I saw Zero Dark Thirty yesterday and it's revolting--for its blatant propaganda, glorification of torture, and false narrative that torture led to the demise of Osama bin Laden. This movie should begin with a disclaimer, and one that is stronger than the "Scenes depicted in this movie are a work of fiction." It calls for something more along the lines of
Despite what is depicted in this movie, torture does not work and was of no value in finding Osama bin Laden.While the MSM and blogosphere have universally condemned the movie's false depiction of torture as valuable in finding Osama bin Laden, in an unprecedented, extraordinary, and commendable move, Congress has now criticized the movie. In a letter to Sony Pictures, Senators Feinstein, Levin and McCain (himself a victim of torture) called the movie
grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the locationof bin Laden.
Zero Dark Thirty's narrative is more than misleading. Despite Kathryn Bigelow's claim that she took a "journalistic" approach, it is pure fiction, and dangerous fiction at that, because a third of the movie portrays graphic torture, which--while cringe-worthy--ultimately is depicted as key to finding bin Laden.
Many have inveighed against the movie on precisely this point--among them, the New York Times's Frank Bruni ("No waterboarding, no Bin Laden: that's what Zero Dark Thirty appears to suggest."); The Nation's Stuart Klawans ("Does the film go further, and present torture as the necessary tool for taking down bin Laden? Absolutely."); CNN's Peter Bergen ("One of its central themes--that torture was instrumental to tracking down bin Laden--is not supported by the facts."); The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald ("The standard viewer will get the message loud and clear: we found and killed bin laden because we tortured The Terrorists.") The New Yorker's Dexter Filkins and Jane Mayer, Mother Jones' Adam Serwer, The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan, the Huffington Post's Dan Froomkin, Empty Wheel's Owen Gleiberman, Bret Easton Ellis, and other esteemed writers have all reached the same conclusion.
But in an extraordinary act, Congress, which is not in the business of film critiquing, much less having three senior senators weigh in on a movie, just condemned it for the same reason.The senators say the movie is “factually inaccurate” and “has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manner.” Their letter asks Sony Pictures to “consider correcting the impression that the C.I.A.’s use of coercive interrogation techniques led to the operation” against Bin Laden.
And the Senators who did so have reason to know. Feinstein is chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), which last week approved a 6000-page report concluding that, aside from being morally reprehensible, torture does not work and that harsh interrogation measures used by the CIA did not produce significant intelligence breakthroughs. More specifically,
Officials familiar with the report said it makes a detailed case that subjecting prisoners to “enhanced” interrogation techniques did not help the CIA find Osama bin Laden and often were counterproductive in the broader campaign against al-Qaeda.This conclusion is the polar opposite of what Zero Dark Thirty depicts. I'm a free speech absolutist. I don't think Zero Dark Thirty should be banned, and I think calling for its boycott is unrealistic. It's the journalists, lawyers and activists steeped in human rights, who have studied and been covering the U.S.'s ugly experiment with torture over the past decade, who can most cogently call bullshit on this movie.
While it's unrealistic to expect Kathryn Bigelow to re-do her socially irresponsible agitprop or tocut the torture scenes, I hope that before this movie is seen by millions of people, Sony Pictures Entertainment will add a strongly-worded disclaimer.
I also hope that the SSCI will make its report available to the public. This film is the strongest evidence so far of why it needs to.