All’s fair in war
Shedding light on the torture in Zero Dark Thirty
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2013
Updated: Sunday, January 27, 2013 17:01
Some of this year’s major films have garnered more attention than just the casual Oscar buzz. Many have called the slavery spaghetti western Django Unchained offensive and superfluously vulgar, serving no other purpose than to fuel director Quentin Tarantino’s sadistic sense of entertainment.
Now, Kathryn Bigelow’s war flick, Zero Dark Thirty, a dramatized timeline of the hunt to kill Osama bin Laden following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, is the latest in the line of fire. From seemingly endless editorials across the globe to anti-torture protestors picketing the film’s Jan. 8 premiere in Washington, D.C., it has been the subject of major criticismfor its inclusion of torture interrogation.
And with each passing remark, the points of the film and calls for change are missed, ignored or scoffed at.
The controversy revolves around the film’s main CIA character, Maya, obtaining key information about the identity of bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, by torturing a detainee until his delirium causes him to give up the name, eventually leading to the location and murder of bin Laden.
The conversation of Zero Dark Thirty has transformed into the questions of “does torture work” and, more parochially, “did torture help to find bin Laden or not?” Multiple politicians, including John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, have called the film “grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information.”
McCain, a survivor of wartime torture, asserted that, unlike the movie suggests, the use of enhanced interrogation techniques played no part in getting information that led forces to bin Laden.
Not once has any of them said torture was not used, though – they couldn’t possibly even try. All they’ve said is the torture did not contribute in the hunt for bin Laden. That point is still up for contention – some, like McCain, continue to argue vehemently that torture served no purpose; others, such as CIA director Michael Morell, tiptoe around a definite answer as to whether or not enhanced interrogation was the most effective way to obtain important information.
Bigelow has stated many times in response that depiction isn’t the same as endorsement, but critics are claiming the mere portrayal of torture in the film is immoral. They’re not talking about if it was integral to the plot; they’re complaining that it’s in the film to begin with. It’s not the sadistic “torture porn” that multiple people have referred to it as nor is it pro-torture. Through characters professing their need for vacations to escape the sight of naked bodies, the discomfort of Maya in the initial torture scene and a majority of the film dedicated to both the need and efficiency of the CIA’s extensive detective work, it shows that torture, whether it works or not, is wrong and why it’s wrong.
Even with the “based on true events” disclaimer at the beginning of the film, it is unmistakably fiction, fit to serve no other purpose than to entertain and excite. Do you think if Bigelow and Mark Boal, the film’s screenwriter, decided to omit the scenes of torture, nobody would be complaining? Or would the angry voices be even louder, questioning where the whole story – namely the illegal operations and tactics employed by the CIA – was?
Would the artistic intent be misinterpreted even further, and what would that mean? Would the harsh truths of reality be censored, and would the accuracy of the portrayal even matter?
The current critique is the relevance in the plot, not its portrayal, and as a result, accountability for the actions of our government doesn’t make it on the radar. Whether people like it or not, the film opens up a very important conversation about enhanced interrogation that we’ve proved is almost too difficult to carry out civilly.
It happened then, still happens and will continue to happen if we don’t question what is around us, pointed out through the inconsistencies of multiple presidential administrations. It’s revolting, it crosses moral lines and that’s our reality. Incorporating the scenes of torture means it’s something that cannot be ignored, and that’s what should be focused on.
The truth lies behind the walls of our government institutions, and trusting our politicians and officials to deliver it to us isn’t exactly a game of high odds. We must rely only on what we know and what we can deduce.