Taxi to the Dark Side: Facts You Need to Know

Taxi to the Dark Side: Facts You Need to Know

Alex Gibney's new docmentary, “Taxi to the Dark Side,” presents an absorbing 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 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 raises 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.



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


Oct. 27, 1990–The 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.”


The U.S. 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 U.S. 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:

(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) Taking of hostages;
(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) 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-U.S. 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. 7, 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–President 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 2002U.S. 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 doesnt 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 presidents 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–First hunger strike at Guantanamo (to protest a rule against turbans, U.S. officials decide to allow turbans).

March 2002–Gen. Dunlavey (in charge of Guantanamo) flies to Afghanistan and Kuwait

March 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.

July 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.

July 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.