Alabama’s football team watched Zero Dark Thirty to get themselves psyched up for the big game against Notre Dame on Sunday night. Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s depiction of the hunt for Osama bin Laden must have been inspiring stuff, because the Crimson Tide went on to overwhelm the Fighting Irish 42 to 14 in one of the most watched games in history.
But not all people find the film to be the stuff of glory and excitement. Zero Dark Thirty includes graphic depictions of CIA torture and abuse, while making the case that water-boarding and other abusive tactics produced actionable information leading to Osama bin Laden’s capture. It all but says that torture, torture and only torture is the reason that the United States was able to catch the al-Qaeda leader.
While proclaiming up front that it is based on “first-hand accounts of actual events,” this gross distortion of the truth comes as the European Court of Human Rights condemned the CIA’s torture and abuse of an innocent man (Khaled El-Masri) and the human rights community gathers to mark 11 years of torture, abuse and lawlessness at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saw an advance copy of the film and panned it, saying Zero Dark Thirty was “terrible.” But she was no self-styled Roger Ebert commenting on the cinematography or the editing. She had fundamental beef with the movie, remarking that “It is a combination of fact, fiction and Hollywood in a very dangerous combination.” She then added, “Based on what I know, I don’t believe it is true.” Two thumbs down!
John McCain (R-AZ), ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, saw the film too. A survivor of torture during the Vietnam War, the senator said he was “sickened” watching the Oscar nominated film. He continued, saying: “It’s wrong. It’s wrong. I know for a fact, not because of this report — my own knowledge — that waterboarding, torture, does not lead to reliable information … in any case.” Along with Armed Services Chair Carl Levin (D-MI), the senators are taking their case to the CIA and the public in a series of strongly worded letters demanding more information about the Agency’s interactions with the filmmakers and the role of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the search for Osama bin Laden.
D.C.’s Newseum hosted a red carpet premier of the film earlier this week. But the sleek Hollywood types were joined by a throng of orange jumpsuit clad demonstrators who projected “Torture is Wrong” on the front of the building and held signs and banners. Chrissy Nesbitt told told a reporter why she was there: “Torture is a moral issue because the only purpose of torture is to break a human being. That can never be justified. As for the argument that torture is sometimes necessary to get valuable information — Sen. John McCain speaks for most of us at the vigil when he says that torture does not, in fact, lead to accurate, useful information. I hope that by being there at the D.C. opening of the film, we were able to awaken people’s moral consciousness before they went in to see a movie that is so centered around torture.”
In Zero Dark Thirty, the CIA’s chief interrogator says “everyone breaks in the end… it’s biology.” That is what torture does, it breaks people. But that is not the end, because people are more than biology, more than broken and they go on living. For help awakening your moral consciousness on the issue of torture, go see Beneath the Blindfold, a new film by Kathy Berger and Ines Sommer. The documentary relates the harrowing experiences of four survivors of torture from around the world — Liberia, Colombia, Guatemala and the United States — as they try to heal and continue to live despite being broken and scarred.
The film is not the kind that will bludgeon and batter a college football team to frenzy and victory, but it speaks the truth of four strong, broken, healing, human beings who have suffered unbelievable pain at the hands of others and still find reasons to continue living and loving. As we look down the long road of torture, we need these human stories to carry on.
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