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The new movie about the hunting-down of Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, is currently a box office leader, thanks to the judicious timing of its wide release to coincide with Jessica Chastain’s Golden Globe win as Best Actress and the announcement of the movie’s five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. It also happens to be the subject of attention in Washington, which creates some negative publicity but also stirs up buzz and curiosity at the same time.

It is safe to say that a lot more people will see this movie than saw director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal’s previous film, the character study and war drama The Hurt Locker, the little-movie-that-could: a film with, to this day, the smallest total box office take of any Best Picture-Oscar-winner. Both these Bigelow films derive from Boal’s journalism, as all of his movie credits – including the article that inspired the splendid Paul Haggis film In the Valley of Elah – stem from his reporting on the U.S. military or security apparatus. The Hurt Locker emerged from what Boal witnessed as an embedded reporter in Iraq; similarly, his latest script most likely reflects with accurate faithfulness the information shared with him by CIA sources. Some people have made a big stink over those CIA briefings and demanded to know exactly what the CIA shared with Boal. This has led to the release of an interview transcript through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Richard Mellon Scaife-funded conservative group Judicial Watch (whose outrage seems to stem from the filmmakers’ Democratic affiliation), as well as to a letter from Senators Dianne Feinstein, John McCain, and Carl Levin to the acting director of the CIA, requesting all pertinent documents on how the film team was briefed.

But what the ruckus obscures is the one-sided nature this action thriller was set up to have from the start. Since Boal himself was embedded with the military in 2004, he has already been influenced by the ridiculous practice of embedding – the only one on offer by the Pentagon at the time and the only one they’ll offer in the future, since the mainstream media bought it hook, line, and sinker. The Alice-in-Wonderland logic of embedding, which pretends truth can be even remotely glimpsed when a reporter is immersed in only one group’s point-of-view in a bitter and hugely complex conflict, had a virulent effect on Iraq War reporting -- and there’s research to back up just how pathetic that reporting became.

Nonetheless, thanks to the power of artistic imagination and sensibility, Boal’s script for The Hurt Locker still led to a very nuanced film which many of us felt was a humanistic cautionary tale that respected individual warriors while criticizing what war does to them. Lightning has not struck twice, however, and Zero Dark Thirty does not inherit its predecessor’s wisdom just by mimicking its attention to details. In the filmmakers’ desire to unearth every step of the bin Laden manhunt, they have overlooked the concept of balance (or convinced themselves that refraining from commenting on their subject matter is the same thing). Boal probably knows more about the inscrutability of truth than some of his moviemaking peers – his educational background is in Philosophy – but he does not seem worried that becoming the confidante for CIA officials could possibly skew his view. He did not, after all, counter the high-level access he got to CIA officials by ‘embedding’ himself with, say, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, or the Red Cross, World Court, or UN Commission on Human Rights. Nor did Boal hang out with the staff at the European Court of Human Rights – the court which, a week before Zero Dark Thirty opened, set a precedent by ruling in favor of German citizen Khaled El-Masri’s lawsuit that the CIA broke the law in subjecting him to torture.

So it is no wonder that Boal serves up Dan, the CIA torture specialist portrayed in the film by Australian actor Jason Clarke, as rational, decent, and perfectly capable of going back to paper-pushing when he’s done stripping Muslims’ clothes off. At no point is Dan conveyed as sadistic or out-of-control: his actions are deliberate. Moreover, he and Maya, the dedicated CIA protagonist played by Chastain, get along fine; Maya’s female colleague (Jennifer Ehle) even chit-chats with her about how Maya and Dan should “hook up”. Granted, Maya is initially very disturbed to see Dan inflicting a smorgasbord of pain and suffering on a detainee – waterboarding, sexual humiliation, stress positions, sleep deprivation, starvation, enclosure in a sealed wooden box the size of a suitcase (a tactic almost identical to one used on slaves in Django Unchained.) But she makes no complaint over the actions or the scars and welts on the prisoner’s body. In fact, she eventually becomes a torturer herself, fully accepting waterboarding and employing henchmen to punch prisoners on her command to ‘enhance’ her interrogation. It seems the operatives’ only real concern about torture comes later on, in reaction to President Obama’s public disavowal of it; they look uncomfortable when it sounds like the rules are going to change. “Don’t be the last person holding a dog-collar,” Dan warns Maya when he gets out of the racket.

At the same time, the film rewards CIA certainty that detainees are withholding information in the face of denials. Though one detainee who is tortured becomes so distraught he starts jabbering nonsense – thus underscoring experts’ assertions we’ve heard in real life that torture leads to unreliable information -- this moment is unlikely to stick with viewers. It is not a plot point, and certainly the agents are not worried about getting false leads (though even Shakespeare understood four centuries ago the uselessness of torture)1. What will impact the audience much more is that the same detainee who is tortured so much finally does reveal important information. Yes, he’s sitting at a meal with his torturers and they’re being nice to him at the time – but the implication is obviously that he ‘broke’ after the grueling succession of tortures he’d endured. Feeding him is just the follow-through phase of the torture.

And how differently the main torture victim in Zero Dark Thirty is depicted from the innocent, Egyptian-born, Chicago resident married to Reese Witherspoon in the unjustly-overlooked 2007 film Rendition. In that film, engineer Anwar (Omar Metwally), mistaken for someone else, is kidnapped from an airport terminal by the CIA and vanished to North Africa to be tortured – the script is said to be inspired by the El-Masiri case mentioned above, as well as by the similar case of Syrian-Canadian citizen Maher Arar.

In Rendition, the torture sequences are clearly empathetic to the victim, and they are seen from his point-of-view. Moreover, the CIA agent who witnesses the torture (Jake Gyllenhaal) isn’t merely uncomfortable, he’s beside himself, and he ultimately rebels against the system. By contrast, in Zero Dark Thirty, the interrogation scenes are from the interrogators’ perspective, and are part of the forward-movement of the movie: the viewer is, by dint of the dynamics of a detective story, co-opted into rooting for the interrogators. At no point do those interrogators we side with seem to have the slightest twinge of conscience (Maya’s initial discomfort is when she is green; like a kid learning how to skin a fish, she gets over it)2. And the false leads that cause delays are not shown as being the result of torture, but as understandable mistakes.

Furthermore, none of the detainees are portrayed as innocent or out-of-the-loop. While it may well be that a crime drama feels it’s necessary for dramatic economy to focus on criminals and accomplices only, the psychic effect of this emphasis is to make us side with the authorities – as our protectors – and to perceive that the world is full of dangerous hoodlums. In this case, which is no quaint PBS Mystery but a living-newspaper moment with influence over our current policy choices, this emphasis obscures the fact that the U.S. government was ‘disappearing’ people and hiding their very existence from human rights observers, that at least 100 prisoners are known to have died in U.S. custody as a result of interrogation and detention procedures during the Bush regime, that even some American citizens in custody have been subjected to torture, and that the Bush Administration kept scores of inmates imprisoned at Guantánamo for years despite knowing they were innocent (including an 89-year old villager, a 14-year boy, and a journalist).

As Andy Worthington, a British reporter who researches Guantánamo, told Democracy Now in 2011 after thousands of documents from the prison were released by Wikileaks:

“all along, it’s been apparent that there’s only been a very small number of genuine terrorist suspects at Guantánamo and that the rest of the people included large numbers of innocent people who were swept up… [T]here were a lot of low-level Taliban foot soldiers in there, as well, which is really at the heart of the failure of the war on terror to make a distinction between, on the one hand, terrorists and, on the other hand, soldiers in a military conflict…Major General Dunlavey, who was the commander of Guantánamo in 2002, complained about the "Mickey Mouse" prisoners, the number of "Mickey Mouse" prisoners, as he described them, that he was being sent from Afghanistan. Here they are. Here are the farmers and the cooks and the taxi drivers and all these people who should never have been rounded up in the first place and who ended up in Guantánamo because there was no screening process.”
The large number of innocent people at Guantánamo is in fact relevant to Zero Dark Thirty despite what the filmmakers might think because it’s all part of the same system, and because what’s being presented to us is also similar. First of all, Guantánamo was supposed to glean intelligence to thwart terrorism, and secondly, because it was a massive torture operation. Or in Andy Worthington’s words again: “what these files reveal in detail is that when people didn’t have anything to tell, because in so many cases they were nobodies, the Bush administration actually introduced torture techniques in an attempt to extract information from them.”

The makers of Zero Dark Thirty seem to be ignorant of this big picture, and their understanding of the actual practices of torture in the Bush Administration seems as misguided as the familiar lines dished out by the mainstream news. As Glen Greenwald wrote for Salon in 2009: “The reality — that our ‘interrogation tactics’ killed numerous detainees, who, by definition, are people confined helplessly in our custody, virtually none of whom has been convicted of anything, and at least some of whom are completely innocent — is virtually never heard as part of these debates.”

When we meet the detainee who Zero Dark Thirty will submit to an extended buffet of coercive brutality, he is already openly hostile to his torturer. He is clearly not a neutral party, but someone who actively dislikes his captors and their cause. Thus his defiance makes the audience instantly see him as their ideological enemy, perhaps even one who needs to be brought down a few pegs. I realize that other entertainments have been much more overtly pro-torture and gotten away with it (24, The Dark Knight, Inglourious Basterds), but Bigelow’s film is supposed to be a serious drama ‘based on a true story’ and this makes it potentially even more influential.

I take Bigelow at her word that she is “a lifelong pacifist” who “support[s] all protest against the use of torture, and, quite simply, inhumane treatment of any kind”,  even if she says she’d prefer they didn’t protest her movie (as groups like the orange-jumpsuit street demonstrators World Cant Wait have been doing). She has argued in a piece in the L.A. Times that “depiction is not endorsement” and that “confusing depiction with endorsement is the first step toward chilling any American artist's ability and right to shine a light on dark deeds.” This would be a valid point, except for the fact that, whether purposefully done or not, sometimes depiction is endorsement. Sometimes depiction is encouragement -- and that is why critics and scholars have spent as much time as they have decrying the depiction of violence against women in much mainstream entertainment, or the depiction of the LGBT community in ways that promulgate gay-bashing (there being a big difference between Cruising and Brokeback Mountain), or the depiction of sadistic murders in ways that make them seem cool, or the glamorization of battle, or various other media trends that harm society. It's all a matter of tone.

Bigelow goes on to state that “War, obviously, isn't pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences.” That is a noble sentiment, but where does Bigelow think she showed those consequences in her film? Zero Dark Thirty is no Casualties of War. Sure, she rightly avoids an overtly rah-rah-rah tone, and she doesn’t end on a triumphant peal but on a somber, quiet note. And Maya is consistently grim and joyless. But all these CIA operatives merely seem to be doing their jobs; their conduct is normalized by their banality, and moral considerations don’t seem to come into it. Unlike Sergeant William James in The Hurt Locker, who demonstrably goes a little crazy under the pressures of an impossible war, these characters always maintain an aura of professionalism and rationality.

Boal has alleged that the “torture scenes are graphic and unsparing and unsentimental”, which is in the eye of the beholder, since each type of torture shown is quite brief and the extent of the prisoner’s suffering is not fore-grounded. But he also adds that “what the film does over the course of two hours is show the complexity of the debate.” Now, this extraordinary statement bears no relationship whatsoever to the actual movie playing in theaters. As journalist Jane Mayer (the author of the torture exposé The Dark Side) remarks in The New Yorker, the movie “doesn’t include a single scene in which torture is questioned.” If Boal thinks he’s showing a debate, it must be a debate between those who believe in torture – the ones he shows – and some invisible opponents he assumes must be answered. None of the characters mention that proscriptions against torture have been codified in fundamental international and U.S. documents for decades; it’s hard to tell if they even know. Mayer underscores the irresponsibility and inaccuracy of the movie’s lack of criticism of torture:

“the Bush years were racked by internal strife over just that issue—again, not just among human-rights and civil-liberties lawyers, but inside the F.B.I., the military, the Justice Department, and the C.I.A. itself, which eventually abandoned waterboarding because it feared, correctly, that the act constituted a war crime. None of this ethical drama seems to interest Bigelow.”
By positing that torture helped the CIA track down bin Laden while at the same time taking an uncritical stance toward the practice, the filmmakers have drawn a great deal of ire. (Recently, noted activist-actors David Clennon, Ed Asner, and Martin Sheen have brought the fight to the Academy by publicly opposing the film as an Oscar contender.) Bigelow and Boal may very well find torture abhorrent themselves, but if they do, they’ve really bent over backwards to hide it. What seems more likely is that their outrage has diminished because of their closeness to the culture which did those deeds. This comes out in small ways. Concerned about investigations, Boal has now enlisted the help of Jeffrey Smith, the attorney who represented Henry Kissinger and Robert McNamara – hardly scions in the cause of human rights. Smith also happens to be former CIA general counsel, so Boal is picking an apple not far from the tree. Meanwhile, Bigelow’s L.A. Times piece defending her film salutes the “ordinary Americans who fought bravely” to defeat bin Laden “even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, who labored greatly and intently, who gave all of themselves in both victory and defeat, in life and in death, for the defense of this nation.” She may call herself a pacifist, but no pacifist I know has so much equanimity about crossing ‘moral lines’ like these.

Ironically, Bigelow’s chief public defense of the portrayal of torture in the film is that we need artists to show us unsightly parts of our history, that sweeping our shameful deeds under the rug serves no-one. This is a remarkably specious argument, since it must be clear to her that the complaints against the movie by opponents of torture are not over the fact that it shows torture, but the way it shows torture. And it is a pretty spry contortionist’s act to a) claim moral high ground as a courageous truth-teller revealing dark secrets, while b) overtly championing the people and system you claim to be critiquing, and c) simultaneously adopting a non-judgmental, neutral-observer pose.

L.A. Weekly film critic Scott Foundas writes in his thumbs-up review of Zero Dark Thirty that “Bigelow and Boal come not to judge but to show”, but why would anyone assume those are the only two choices? There are actually ways to tackle problematic, raw-nerve historical subjects without being preachy or black-and-white. In fact, The Hurt Locker had seemed like an exemplar of that type. Beyond that, the British TV movies Bloody Sunday (2002) and Battle for Haditha (2007) are even more complete paradigms of that achievement. Both are documentary-style, ensemble-oriented features which follow characters with viscerally-divergent viewpoints. Both are scrupulous recreations of actual incidents, and portraits of how certain cultures (i.e. counter-terrorism forces and the military) breed certain mind-sets. But these two Brit pics don’t take objectivity so literally that they seem blasé about atrocities. It’s true that Bloody Sunday and Battle for Haditha are both about senseless, avoidable massacres (Derry, Northern Ireland in 1972 and Haditha, Iraq in 2005) and that they were both tragedies whose victims were innocent civilians, whereas Zero Dark Thirty is something altogether different. But the point is an aesthetic one: there are precedents already in the can to prove that reprehensible actions need not be filmed with a moralistic, condemnatory tone in order to make a moral argument. Those two fine U.K. films try to understand all their characters, even the worst of the bunch, but they do not accept all of their actions.

It is not to suggest that movies should talk down to the audience to say that filmmakers really need to think about media psychology more. It is merely to acknowledge that the images they create have extremely powerful effects on our psyches. Perhaps none of the CIA sources Boal interviewed had any lasting problem with torture and Bigelow was intent on verisimilitude, so the torture isn’t protested in the film. But when those characters are also the good guys in the movie, when the active protagonist who pursues her goal and finally achieves it is presented as a positive force (not as an anti-hero like, say, Michael Corleone in The Godfather films), then our human psyches taking in the film will not generally compute “wait a minute, remember the torture? Didn’t those people break a truck-load of laws? I feel ambivalent about this woman who is so morally compromised.” Instead, the human mind will compute: “The end justifies the means.”

It’s true that Bigelow is, as she declares, “part of a Hollywood community that has made searing war films part of its cinematic tradition”, but that same Hollywood community has also made plenty of movies that the Pentagon loves – which is why the Pentagon and Hollywood have been such happy collaborators for so many decades. Likewise, Hollywood and the CIA have also been very willing partners on many entertainment projects--not just the current crop of prominent ones. This enduring marriage makes a mockery of MPAA President Christopher Dodd’s warning to Washington that the fuss about CIA cooperation with Zero Dark Thirty might frighten the military or other government agencies from working with Hollywood in the future. That is highly unlikely; those agencies know a good thing when they see it. Last year the U.S. military literally commissioned its own action movie, Act of Valor; it has been developing its own video games since 2002 and now has about two dozen games in use; and there is even an entertainment liaison office in Los Angeles for the DOD and Armed Forces.

And when CIA officials cooperated with Zero Dark Thirty, they were certainly not acting as whistleblowers. It wasn’t “X” in a trenchcoat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial whispering secrets his boss might have him killed for. No, CIA big guns met with Bigelow and Boal, on record and above board, “to ensure an appropriate portrayal of the Agency’s mission as well as the dedication of the men and women of the CIA who played a key part in the success of the mission,” as they told their Senate overseers. The CIA maintains that the relationship with the Zero Dark Thirty team was nice and cozy, and included the filmmakers agreeing to let the agency read drafts of the screenplay. This runs counter to Boal’s assertions, since he denies that he ever let the CIA officially vet the script, but even if did maintain the independence he has avowed, it’s not like there’s anything in the movie that might offend the agency.

The letter sent to the CIA’s acting director by Senate Select Committee chair Feinstein and ex-officio members Levin and McCain asks an interesting question: whether the CIA agents who met with the filmmakers lied to them about the role of torture in the hunt for bin Laden. This is one trail worth following, because if it is discovered that these Hollywood liberals were in fact guided into making the kind of exculpatory movie they made in order to influence public opinion – and perhaps to protect torturers from future prosecution – then this is a scandal that could last for some time.

One can only hope that the movie might lead to very different results than those which its depiction of torture would otherwise engender. This week, John Kiriakou, former CIA analyst and counter-terrorism consultant to national media outlets, will be sentenced for disclosing classified information to the press after pleading guilty to one of five counts against him in October. Kiriakou was the first government official to expose the use of waterboarding during the Bush regime, revealing the actions of another CIA officer to a New York Times reporter in order to bring to light how al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times. In other words, Kiriakou has been prosecuted because he was a whistleblower about U.S. torture – whereas none of his colleagues who actually committed the war crime of torture have been so much as indicted. Nor are they likely to be, since Attorney General Eric Holder concluded a three-year investigation last August by declaring that no interrogators would be prosecuted for the abuse of prisoners (even though the abuse resulted in corpses).

It is obviously a grave injustice that these people not only get to walk away free but also get their own movie. (Where’s the movie in which Kiriakou is the hero?) But still, if it turns out that Zero Dark Thirty was derived from lies told by CIA officers to shape a narrative they wanted to see, maybe that could make at least the more conscientious members of Hollywood less eager to cooperate with them in the future. And one can always hope that such revelations could bring on renewed calls to prosecute the torturers -- and repercussions for those who may have pulled a psy-op on the American people by manipulating some gullible filmmakers.


1 In The Merchant of Venice Portia uses the knowledge for casual metaphor in a love dialogue:
“I fear you speak upon the rack,
Where men enforced do speak anything.”

2 This analogy is not meant to advocate fishing as a harmless activity. Scientific research has proven that fish feel pain.

Originally posted to Jennifer Epps on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 11:27 PM PST.

Also republished by Progressive Policy Zone, What are you watching?, Inherent Human Rights, Bloggers Against Torture, Why I Fight Against Torture Group, The Rebel Alliance, and Headwaters.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Reporting war crimes lands you in jail. (13+ / 0-)

    Committing war crimes doesn't even endanger your pension.

    Praising war crimes wins you a Golden Globe.

    Now clap.

    We just want civility! Moderation!! No Ad Hom! Oh, you're a dirty lying racist asshole and probably a troll....but that's different, because what I said is true!!!

    by JesseCW on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 11:46:59 PM PST

    •  at the very least it places you in a very (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NYFM, PhilJD

      uncomfortable position of having to report buddies or immediate superiors. Look at what happened with Hugh Thompson, Jr when he reported the My Lai massacre or what happened to the 3 grunts who tried to protect villagers.

      While your complaint works its way up the chain of command, you continue to work with the very guys you reported.  Very easy to be caught in a crossfire or taken out by an errant grenade.  Patience is short with those who are not "with the program".  It is amazing that anyone reports atrocities as the brass tends to view it as a part of the "cost of doing business" and have little sympathy for those who are "not team players".  There is a culture in the military which even encourages circumstances which lead to "friendly fire" directed at civilians, particularly in asymmetrical situations where every villager or civilian is a potential enemy.

      My father told me a guy who shot a German off a bridge going through Germany.  Problem was it was about a week after Germany surrendered and the German was a policeman directing refugees.  His punishment was  five years in Leavenworth and a dishonorable discharge with loss of benefits but many felt the punishment was too harsh.  Seems the more things change, the more they are the same  

    •  No, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and authorizing and ordering torture gets you space in newspapers and time on tv and radio, and gets your opinion being given gravitas, and being made even more wealthy than we can imagine, just ask Cheney and Rumsfeld and Bush and Rice and Yoo, and the rest.

                      To be clear,
                      Standing for justice and accountability,
                                     For Dan,

      Torture is ALWAYS wrong, no matter who is inflicting it on whom.

      by Chacounne on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 07:31:11 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Indeed. I'm all for putting Bradley (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Manning on Mt. Rushmore. Kentucky's Sgt. York was one helluva hero, back in WW I, but his contribution to civilization was slight compared with what Manning has done.

      "Manning Up" is a big deal.

      Also, if you want to see war reporting done right then you have to go back to Hirsch writing up My Lai or plow through "Aftermath" by Nir Rosen.

      "Have you left no sense of decency, sir, at long last?" Army Attorney to Sen. McCarthy, 1954. "We have done nothing to be ashamed of. We have nothing to apologize for." NRA 12/14/2012.

      by bontemps2012 on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 04:36:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Who do you think has more on the line here? (0+ / 0-)

      Mark Boal, or the seasoned career operatives at the CIA? Who would you bet might win at pretty much any board game you can imagine?  And if it was about shaping a narrative over several months, with virtually unlimited resources, on your own turf, it's no contest...

      "There is power in speaking up. We know the face of unfettered gun proliferation. Now it’s time to see more faces of regulation and restraint." - Charles Blow

      by Beastly Fool on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 10:19:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well done, the crux of the matter: (12+ / 0-)
    But he also adds that “what the film does over the course of two hours is show the complexity of the debate.” Now, this extraordinary statement bears no relationship whatsoever to the actual movie playing in theaters.
    Had the movie presented "the complexity of the debate," that would be one thing, but the few times even a hint of complexity surfaces are when Obama denounces torture, which you mention, and in the dog-collar like statements. But they're not so much scenes that drill down into ethical complexities, as they are cynical CYA. If a defense is that the filmmakers "come not to judge but to show," they chose what to show, and what not to show—the actual intelligence that led to bin Laden.

    The audience around me was clearly uncomfortable during the waterboarding scenes but they cheered bin Laden's death, and many no doubt left thinking the one led to the other, and the one justified the other. A little "complexity" would have been a welcome thing.

    stay together / learn the flowers / go light - Gary Snyder

    by Mother Mags on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 12:12:48 AM PST

    •  As an example - Homeland is far from a perfect (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PhilJD, Mother Mags


      However, at the very least, it does not treat torture as if it were simply "part of doing business".    In fact, the parallels between what the CIA does to captives and what Al Qaeda does to captives are quite clearly drawn.

      We just want civility! Moderation!! No Ad Hom! Oh, you're a dirty lying racist asshole and probably a troll....but that's different, because what I said is true!!!

      by JesseCW on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 02:24:05 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  from what i've seen (9+ / 0-)

    the cia has been distancing itself from the narrative that torture works. as far as i can tell, this one is on the filmmakers alone. for which they are being rewarded and awarded...

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 12:31:23 AM PST

    •  it goes against their previous narrative (5+ / 0-)

      WWII British and American intelligence experts reported the German practice of torture was ineffective and produced faulty data.  Instead, when a high ranking German was captured, they put him up in the best digs with cigars and wine and complimented him on the genius of the German war machine.  Nauseating but the Germans could not resist falling all over themselves in pointing out deficiencies of Allied forces and superiority of German military.  The agents sat in apparent rapt attention as the generals divulged secret after secret as they considered the Allied agents as comrades and had open contempt for the German civilian command and esp. "Corporal" Hitler.  They viewed their allied counterparts as colleagues  in a fraternity and could not be shut up bragging about their brilliant exploits.
      Now consider what torture would have wrung from those stiff necked Prussians.   They expected torture, trained to be tortured and were completely thrown off their game by kindness    

    •  The CIA is not, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chacounne, JesseCW

      and never will, distance itself from 'covering it's ass'.  One might get the impression that this type of CYA is more important to them than anything so mundane as doing their job.

      190 milliseconds....

      by Kingsmeg on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 07:24:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Perhaps Ms. Bigelow couldn't figure out... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Grizzard to incorporate the the other side without slowing down the plot.

    The moment the audience suspects you of being preachy, even for a moment, you risk losing them.

    Boehner Just Wants Wife To Listen, Not Come Up With Alternative Debt-Reduction Ideas

    by dov12348 on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 12:57:57 AM PST

  •  A diary that needs to be republished to appear... (16+ / 0-) a time when it will get far more than the handful of readers available at this time of night. Nuanced, direct and, most of all, so very very true. Some folks, I know, will say, what's all the fuss, it's just a movie, as if movies have done nothing to shape the national narrative and sculpt our cultural affinities over the past 100 years.

    As noted, this piece needs to be seen.

    Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 01:03:31 AM PST

    •  Exactly, just as Jon Stewart who thanks to (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PhilJD, Chacounne, aliasalias

      this movie considers those opposed to torture as "Anti-Torture Extremists" and thinks that there should be a balanced approach to the use of torture

      You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

      by Throw The Bums Out on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 01:16:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  is "balanced approach to torture" (6+ / 0-)

        like a balanced approach to concentration camps?  This should be snark but I have heard too many defenses of the internment camps for Japanese Americans which begin with the observation that they were not death camps such as the Germans and Soviets ran and then concludes that sometimes it is necessary for a government to intern large segments of a potentially hostile population it is unable to deport.

        •  I only wish it was snark but I am afraid (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          PhilJD, Chacounne

          the "balanced approach to torture" idea is all too real.  Hell, 24 was pure fiction and yet the commander of West Point had to get Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer) to set the recruits straight so what do you think Zero Dark Thirty will do if it even turned Jon Stewart?

          As for the whole internment camps, thanks to CONgress the only real thing preventing the return of mass detentions in internment camps are the logistical issues (after all, to put say 10 million people into camps you first have to have them or at least all the supplies to build them).

          You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

          by Throw The Bums Out on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 05:37:45 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Stellar diary. (8+ / 0-)

    As MB suggests, please re-post or something so it gets a wider audience.

    Send your old shoes to the new George W. Bush library.

    by maxschell on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 01:16:14 AM PST

  •  Republished to Progressive Policy Zone. (6+ / 0-)

    As MB notes in comments, this diary deserves the widest possible audience.

    Full disclosure: I have no intention of ever seeing Zero Dark Thirty.

    When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill...

    by PhilJD on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 06:17:52 AM PST

    •  I agree with you, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PhilJD, aliasalias

      except I am going to make the opposite choice, so I can quote from it accurately when I lambaste it.

                Standing with you,
                for justice and accountability,
                           For Dan,

      Torture is ALWAYS wrong, no matter who is inflicting it on whom.

      by Chacounne on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 07:20:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I watched it, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chacounne, PhilJD, JesseCW

      because I cannot in good conscience criticize a movie I haven't seen.  It's worse than the diarist makes out.  Pure propaganda, from start to finish.  

      The bit about torture is only a small part of the overall propaganda agenda, frankly progressives should be worried about more than this when discussing this movie.  

      190 milliseconds....

      by Kingsmeg on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 07:28:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Is that allowed? (0+ / 0-)

      Thank you for the great feedback, but I am afraid to re-post because that might not be kosher?

      “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” --Margaret Mead

      by Jennifer A Epps on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 12:59:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Republishing to different groups, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        which will mean the diary shows up on more people's pages, rather than just in recent diaries, is encouraged.  People who are part of the groups can get them republished to the groups they are part of.

        I have republished it to Bloggers Against Torture and Why I Fight Against Torture.

        I am very sorry the  didn't get rescued to the Community Spotlight. I fought for it, but lost.

                       With gratitude,

        Torture is ALWAYS wrong, no matter who is inflicting it on whom.

        by Chacounne on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 01:34:11 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks very much for that (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Chacounne, Turbonerd, Lady Libertine

          I appreciate all the support.

          It is good to see how passionate people are about this issue.

          “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” --Margaret Mead

          by Jennifer A Epps on Wed Jan 23, 2013 at 10:14:33 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Republishing (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Turbonerd, Lady Libertine

            If Meteor Blades says "republish" it's not only kosher, it's holy. MB sits at the right hand of kos and is perhaps the highest authority on this site that actually still gets down in the trenches with us regular folks and comments on a daily basis. He's linking to your diary and posting excerpts on the front page which is how I discovered it.

            So yes, please do not fear to republish this diary yourself. And perhaps add a little note at the opening to indicate that it is a republished diary. Folks dig stuff out of their own archives all the time -- seasonal diaries, anniversaries of certain events. Not a great habit to get into but certainly such a well thought-out and researched diary as this deserves another run through the intertubes.

            If you do republish, here's an additional excuse: Marko the Werelynx sez there's a missing pronoun in this sentence--

            This runs counter to Boal’s assertions, since he denies that he ever let the CIA officially vet the script, but even if * did maintain the independence he has avowed, it’s not like there’s anything in the movie that might offend the agency.
            Looking forward to being able to rec it again, and until then clicking the ol' follow heart,

            Your fuzzy-headed friend,


            “The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.”

            by Marko the Werelynx on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 12:14:00 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  I'm putting it on Facebook to get more eyes n/t (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PhilJD, Chacounne

      without the ants the rainforest dies

      by aliasalias on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 03:07:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poligirl, aliasalias, JesseCW

    for the excellent and very important diary.

    The mainstreaming of the approval of torture, and the not just lack of punishment but outright rewarding of those at the top who have authorized and approved and ordered it, is a huge problem.

    Many Americans claim they do not want people tortured in their name, and that they are horrified by what has been done. As the widow of a US Vietnam vet who survived torture, I have had hundreds of these conversations over the last seven years. Yet many of those who proclaim their disgust, will and have not even contacted their elected federal representatives to protest the torture in their names and to support prosecutions of those at the top who need to be held legally responsible.

    We need EVERY voice to stop torture as the law, policy and practice of the United States, and to push to have those responsible at the highest levels held legally accountable.

    We need EVERY American to call their senators and the White House and tell them that John Brennan, who supported torture, should NOT be the next head of the CIA, the agency, as you point out, which inflicted much of the torture.

                  Standing for justice and accountability,
                                 For Dan,

    Torture is ALWAYS wrong, no matter who is inflicting it on whom.

    by Chacounne on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 07:50:19 AM PST

    •  Too true (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chacounne, aliasalias, Garrett, JesseCW

      You are right.
      Sadly, he may even be one of the characters depicted in the movie: speculates that he is the basis for the character played by Stephen Dillane, which if so is really a shame since Dillane can't seem to help but endow each character he plays with an aura of intelligence and sensitivity.

      Thank you for suggesting that people demand that the Senate reject Brennan's confirmation. There are many worthy organizations which have long been protesting torture and those responsible for it, and one such is the women's peace group CODEPINK, which has an online petition against Brennan's selection that will go to the Senate Intelligence Committee. You can sign it here:

      “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” --Margaret Mead

      by Jennifer A Epps on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 12:56:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks very much for the link to the slate article (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        and the link to the Code Pink petition.

        Very true that many worthy organizations have been fighting torture for a long time. I am hopeful, if we all work together, we can get stopping torture as the law, policy and practice of the United States, and pushing to ensure that those responsible at the highest levels for the torture inflicted by the US since 9/11 back on the American agenda. I will, among other things, be going to DC soon for the fourth time to lobby.

                              Thanks for your hard work,
                            Standing for justice and accountability,
                                        For Dan,

        Torture is ALWAYS wrong, no matter who is inflicting it on whom.

        by Chacounne on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 01:10:39 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Movies "based on a true story" are not history (0+ / 0-)

    I am generally uncomfortable with these types of movies, as the viewer is not aware of what was put in for dramatic effect, what was left out because it did not fit the story to be told,  and all the info that needs to be left out to compress time into a 2 hour movie, etc..

    Then because most all viewers of the movie will never lookup the history with authoritative sources, if they are even available -- many people's understanding of history will be whatever the movie portrays.    Consider the impact of Oliver Stone's JFK in forming many people's mis-understanding of history.

    For this movie,  as in all the others, the best response is that this is a movie, it cannot be trusted as history, don't let it shape your understanding of the world any more than a James Bond movie.

    Note that the above comments do not apply to the rare serious documentary that strives to give history without a significant point of view.

    The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

    by nextstep on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 09:36:02 AM PST

  •  Yes! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, Chacounne

    Excellent diary! You covered all of the bases.

    I'm so incensed that these filmmakers have continued to pretend that people object to the film because it shows torture when it's plain as day that what people object to is how they depict the torture. How can anyone support portraying the villains as heroes while the true heroes are written out of the story. It's sick.

    I'm also appalled that those involved in the Bush torture program have not been held accountable but that whistleblowers, who revealed the torture program, are mercilessly hounded.

    by pmorlan on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 10:36:33 AM PST

  •  Things have changed, now the so-called good guys (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chacounne, JesseCW

    (and woman) are the ones using torture. That used to be  reserved for the evil people in plots.

    That is about ONE raid but consider this...

    AMY GOODMAN: And then you take this forward, Jeremy, back to the United States and show McRaven a photograph.
    JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. And so, you know, after—after we learn that this figure, William McRaven, was the leader of this raid, it sort of—our film was sort of in the—this journey was sort of like pulling on the tail of an elephant that’s behind a hidden wall. And you’re pulling on it, and you’re pulling on it, and the cracks start to show this behemoth that’s behind a wall, and you realize that this is part of a much bigger story. And really, that kicked off a journey that took us to Yemen and Somalia and elsewhere.

    And, you know, for us, I mean, the sort of—just this incredible looking-glass moment happened when Osama bin Laden was killed. And all of a sudden, everyone is talking about JSOC. It’s everywhere. I mean, we had spent so much time embedded in this story, where there was very little being written about it, except for a small circle of journalists. And all of a sudden, the people that—whose journey we’d been tracking had become national heroes. And Disney tried to trademark SEAL Team 6, and, you know, the Hollywood producers got in bed with the CIA to make their version of the—you know, the events, the sort of official history.

    AMY GOODMAN: And you’re saying that’s the film...?
    JEREMY SCAHILL: Oh, Zero Dark Thirty. I mean, it’s—and we can talk about that film later. But, I mean, the relationship between the CIA and Hollywood over this issue is one that I think needs to be very, very thoroughly debated. And I’m thankful that we are debating it. And, you know, one great thing that has happened as a result of Zero Dark Thirty is that people are actually talking about torture and what has happened in the past. But for us to see, you know, McRaven sitting in front of Congress and JSOC being talked about publicly was really an incredible experience, because we had seen this other side. Our film is about all these things that these same units did that almost never get talked about. What Americans know about JSOC is overwhelmingly limited to what happened in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. And, you know, Rick often points out sort of the irony of the way that that’s covered versus the role these forces play around the world.
    RICK ROWLEY: Yeah, I mean, we’re flooded with details about one raid, the—on May 2nd, 2011. We know everything about it. We know how many SEALs were in the helicopters. We know what kind of helicopters they were. We know what kind of rifles they were carrying. We know that they had a dog with them that was a Belgian Malinois named Cairo. We know everything about this raid. But that same year, there were 30,000 other night raids in Afghanistan. So, we know everything about this, but those—those are all hidden from us.
    I want to repeat that last part... We know everything about this raid. But that same year, there were 30,000 other night raids in Afghanistan.(emphasis mine)

    without the ants the rainforest dies

    by aliasalias on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 03:17:37 PM PST

    •  Bureaucracy expands to fill (0+ / 0-)

      the budget available.

      Pot holes. Medicare. NOAA. Kidnapping and torture.

      Once they started kidnapping and torturing, they were going to spend that money before EOFY sucked it back out.

      "Have you left no sense of decency, sir, at long last?" Army Attorney to Sen. McCarthy, 1954. "We have done nothing to be ashamed of. We have nothing to apologize for." NRA 12/14/2012.

      by bontemps2012 on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 05:04:48 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this outstanding diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chacounne, Garrett

    I am not sure I will see this movie, but if I do, I am glad to have read this diary beforehand.

    Sometimes the manipulation and intent are so masterfully disguised that I can't trust my own bull-shit-o-meter to recognize what's done to the viewer. From all films mentioned in the diary I only say one, "In the Valley of Elah" ... and though I realized it to be an outstanding film ... it impacted me greatly emotionally and not only in a positive way. I don't want to go into it, because I would have to dig deep into my memory to express what it was ... the only thing I remember is that the influence of this film was larger on the viewership than it should have been, imo, at least the viewership who is not intimately involved personally in the events the plot desribes. Sometimes I think filmmakers don't think about those who have lived through scenarios they describe. It's films like these, excellently made, but masterfully avoiding "the point that needs to be made", why I rarely see movies (espcecially war related, documentary-style" movies made in Hollywood,  anymore.

    I am posting this from Germany and haven't read or heard anything about previous criticism the film might have gotten, but I am grateful for the diary. As being said above.

    I hope many people read this diary before they see the film.

  •  To me (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    To me, this is more like trying to justify compassion to the torturer, and 'understanding' why they 'had to torture' for the sake of the greater good.

    I am sure those torturers of the Inquisitions, or those in the death camps of nazi Germany, or those of Saharto, or Mao Zetung...and on and on, sat at the dinner table in thier various homes and places, and told thier wives and children what they had to do for the greater good to 'those people'.

    This is what the movie is like to me.  I saw the movie, and in the audience I was with, it didnt go as well as to deserve recognition as a good film.  Something like giving a medal to the people who drove the plane over Hiroshima to drop the atomic device.

    Of course...they had to do it.

  •  At what price Bin Laden? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I this agree with you but would add this nuance.  One of the themes of the movie in addition was to put it succinctly "The old mode is insufficiently effective"  I'm not sure where this idea comes from, maybe from the frustration of the CIA? Maybe from the military not having a country to attack?  For me it's conjecture.

    Pretty obviously, the traditional is represented by Jennifer Ehle's character Jessica.  First at the beginning of the movie where she offers evidence of a possible Bin Laden location but is dismissed as the marker reveals something no longer used by  Al-Qaeda according to Jessica Chastain's Maya. And then later when the $25M reward for Bin Laden attracts the attention of some supposedly inner-circle doctor, she notes "enough money to start another life."  The implication here is that it is her belief that some of Al-Qaeda belong against their will, and can, perhaps like the defectors of the cold war be lured over the side of the US.  Instead, that supposed insider turns out of be a suicide-bomber.  So therefore, Bin Laden is more important than $25M and anyone else's life.

    What does one do in the face of such zealotry?  Well maybe torture?  Jason's Clark's Dan says "Everyone breaks, it's physiology, bro"  Maybe the political motivation has changed and those old mode approaches don't work any longer, but the human body hasn't.

    How far do you go to get results?  Or how far would you go to get a particular result.  Because it wasn't 1 guy that was tortured, it was 100s.  And all of it didn't actually get Bin Laden either, but only access to someone possibly directly linked to Bin Laden.

    In the end is this a victory or a tragedy?

    •  How far do you go to get results? (0+ / 0-)

      That is precisely the question the film ZDT asks. I'm uncomfortable with torture as most are. The results of whatever it took, are undebatable. Maybe torture had nothing to do with it and maybe it did.

      But I think the film raises a valid question: What would you do to get bin Laden?

      Clearly PBO has decided that he's willing to go very, very far with drones, night attacks and maybe use the results of torture, OK'd by his predecessor. At a minimum, the film raises the question and continues the arguments for torture (supported by unprecedented CIA access) and against (pretty much everyone here).

      Time is an enormous, long river, and I’m standing in it, just as you’re standing in it. My elders are the tributaries, and everything they thought and every struggle they went through & everything they gave their lives to flows down to me-Utah Phillips

      by TerryDarc on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 10:35:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Ali Soufan, (0+ / 0-)

      former FBI counterterrorism operative and interrogator, is the primary source of the credible, firsthand information we have about acquiring actionable intelligence from terrorist suspects. He refutes the case for enhanced interrogation techniques, or torture, in no uncertain terms and catalogs the tragic consequences of it, not only when it led to bad information, but when it prevented him from acquiring additional crucial information. His book, The Black Banners, is a record of the successful work of operators like himself and the obstruction and failure that resulted from Bush administration enforcement of torture.

      Torture did not result in intelligence that led to the location and killing of Bin Laden. That is the other point not particularly well made in this excellent diary and the responses to it. Torture is not only illegal and immoral, it is ineffective and counterproductive. The film only makes the case that torture is sometimes necessary if you believe torture was necessary to find Bin Laden. Torture did not lead to the finding of Bin Laden.

  •  Boring film (0+ / 0-)

    I was surprised at how boring this film was. Maya wasn't a character at all, though like all Hollywood females, she was way too young for her supposed job, and she wore low-cut blouses even in Pakistan, oi.

    The torture scenes were gruesome but at least captured the interest. The hour and a half of Maya thinking this and asking that and pouting at her boss was tedious and did nothing to advance the plot. Finally, she got some tip and that was it, and we got the Navy Seals, and that was pretty cool.

    But as with 24, this film suffered from the boringness that comes from justifying torture. I don't understand it, but as soon as you start having as your raison d'etre showing that torture is cool, the story goes south. Boring. I almost fell asleep.

    You know, really, if you're going to be sadistic, at least be entertaining. I don't understand all the high praise for this film. It was like a police procedural for 2 hours, only with some callow and shallow protagonist.

    •  Please don't insult 24 by comparing ZD30 to it (0+ / 0-)

      24 was always fun for a liberal to watch as a parody of Bushist America. Also, we had the emotional release of having the president arrested for treason, something that the country regrettably failed to do in real life.

      There is no such ambiguity in the crude War on Terror propaganda that is ZD30.

  •  Great job (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed." General Buck Turgidson

    by muledriver on Wed Jan 23, 2013 at 09:30:24 PM PST

  •  Impeccable writing - a masterfully crafted piece. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jnhobbs, Chacounne, Lady Libertine

    Wow - this certainly needs more eyes.

    Self-described political "centrists" believe the best policy is halfway between right and wrong. — @RBReich via web

    by BentLiberal on Wed Jan 23, 2013 at 09:32:18 PM PST

  •  Fascinating diary to read... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BentLiberal, Chacounne, jnhobbs, TerryDarc

    I saw the movie last Saturday, and although a riveting and ultimately suspense-packed thriller, I felt just a bit dirty if I even thought of rooting for the movie's heroine, the character played by  Jessica Chastain.  After all, she is shown torturing detainees, or having henchmen punch them.

    Now, has our culture been fed some propaganda where we  now find ourselves rooting for movie characters who portray those people who played a part in the staining of America's reputation through their involvement in torture?

    Are the "good guys and gals" in 21st century America now supposed to be people who have no trouble acting like thugs?  Is that the hidden message of the film, showing a new dark side to this country's sensibilities where movie fans find it okay to actually like war criminals?

    A rebuttal to this question is that Chastain's character and the other character named "Dan", shown in ruthless violence against detainees, were only doing their jobs that they were instructed to do by their CIA bosses at the time.  They were only following orders.  Does that sound familiar?  Check out the excuses used at the Nuremberg trials and you'll see why it does.

    Bottom line is that I enjoyed my 2 hours and 37 minutes of watching this movie, but find it shaped audience sentiments into to actually liking the main characters who tortured as part of their job description.  This is quite a disturbing development in our pop culture, and one that won't be good for us.  Such propaganda, memorialized in this film, could hurt our image all over again around the world.   I hope it doesn't, but I fear it might, and that would be a shame.  America's not winning any hearts and minds in more hostile regions with this movie.  

    •  Exactly my reaction... (0+ / 0-)

      I cannot unreservedly recommend nor criticize this film. It raises the debate and many important questions you touch upon.

      I saw the movie last Saturday...I felt just a bit dirty
      Anyone who celebrated the death of bin Laden in their heart has to feel this as well.

      The movie points the dilemma  out in spades. There is a straight line between torture and getting OBL. That flies in the face of a basic tenet here: torture does not work. But is that true? Always true? Was it true in the killing of our most hated enemy? Was this a CIA sales job?

      I don't think we know the answers to those questions yet.

      Time is an enormous, long river, and I’m standing in it, just as you’re standing in it. My elders are the tributaries, and everything they thought and every struggle they went through & everything they gave their lives to flows down to me-Utah Phillips

      by TerryDarc on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 10:50:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  We do know the answers. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        In a letter to Sony Pictures' Chairman and CEO, Senators Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, and John McCain of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence wrote on December 19, 2012:

        We write to express our deep disappointment with the movie Zero Dark Thirty. We believe the film is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of Usama bin Laden.

        We understand that the film is fiction, but it opens with the words “based on first-hand accounts of actual events” and there has been significant media coverage of the CIA’s cooperation with the screenwriters. As you know, the film graphically depicts CIA officers repeatedly torturing detainees and then credits these detainees with providing critical lead information on the courier that led to the Usama Bin Laden. Regardless of what message the filmmakers intended to convey, the movie clearly implies that the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques were effective in eliciting important information related to a courier for Usama Bin Laden. We have reviewed CIA records and know that this is incorrect.

        Zero Dark Thirty is factually inaccurate, and we believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Usama Bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather part of the film’s fictional narrative.

        Pursuant to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s recently-adopted Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program, Committee staff reviewed more than 6 million pages of records from the Intelligence Community. Based on that review, Senators Feinstein and Levin released the following information on April 30, 2012, regarding the Usama Bin Laden operation:

        · The CIA did not first learn about the existence of the Usama Bin Laden courier from CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques... Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program...

        · The CIA detainee who provided the most significant information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques...

        The letter is worth reading. It condemns torture as ineffective and illegal.

        I want to emphasize this point:

        · The CIA detainee who provided the most significant information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.
        In his book, The Black Banners, Ali Soufan describes the repeated destruction of his work in acquiring actionable intelligence by the Bush administration sending in torturers. On several crucial occasions, his work and the work of other successful interrogators was obstructed and wrecked by the Bush torture squads taking over and preventing successful interrogators from gaining additional intelligence. In some of these cases, the terrorist suspects were then released by the Bush agents.
  •  Really? (0+ / 0-)

    People thought Hurt Locker was a good movie? If portraying the grim realities of war means showing a crackpot violence fetishist in a caricature of life, sure.

    by DAISHI on Wed Jan 23, 2013 at 10:06:53 PM PST

    •  Or Showing The Truth? (0+ / 0-)

      Maybe that's what Hurt Locker was about.

      "Magnificent! Compared to war all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.
      God help me, I do love it so!"
      - General George Patton Jr

      Time is an enormous, long river, and I’m standing in it, just as you’re standing in it. My elders are the tributaries, and everything they thought and every struggle they went through & everything they gave their lives to flows down to me-Utah Phillips

      by TerryDarc on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 10:40:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you (0+ / 0-)

    for the well written critique. Kathryn Bigelow / Leni Riefenstahl.

    "like a roofer or a dancer or a cheese cutter or a lumber jack" " rubyr Sat Aug 14, 2010 at 12:24:28 AM PDT

    by sometv on Wed Jan 23, 2013 at 10:44:35 PM PST

  •  Why Do We Have This Movie? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    saluda, Linda Wood

    I hate to even see this movie discussed. Talking about it (or writing about it) inadvertantly publicizes it. But there's no practical way to say how bad this is without referring to the film.

    I guess to the extent it continues to be a target for people who want to stop torture (and all the other aspects of the Bush dictatorship), it provides an opportunity to do good. But I don't understand why people would buy tickets to it, given that it's flaws have been made so public. This just suggests to me there are a lot of flawed movie-goers.

    I'm way out there on the side of freedom of speech. But along with that I think that people need to speak up and say when they disagree. I strongly disagree with the protrayal of torture as protecting the country.

    What I really want to see is a movie (even if it's fictional, which it surely is for now) that portays the capture and trial and subsequent punishment of the Bush war criminals. I'd like to see a mainstream movie about how one or more of them are picked up and put on trial by an international tribunal. I'd like to see the presentation of the evidence and how they are forced to face their crimes. I'd like to see a movie similar to the one on the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

    Because that's exactly what we have here. A bunch of people who committed international war crimes and federal felony offenses. Justice demands that they go on trial.

    As for Bigelow, she couldn't be more misguided.

    “War, obviously, isn't pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences.”
    So, here we see the beginning fallacy: that we are in a war and that this was a part of that war. We are not in a war. Wars are fought between governments, or at least between a government and a group that proposes to be a government. If the U.S. were at war, there would have been a declaration of war. I don't remember one. If we were at war there would be an enemy to defeat. But we don't have an enemy we can defeat, only a potentially infinite group of people designated ad-hoc by our government.

    What we see isn't pretty, but that doesn't make it war. What we see is abuse of power.

    We have always had people inclined to torture in our security organizations. What changed with the Bush Administration was that this tendency became official policy. What hasn't changed with the Obama Administration is any repudiation of that lapse.

    I'd like to see a return to democracy. So, thank you for keeping up the pressure on this movie. People will look back on us from now on for as long as there are people and they will judge us. They will ask why we didn't do something about this. They may only be able to think that in a private moment (if there are any) or they may be able to debate it publicly, depending on how well we do our jobs. Let's make sure they think well of us.

    •  Amen. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      saluda, Liberal Thinking

                      Standing with you,
                       for justice and accountability,
                                     For Dan,

      Torture is ALWAYS wrong, no matter who is inflicting it on whom.

      by Chacounne on Wed Jan 23, 2013 at 11:50:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Insurgencies are wars. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Liberal Thinking

      Asymmetric warfare is warfare.

      Also, Bush was able to do what he did because he had thousands of enablers. The system failed, as it had not failed during Watergate.

      We didn't even get a Deep Throat until Bradley Manning came along.

      The characters in O-dot-30 go over to the dark side, big time. So did the professional class of our intel community. All of them.

      They have to get over obsessing with the interrogations to go back and do non-torture investigative work and find the courier. The story they told Boal had lies in it. They were lying to themselves first, then to Boal.

      People are blaming Bigelow and the actress, Chastain ??? Damn. Of course they believed what they were told. And they would not have believed people who were not there -- no way.

      "Have you left no sense of decency, sir, at long last?" Army Attorney to Sen. McCarthy, 1954. "We have done nothing to be ashamed of. We have nothing to apologize for." NRA 12/14/2012.

      by bontemps2012 on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 04:58:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Have a War (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bontemps2012, Linda Wood

        If we're at war then I expect Congress to declare it. Even if it's against an "insurgency". They need to name it and put limits on it. Where, exactly, is this "war" happening? What it really amounts to is a bunch of criminals operating in lawless areas.

        I don't give Bigelow a pass. She could have been guided by ethics. That would have told her that the people doing this were doing the wrong thing. Or, she could have been guided by the law. It would have told her that what they were doing is criminal. She could have created a movie that told the truth. She didn't have to only take one side of the story, and she certainly didn't have to believe (considering how unbelievable it is) what the liars told her.

  •  The main problem with ZD30 isn't the torture (0+ / 0-)

    It is that by depicting the "hunt for bin Laden" without taking a stand on it, the movie legitimizes and normalizes both the War on Terror (endless killing of Muslims) and targeted assassination (which is illegal, and goes against basic Western/American principles).

    The film is nationalistic/war porn and hence inevitably invites comparison to Leni Riefenstahl. But Bigelow is no Riefenstahl; she is a hack, gimmicky shakycam and all.

  •  Thanks for writing this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jnhobbs, Linda Wood

    This movie has bothered me ever since I saw it, for many of the very reasons you mention, not to mention Bigelow's intellectually dishonest comments about it afterward.  Someone had insisted to me, before I saw "Zero Dark Thirty," the torture scenes were there for realism and the film didn't endorse torture, it just addressed it realistically.  How so very wrong he turned out to be.  I actually said "Oh, come on!" out loud in the theater (the lunch scene where the torture victim suddenly sang like a canary).

    When there's a scene showing characters shaking their heads as President-elect Obama speaks out against torture, Bigelow has no moral right to try to convince anyone this isn't a political movie.

    Visually, the movie was well made.  Philosophically and factually, it lied its ass off.

    “Nice country you got here. Shame if something were to happen to it” --the GOP philosophy to governing as described by Paul Krugman

    by dwayne on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 04:27:48 AM PST

    •  To be fair (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I don't think the CIA agents in that scene shook their heads when Obama spoke out against torture. It's interesting how people see and remember things differently. What I observed was that Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Ehle were talking, sitting at a commissary table, they paused for a few seconds when Obama's comments came on the TV behind them, and they turned and listened, then immediately resumed their conversation. It was done very subtly, because neither of them actually showed how they felt -- which makes sense, because they were in a public place so they couldn't. Also because in the world Bigelow created, nobody talked to anybody about torture. (Which is not accurate of what was really going on in the agencies, according to Jane Mayer, the author of "The Dark Side," but that's the aesthetic of the film.) If anything I had the impression there was a slight chill in the air as they listened, like they were worried there might be prosecutions. But what was left out of the movie was ultimately a sense of guilt or conscience about the torture.

      “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” --Margaret Mead

      by Jennifer A Epps on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 11:19:26 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nobody in his right mind goes out of (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Linda Wood

    his way to "offend the agency."

    Much less a dip-shxt screenwriter like Boal.

    Of course this is a close version of what CIA people believe.

    And still, the critical intel was in hand BEFORE torture distracted the investigations.

    They would have bin Laden earlier without torture. Years earlier.

    But when you'vbe got a Cheney in the house, there's going to be torture and no humility and no thoroughness and failure.

    "Have you left no sense of decency, sir, at long last?" Army Attorney to Sen. McCarthy, 1954. "We have done nothing to be ashamed of. We have nothing to apologize for." NRA 12/14/2012.

    by bontemps2012 on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 04:45:30 AM PST

  •  Who is Maya's character even based on? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Linda Wood, BentLiberal

    Did anyone in the CIA that spent a lot of time actually torturing people play an instrumental role in locating OBL?  I haven't seen the movie, but it makes it sound like actual torturers were also the ones that pinpointed his location.  My understanding is that he was found by signals intercepts and a lead from someone in Pakistan and that torture played at most a minor role.

    •  Indeed (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Blanchy, BentLiberal

      Because Maya is shown as coming around to use torture herself, and she is the core of the film, the active protagonist who relentlessly pursues UBL, you could say it does show an actual torturer pinpointing his location.

      As for who the characters are based on, this Slate article has some suggestions, though without getting into any ethical issues about them:

      “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” --Margaret Mead

      by Jennifer A Epps on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 11:08:47 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It played no role. (0+ / 0-)

      The lie of this film is that torture played a role in finding Bin Laden. It did not.

      •  I hesitate to say no role (0+ / 0-)

        but at most it was a minor player.  I simply lack all of the data required to say that it played "no role".

        Khalid Sheik Mohammed also claims to have led us on a number of wild goose chases which again wouldn't be "no role" but actually would be an antagonistic role.  It is also may have convinced a lot of Arabs not to help us which would also be an antagonistic role but we will never know if this truly happened or not.

  •  Amazing Diary! Thanks! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Linda Wood

    This is just another example of the self delusional lie by Hollywood business people, that making feature films about protagonists who murder, torture, and commit inhuman violence of all sorts, is "art" rather than essentially porn.  It makes the display of sadism and visceral violence a business commodity.  One that exploits the worst impulses of humanity.  

    The makers of this stuff also don't want to acknowledge the profound psychological role film plays in the construction of modern cultural mythology (and morality) and how it contributes to an ever more dehumanized American culture.  There is a "religion" in Hollywood around the inane concept that Americans participating in watching dehumanized violence has nothing to do with dehumanized violence in America.  

    Any movie made about torture, or "realistic" violence in general, which does not implicitly condemn it, implicitly endorses it.

    It really is that simple.  

    But thanks for making a vastly more sophisticated argument with this diary.  It is amazingly well written.

    I would love to see the film makers attempt to respond to it.

  •  How can they fail to see (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Linda Wood

    that they were being courted by the CIA and others invested in their depiction of this story?

    Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow were sourcing from the most sophisticated intelligence and war organizations in the history of the human race, looking to tell one of the most electrically charged stories of the last few decades.

    To imagine the operatives at the CIA and at DOD were simply passive and indifferent sources in this, offering low level staffers to tell their stories, you'd have to be kidding yourself.

    Boal and Bigelow sought out the best sources possible, and the agencies very likely brought on their most seasoned and experienced players.

    To assert they could be neutral in telling the story about their intelligence gathering methods, knowing it would likely wind up on theatre screens and DVD players worldwide, you have to vastly underestimate their perspective on the whole matter.

    "There is power in speaking up. We know the face of unfettered gun proliferation. Now it’s time to see more faces of regulation and restraint." - Charles Blow

    by Beastly Fool on Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 10:48:43 AM PST

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