over an aliens detained at GBC).

  • Late 2001 – Pres. Bush signs top-secret finding authorizing DOD to set up Special Access Program (SAP) known to only a few high-level folks to kidnap or assassinate terror suspects or rendition them to sympathetic nations for more “coercive” interrogation.


  • January 2002 – US sends Mohamed al-Qahtani to Guantanamo.

  • January 2002 – In Bagram, CIA agents wrap Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi up in duct tape and put him in a plywood box “for his own protection,” according to FBI agent Jack Cloonan. Al-Libi is sent to Cairo. After being “waterboarded,” al-Libi “confesses” that Iraq had given al-Qaeda training in bomb-making and poison gas. This supposed link between al-Qaeda and Iraq will become part of Colin Powell’s speech to the UN that laid the groundwork for the invasion of Iraq. Al-Libi will later claim that this link was part of a “false confession” obtained through torture. The CIA will confirm that al-Libi’s testimony about the links between Iraq and al-Qaeda was false.

  • Jan. 9, 2002 – John Yoo writes memo stating Geneva Conventions (as well as all international and US laws) do not apply to Al Qaeda and Taliban.

  • Jan. 11, 2002 – William H. Taft responds to Yoo memo, calling Yoo’s opinions “seriously flawed.”

  • Jan. 11, 2002 – First group of 20 detainees arrive at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo.

  • Jan. 18, 2002 – Bush decides that detainees who are classified as terrorists (soon to be classified as “unlawful combatants”) are disqualified from prisoner of war protection under the Geneva conventions.

  • Jan. 19, 2002 – Rumsfeld memo declares Al Qaeda and Taliban not prisoners of war under Geneva Conventions.

  • Jan. 22, 2002 – Jay Bybee authors memo stating Geneva doesn’t apply to al Qaeda and Bush has constitutional authority to “suspend our treaty obligations toward Afghanistan.”

  • Jan. 22, 2002 – At the request of Alberto Gonzales, Pentagon lawyers direct INTEL officers at Gitmo to fill out a one-page form for each prisoner certifying the president’s “reason to believe” their involvement with terrorism. Within weeks, INTEL officers say that they don’t even have enough evidence on most prisoners to complete the forms.

  • Jan. 25, 2002 – In memo to Bush, Gonzales refers to aspects of Geneva Conventions as “quaint.” He acknowledged that scrapping GC could cause “widespread condemnation” from other countries and increase the likelihood that U.S. servicemen would be mistreated. Mr. Gonzales calls the campaign against terrorism “a new kind of war” that makes certain provisions of the Geneva Convention “obsolete.”

  • Jan. 26, 2002 – Colin Powell writes a memo to Gonzales that asks the administration to reconsider its decision that Al Qaeda and Taliban members are not entitled to prisoner-of-war status, saying that doing so would “reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice … and undermine the protections of the laws of war for our troops, both in this specific conflict and in general.”

  • Jan. 27, 2002 – Four U.S. senators accompany Rumsfeld to Guantanamo: Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

  • Early 2002 – Don Guter (Navy Judge Advocate General) has meeting with Haynes and says, according to NY Times’s Tim Golden: “we need more information.” “No you don’t,” says Haynes.

  • Early 2002 – Documents and interviews reveal that, regarding “enemy combatants,” Gonzales, David Addington and Tim Flanigan argued against presumption of innocence and participation of civilian lawyers.

  • Feb. 1, 2002 – Ashcroft writes memo to Pres. Bush stating Geneva Conventions do not apply to Taliban or al Qaeda.

  • Feb. 2, 2002 – In memo to White House Counsel Gonzales, Taft argues that Geneva Conventions do apply.

  • Feb. 7, 2002 – Bush issues a directive defining Taliban and al Qaeda captives as “unlawful combatants,” not prisoners of war and states the “war against terror ushers in a new paradigm”

  • Feb. 21, 2002 – Federal judge dismisses a challenge to the detentions.

  • Feb. 27, 2002 – 1st hunger strike at Guantanamo (to protest a rule against turbans, U.S. officials decide to allow turbans).
  • Mar., 2002 – Gen. Dunlavey (in charge of Guantanamo) flies to Afghanistan and Kuwait

  • Mar. 21, 2002 – Guantanamo Administrators still don’t have evidence on Guantanamo detainees, so DOD indicates that they will hold them indefinitely as “enemy combatants.”

  • May 2002 – FBI agents begin to complain about treatment of detainees at Guantanamo. Complaints put in writing and relayed to Haynes at DOD.

  • Jul., 2002 – 519th MI company is sent to Bagram. Capt. Carolyn Wood is the officer in charge. According to Emily Bazelon, Wood rewrote interrogation policy to include more “aggressive” techniques.

  • Jul., 2002 – Gitmo officials realize that al-Qahtani – now in custody at Guantanamo – may be the man intended to be the 20th highjacker. More intensive interrogation begins.

  • Late summer 2002 – CIA analyst travels to Guanatnamo to find out why so little useful intelligence is being obtained. After interviewing 30 prisoners, “he came back convinced that they were committing war crimes in Guantanamo.” (Hersh Chain of Command) His report – Highly Classified – showed how badly prisoners were treated and how recklessly they had been captured, without regard to real intelligence value.

  • Aug., 2002 – 377th MP Unit sent to Bagram.

  • Aug. 1, 2002 – The “torture memo”, authored by Jay Bybee and John Yoo, declares that “certain acts may be cruel, inhuman, or degrading, but still not produce pain and suffering of the requisite intensity to fall within Section 2340” [of convention against torture, which bans cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment]

  • Fall 2002 – General John Gordon reads the report and is very “troubled,” believing that “it was totally out of character with the American value system” and that it posed dangers for US soldiers if captured. (Hersh, COC)

  • Oct. 11, 2002 – Memo from Guantanamo Administrators requesting expanded interrogation techniques travels up chain of command to Rumsfeld.

  • Oct. 25, 2002 – Commander General James Hill sends memo to Gen. Myers. Hill says he is “uncertain whether all the techniques in the third category [there are three categories of techniques in the request to Rumsfeld] are legal under US law…”

  • Nov., 2002 – Gen. Miller given command of Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay.

  • Nov. 23, 2002 – An approved “special interrogation plan” for Detainee 063 (Mohammed al-Qahtani) begins. The beginning of the interrogation log is 10 days prior to the official approval of expanded techniques by Donald Rumsfeld (see below).

  • Nov. 27, 2002 – In response to a request for expanded interrogation techniques at Guantanamo, Haynes advises Rumsfeld to apply only Category I & II and “non-injurious physical conduct” of III.

  • Nov. 30, 2002 – Detainee Habibullah arrives at Bagram

  • Late 2002 – General John Gordon gets meeting with Rice and Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld said he would “look into” the issue of detainee abuse.

  • Dec. 2, 2002 – Rumsfeld approves techniques in Haynes’ 11/27 memo (these techniques include: stress positions, isolation, use of hoods, removal of clothing, use of detainees’ individual phobias).

  • Dec. 3, 2002 – Detainee Habibullah dies at Bagram

  • Dec. 5, 2002 – Detainee Dilawar arrives at Bagram

  • Dec. 10, 2002 – Detainee Dilawar dies at Bagram

  • Dec. 17, 2002 – Navy General Counsel General Alberto Mora learns of abuse at Guantanamo


  • Jan. 11, 2003 – Aggressive interrogation of al-Qahtani stops

  • Jan. 15, 2003 – After opposition to interrogation techniques by military lawyers – particularly Alberto Mora – Rumsfeld rescinds permission to use previously approved II & III techniques during Guantanamo interrogations, and approves them only on a case by case basis. Rumsfeld also convenes working group to assess legal policy and operational issues related to detainees.

  • Mar. 6, 2003 – Working Group Report recommends taking Geneva Conventions into account but determines that Taliban detainees do not qualify as prisoners of war and that Geneva Conventions do not apply to anyone at Guantanamo. However, the working group also says that the US is bound to Torture Convention the of 1994 (as long as it is in accord with constitutional amendments 5, 8 &14).
  • Mar. 20, 2003 – U.S. invades Iraq

  • Apr. 4, 2003 – The working group argues that it may be necessary to interrogate detainees “in a manner beyond that which may be applied to a prisoner of war who is subject to Geneva Conventions.” Report details defenses for use of torture and legal technicalities that can be used to “create a good faith defense against prosecution.”

  • June 2003 – Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski is named commander of all military prisons in Iraq

  • Jul. 6, 2003 – Joseph Wilson reveals that the central reason for going to war – WMD – was false.

  • July, 2003 – 519th MI Co. – with Carolyn Wood still in charge – is sent to Abu Ghraib.

  • Aug. 31 – Sep. 9, 2003 – General Miller visits Abu Ghraib to “gitmoize” Iraq detention and interrogation operations.

  • Sep. 10, 2003 – Chaplain James Yee is arrested.

  • Dec. 3, 2003 – Australian detainee David Hicks is first prisoner Guantanamo to be given a lawyer.

  • Dec. 4, 2003 – Rumsfeld visits Afghanistan.

  • Dec. 6, 2003 – Rumsfeld makes a surprise visit to troops in Iraq.


  • Jan. 13, 2004 – MP Joseph Darby, gives army investigators a disk containing photos showing Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse. The Pentagon is informed.

  • Jan. 2004 – Rumsfeld learns of Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse, tells Bush shortly after.

  • Jan.16, 2004 – US Central Command issues five-sentence press release about investigation into mistreatment of prisoners. Rumsfeld claims this is when he first learned of abuses.

  • Jan. 19, 2004 – Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski is formally admonished and quietly suspended.

  • Jan. 19, 2004 – Gen. Sanchez orders investigation into Abu Ghraib.

  • Feb. 23, 2004 – Rumsfeld visits Iraq.

  • Feb.26, 2004 – Taguba report completed. It notes that, from Oct. to Dec. 2003, there were “sadistic, blatant and wanton crimnal abuses” at Abu Ghraib.

  • Mar. 22, 2004 – Miller is appointed Deputy Commander for Detainee Operations, Combined Joint Task Force – 7/Multinational Force – Iraq.

  • Apr. 9, 2004 – Article 32 Hearing (military equivalent of a Grand jury) for Sergeant Frederick.

  • Apr. 20, 2004 – Supreme Court hears arguments on the Guantanamo detentions.

  • May 13, 2004 – Rumsfeld visits Abu Ghraib prison.

  • Jun. 22, 2004 – Haynes assures press that no prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan or Cuba had been tortured.

  • Jun. 28, 2004 – In Rasul v Bush decision, the Supreme Court rules that Guantanamo detainees can challenge their captivity in federal courts.

  • Jul. 7, 2004 – Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora sends memo to Vice Admiral Church that details his attempts to halt administration policy on detainees.

  • Jul. 30, 2004 – The first hearings begin for the Pentagon created Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs), a non-judicial process to assess value and danger of detainees.

  • Aug. 30, 2004 – Pentagon permits lawyer Gitanjali Guiterrez to meet detainees Begg, and Abassi for habeas corpus suits

  • Nov. 10, 2004 – Bush administration nominates Alberto Gonzales to be Attorney General.

  • Dec. 30, 2004 – Deputy Attorney General James Comey disavows Bybee torture memo


  • Jan. 6, 2005 – Gonzales confirmation hearings begin.

  • Feb. 3, 2005 – Gonzales is sworn in as Attorney General

  • May 16, 2005 – Sgt. Anthony Morden is charged with 1 count assault and 2 counts of dereliction of duty. Later Morden is sentenced to 75 days in prison, reduced in rank to private, and given a bad conduct discharge.

  • May 16, 2005 – Sgt. Selena Salcedo is charged with dereliction of duty and assault. Later reduced in rank, fined $1000 and given letter of reprimand.

  • Aug. 17, 2005 – Pfc. Willie Brand is convicted of assault, maiming, maltreatment, and making a false official statement. He is reduced in rank to private.

  • Aug. 24, 2005 – Spc. Glendale Walls pleads guilty to dereliction of duty and assault. He is later sentenced to 2 months in prison, reduced in rank to private and a given bad-conduct discharge.

  • Sep. 27, 2005 – Lynndie England is sentenced to 3 yrs in jail.

  • Sep. 29, 2005 – Sgt. Duane Grubb pleads not guilty to charges of assault, maltreatment and making false official statement. Grubb is later acquitted.


  • Jan. 6, 2006 – Charged of dereliction of duty and making a false official statement against Capt. Christopher Beiring are dropped. He is given a written reprimand for dereliction of duty.

  • Jun. 1, 2006 – Pfc. Damien Corsetti is acquitted of dereliction of duty, maltreatment, assault, wrongful use of hashish, and performing an indecent act with another person.

End of timeline.

Editor’s Note: Much of the information contained in this article is taken from the press packet distributed by Think Films and their publicity team.

Bill Larson
Bill Larson
Bill Larson is  is politically and socially active in the community. Bill is a member of the Friends of Dunbar Cave. You can reach him via telephone at 931-249-0043 or via the email address below.


  1. The MPAA has a history of censoring trailers, posters, being inconsistent with applying ratings, etc. A good documentary about this is “This Film in Not Rated” by Kirby Dick.

    Netflix says “Kirby Dick’s provocative documentary investigates the secretive and inconsistent process by which the Motion Picture Association of America rates films. Dick questions whether certain studios get preferential treatment, exposes the discrepancies in how the MPAA views sex and violence, and reveals the association’s efforts to control culture. Interviewees include John Waters, Darren Aronofsky, Maria Bello, Atom Egoyan, Kevin Smith and more.”

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