Posts Tagged ‘interrogation’

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Washington’s Blog:
American Public Supports Torture … Because They Don’t Know THIS

What Americans STILL Don’t Know…

New polls show that – even after the Senate torture report showed that torture is unnecessary and doesn’t work – Americans still think torture is necessary and works.

Why?

Because they still don’t know the truth … because the mainstream media has hidden it from them. Specifically, Americans still believe that torture works to produce helpful intelligence that helps keep us safe.

Americans wouldn’t support torture if they knew the following facts, proven beyond any doubt:

continued

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(This article was from April 2014)

Update:

Senate accuses CIA of torturing prisoners, overstepping legal boundaries

Eighth Amendment to US Constitution

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

18 U.S. Code § 2340A – Torture
(a) Offense.— Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

(b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if—

(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.
(c) Conspiracy.— A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.

Original:

McClatchy includes lots of almost humorous language to the effect ‘mistakes were made.’  This ridiculous excuse accompanies every instance of US government conspiracy and malfeasance.  For some reason the terms “error” and “mistake” serve to distract the public sufficiently such that “felony” and “war crime” never make it to print.  US personnel are only capable of making errors, never willfully committing crimes.  It’s through the looking glass imperial dogma.

Senate panel finds CIA illegally interrogated terror suspects after 9-11

 — CIA officers subjected some terrorism suspects the agency held after the Sept. 11 attacks to interrogation methods that were not approved by either the Justice Department or their own headquarters and illegally detained 26 of the 119 in CIA custody, the Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded in its still-secret report,McClatchy has learned…

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by Joe Giambrone

 

“Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

Mainstream Hollywood tends to make me nauseous for what it puts up on screen and for what the public accepts as normal, as “entertainment.”  I’ve rejected the usual mainstream studio version of war and what torture means for quite a while, but it keeps finding its way back into even supposedly children’s fairy tales.

For all I know the Hansel and Gretel story was originally designed to scare the crap out of kids and to keep them from wandering off.  That much does translate to the new film Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.  I was dragged to the thing by family, and it was either that or Spielberg’s Lincoln, which I certainly wasn’t in the mood for; in retrospect this was in all likelihood a mistake.

Now the issue with stories, the power of the story is what it does to the protagonist(s), or more to the point what the protagonists choose to do.  How they respond is how we are to respond to external events.  They are a template, a guide to lead the viewer through challenges, as one might find in the real world.  Whether fantasy, science fiction or horror the responses and reactions of the protagonists are to be considered by the audience and accepted as logical, justified and rational given whatever extreme situations confront them.  In this way stories teach, prompt and alert.  They acclimate the viewer to new and extreme possibilities such as war, combat… interrogation of captured prisoners?

Here is where the word “entertainment” gets employed by “the industry” as a shield of armor.  They love this word and all it implies, freedom from moral considerations, freedom from scrutiny, freedom from accountability or responsibility for the things they show and tell millions of strangers.  It’s all just entertainment, you see, and you are supposed to repeat the mantra too, as you unquestionably accept their culture.  “Entertainment” is the first refuge of intellectual cowards.

Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and his sister Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are mercenaries now, guns for hire.  That’s a “new take” already.  Mercenary protagonists?  Hired killers with a long track record of killing witches, only in this film the witches are very powerful, fast, violent and ugly, so it’s okay.  Well, the main antagonist, the “Grand Witch” Muriel can be pretty attractive when she wants to be, but she always transforms to a hideous makeup effect when it’s time for evildoing.

The Hansel mercenary character has an odd American sensibility about him, as the movie is supposedly set in old Europe.  It’s obviously not intended to be taken seriously but to pander to provincial American audiences.  And pander it does.  Dialogue is peppered with contemporary one-liners, like a Die Hard film.

So that’s the stage.  When one of the townsfolk returns to the tavern with a message from the witches he then explodes in a volcano of guts and gore.  One of the young fan boys who’s obsessed with the two witch hunters proclaims, “That was cool!”  Still covered in the intestines of the exploded man, what kind of twisted thinking is going on here?  The extreme gore and sadism is normalized, even in a peaceful tavern where one of their own has just exploded in a most disgusting fashion, the walls splattered with his blood.  This wasn’t even a witch but a local tracker whose splattered spleen has landed in the ale.  Whatever?

Even that scene wasn’t what set me off against this thing.  It was the capture and interrogation of one of the witches.  The torture issue is where Hollywood boasts a stained, repugnant record that stretches way back but is particularly egregious after the attacks of September 11tt 2001.  What stands out about the Hansel torture scene is the casual, unthinking normalcy of it all.  Jeremy Renner has his own spikey brass knuckles ready, and probably blood-encrusted, which he automatically grabs and begins beating an actress across the face with.  It’s never a question, never an issue by anyone.  It’s simply a normal, everyday part of the War on Witch Terror, a deliberate parallel that is flagged later for us in no uncertain terms.  And of course the torture also works!  The witch remains defiant in demeanor, but swiftly spills her guts about the big witch plan.  Zero Dark Thirty meets Disney, who could ask for more?

So torturing and killing the evildoers is perfectly fine, business as usual, literally.  See, there’s never any question about their guilt.  With witches, if Hansel fails them in his inspection it’s burning time.  He is judge, jury and executioner.

A moral issue is established in the opening scene over witches, the death penalty, mob justice, hysteria, etcetera, before Hansel and Gretel show up in the town.  An attractive young woman is presented and demonized by a bully of a sheriff, while the mayor appeals to justice and evidence.  The ignorant mob is swayed this way and that, eventually fear mongered into siding with the sheriff and ready to kill the pretty woman.  That’s the cue for Hansel and Gretel to take charge, display superior firepower and belligerence, and to humiliate the sheriff.

As the pretty woman is saved by the two newcomers we are led to wonder if these two are on the side of justice.  They seek evidence about the woman, and really it’s just the expert myth that counts here.  Hansel has the status, the experience, the expertise to decide if the pretty woman should live or die.  Thus Hansel is supreme authority, supreme military force and “the decider” now.  As he reveals later, all witches will be burned, and that is his business model.  There is never any possibility of peace through any other means.  It is war, only war, and the enemy is beyond negotiation.  This is the tired formula, the cliché of course.  It’s expected, and it’s beyond question.

Like all good propaganda – and bad movies – the antagonists don’t have any legitimate grievances.  Witches aren’t retaliating for any wrongs done to them.  Townsfolk aren’t stealing the witch’s oil or propping up corrupt dictators over them, secretly torturing them in black sites or the like.

The witches just seek to steal the innocent town children, and for what?  For some McGuffin of a ritual; again who cares?  They’re evil.  Kill ‘em all, and do it in the goriest, blood splattered manner possible, much like modern weapons of war actually do to real human beings today.  In fact some of the weaponry, jaw-droppingly “blessed” with holy water by a “white witch” later on in the movie, are modern automatic machine guns and pistols.  The holy artillery is wielded by the mercenaries and their new side kick, the fan boy.

It is the essence of glory to kill ugly women, seems to be the theme of this thing.  The witches do take beating after beating and get torn apart in expected fashion at the climax.  The grand witch Muriel even begs for mercy, back in her attractive actress form, as Hansel is about to kill her.  There is no mercy for the evildoer, baby.  Mercy this.

And so that old adage about not becoming the monsters we seek to defeat was left on the cutting room floor.  Kill, kill, kill and live to kill another day.  As the witch hunters press on into infamy across the barren landscape (Afghanistan?), Hansel reads a voice over apparently prepared by the US Department of Defense.  You can’t run and you can’t hide.  We’re coming for you, evildoers, no matter where you go.  For we are Ameri-witch hunters, yeah witch hunters.  The world is our mission, and we won’t quit until it’s accomplished.  The white man’s burden is transferred to the next generation by way of special effect stuffed fairy tales.

Oh yeah, it’s just entertainment.

And they cheered, some small group of young people across the aisle.  It was a light turnout, second run, cheap seats, mostly empty.

I’m considering a study of the use of torture by protagonists, by supposedly “good guys” in Hollywood “entertainment product.”  This was, and is, actually a theme that runs through Hell of a Deal, my own novel.  The selling of torture is one of the most crucial issues of our time.  Polls show that significant percentages of people now accept this abhorrent, illegal and immoral practice after so much repeated conditioning in the news and on their screens.  Torture is pervasive, and yet has been rightly condemned as barbarism for centuries.  Our own Constitution forbids “cruel and unusual punishment,” and always has.  Perhaps the founders had significantly more wisdom than your average contemporary couch potato.

One film that stuck with me on this torture issue is the first Charlie’s Angels movie (2000).  Such an unlikely place to find a pro-torture message.  This film is a favorite of little girls everywhere.  My own daughter watched it repeatedly when she was 11 or 12, and it is a lighthearted romp.  But there’s that one moment they just had to include… fucking Hollywood.

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At one point in the middle of the Charlie’s Angels film an unnamed thug fights with Cameron Diaz (“Natalie”), and she quickly kicks his ass.  Then she proceeds to torture him for information by grinding her boot into his throat.  That’s the moment the film crosses the line from justifiable to morally questionable.  In my view it’s flatly immoral by its matter of fact unquestioned acceptance and use of torture when convenient by one of the “angels.”  This scene throws the entire film, and the people behind it and responsible for it, into question.  In what circle is torture considered another tool of the trade?  At what dinner parties do we stomp on people’s throats until they tell us the correct responses?  Why is this content included in a film for young people, who are to idolize and identify with these women?

In an overwhelmingly fascist culture, it’s just entertainment.  Who do we torture and kill next, Hollywood?  Can’t wait to buy my ticket.

 

The Fact Not Fiction Campaign challenges the depravity of Zero Dark Thirty on moral grounds.  Created by the National Religious Campaign Against Torure.

 

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Zero Dark Thirty: Journalism? Art? Propaganda?

By Dennis Loo (1/10/13)

Zero Dark Thirty [opened] in nationwide release today on Friday, January 11, the 11th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay prison where the U.S. has been and continues to hold detainees unjustly, subjecting them to torture. Director Kathyrn Bigelow and co-writer Mark Boal, in various fora, have been defending Zero Dark Thirty, their saga about the hunt for bin Laden, from critics who decry their film as an apologia for torture. In the face of this controversy, the filmmakers declare that they are proud of what they have done and that their critics are being unfair. In an undated interview at The Wrap by Steve Pond, Bigelow and Boal described these accusations as “preposterous” and said that the fim isn’t a documentary and that it does not take a political position:

“I’m not saying the film is a documentary of everything that happened, but it’s being misread,” [Boal] said. “The film shows that the guy was waterboarded, he doesn’t say anything and there’s an attack. It shows that the same detainee gives them some information, which was new to them, over a civilized lunch. And then it shows the [Jessica Chastain] character go back to the research room, and all this information is already there — from a number of detainees who are not being coerced. That is what’s in the film, if you actually look at it as a movie and not a potential launching pad for a political statement.”

I have written previously about how dishonest their defense for their film is. There are two parts to this which I’d like to expand upon here and also discuss two other articles in which they defend their film. They claim in The Wrap interview:

A) that the detainee depicted in the film [who is a stand-in for the real Khalid Sheik Mohammed] didn’t give up information due to torture because he didn’t do it while being tortured, but only during a “civilized lunch” with his torturer acting as his civilized host, albeit promising that instead of more civilized food, he could instead hang him from the ceiling again, and so therefore anyone claiming that this film is linking the successful search for bin Laden to torture is wrong since he wasn’t being tortured at the moment he gave up the crucial information about the courier’s name, and

B) that because Maya [Jessica Chastain’s character] goes back after this to the research room and sees that the information is already there, from detainees who were not being coerced, that therefore the viewers should conclude that Maya has or should have a revelation then and there that “My God! I could have offered him a V-8 instead of having him tortured!” Besides which Boal’s characterization of this apres-torture and apres-“civilized lunch” scene isn’t even correct: the revelations that Maya looks at in the research room are from people who were being or had obviously been tortured, with only one possible exception from my view.

This is not, as everyone knows, a low-budget indie or porn film with amateurs throwing together a picture in which they contradict themselves all over the place and sequences don’t make sense. These are top tier filmmakers and writers who are making a big-budget blockbuster from a major studio. Bigelow and Boal know exactly what they wrote in this script. They went over it again and again, both in the writing of it and in the filming and editing of it in the cutting room. They know what sequence follows what. They know every detail. Juxtaposing at the beginning of the film the harrowing actual voices of those killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11 with immediately following scenes of detainees being tortured, one of whom then gives up the crucial piece of evidence as a result of torture, which then propels the rest of the movie’s action, is not the sequencing of filmmakers denying that torture “worked.” If your purpose was to show that torture wasn’t right or appropriate, then why falsely depict the key piece of evidence coming in the immediate aftermath of torture? Why, after releasing the film, falsely claim that this “confession” didn’t occur due to torture but during a “civilzed lunch?”

Boal’s explanation is simply not credible. I am astonished that he and Bigelow would think that such a lame excuse could pass even cursory inspection, especially for those who have actually seen the film. But then again, the lame excuses don’t end there. In another interview (or perhaps the same interview but with more quotes from that interview in a subsequent article), also written by Steve Pond at The Wrap dated December 11, 2012, Boal is quoted as saying:

“We’re trying to present a long, 10-year intelligence hunt, of which the harsh interrogation program is the most controversial aspect. And it’s just misreading the film to say that it shows torture leading to the information about bin Laden.”

How is it misreading the film, to say that your film “shows torture leading to the information about bin Laden”? This is like someone saying, upon being accused of assault and battery on someone: “You have a photo of me with my arm holding a knife pulled back as if to strike someone, and then you have a picture of me standing over the other guy with blood on the knife, but you don’t have a picture of me with my hand on the knife while it is in the guy’s body. So you don’t really have any proof that I knifed him, do you?”

Bigelow, appearing with Boal, at the NY Film Critics Circle Awards on January 7, 2013, is quoted as saying:

“I thankfully want to say that I’m standing in a room of people who understand that depiction is not endorsement, and if it was, no artist could ever portray inhumane practices,” Bigelow said while accepting the award for Best Director. “No author could ever write about them, and no filmmaker could ever delve into the knotty subjects of our time.”

But those of us who are criticizing Bigelow for her depiction of torture aren’t complaining because she shows torture. Indeed, many of us who have been most vocal in our condemnation of our government’s use of torture have used the simulation of torture in our protest actions in order to bring home to people a little of the reality of torture’s nature. That is, we’ve done it when authorities have allowed us to. Those anti-torture protestors planning to carry out a dramatization of torture in Washington DC in 2009 were told by the police that if they simulated torture they would be arrested. This stands in sharp contrast to Bigelow and Boal now being honored for their big budget depiction of torture and “heroic” CIA agents and talked about in the exalted terms of a possible multiple Oscar winner and creating one of the best, if not the best, films of the year. As Joe Emersberger, however, put it at his blog:

“Katherine Bigelow is a real piece of work. She has claimed that she had no ‘agenda’ and did not ‘want to judge’ (as if that were remotely possible in making this film). On the other hand, completely contradicting that, she has very clearly stated that she set out to make make pro-CIA propaganda:

“‘I want them [the audience] to be moved. I want them to know that this is the story of the intelligence community finding this man. These are incredibly brave individuals, dedicated individuals who sacrificed a lot to accomplish this mission…'”

For Bigelow to characterize her critics as being against their portraying “inhumane practices” is a strawman argument and extremely dishonest. What those of us who are condemning in this film is that Zero Dark Thirty falsely portrays torture as producing useful information and provides ammunition for those who want to believe that using torture is a necessary, though perhaps ugly, tool in the battle against the implacable evil foes that her film depicts Muslims to be, instead of a war crime and crime against humanity, which is what torture is – always, under any cirumstance, and everywhere.

Join the protests against this film. The film opens in nationwide release Friday, January 11, on the anniversary of the opening of the obscenity of Gitmo. Download flyers at this page (click on the PDF on that page for the flyer) and take them to film showings around your community. Talk to people about this film. Raise people’s consciousness about what they can all too easily be sucked into by the skill of highly sophisticated propaganda.

 Torture of Brinvilliers, 17th Century
 

Zero Dark Thirty: Bigelow’s “Civilized Lunch”

Zero Dark Thirty’s director Kathyrn Bigelow and co-writer Mark Boal, in an interview in which she and Boal defend their film against the criticism that their film apologizes for torture, say that the charge that they’re promoting torture is “preposterous.”

In particular, Boal states the following in defense of the film:

“The film shows that the guy was waterboarded, he doesn’t say anything and there’s an attack. It shows that the same detainee gives them some information, which was new to them, over a civilized lunch.”

Boal, in other words, claims that information did not come from torture because the detainee didn’t talk while being tortured. Rather, the detainee talked “over a civilized lunch,” and therefore torture didn’t produce the information.

Compare Bigelow and Boal’s explanation to Glenn Greenwald’s description of the very same sequence in the movie after he saw the film in an early showing:

The key evidence — the identity of bin Laden’s courier — is revealed only after a detainee is brutally and repeatedly abused. Sitting at a table with his CIA torturer, who gives him food as part of a ruse, that detainee reveals this critical information only after the CIA torturer says to him: “I can always go eat with some other guy — and hang you back up to the ceiling.” That’s when the detainee coughs up the war name of bin Laden’s courier — after he’s threatened with more torture — and the entire rest of the film is then devoted to tracking that information about the courier, which is what leads them to bin Laden.

There are other dimensions to Bigelow and Boal’s apologia worth exploring as well. To begin with, their defense that they’re not making a “political statement” supporting torture’s efficacy is similar to a police department saying that they got a confession from the suspect after offering him a cup of “civilized” coffee, neglecting to mention that immediately prior to offering this friendly cup of Joe that this very same police officer threw the suspect against the wall numerous times, waterboarded him, stuck a gun in his mouth and threatened to pull the trigger, sexually humiliated him, put him into a box smaller than a coffin, and as he was handing the suspect the civilized coffee cup, told him that he could, instead of giving him coffee, hang him from the ceiling and torture him so more.

The first question I had when viewing Bigelow and Boal’s and Greenwald’s comments side by side was why Boal would describe the offer of food to the detainee as “civilized.” Under what circumstances could having something to eat with someone who has just gotten done torturing you be accurately described as “civilized?”

This would be like the Nazis in the concentration camps telling some of the prisoners who were standing next to other prisoners who were just shot to death by the guards, that they should now all sit down together and have a “civilized lunch.” Wouldn’t that be dandy and doesn’t that prove that the Nazis really weren’t using violence to terrorize people and extract information from them? They could jointly enjoy a civilized recording of Wagner while dining together.

But this bit of disingenuousness by Bigelow and Boal is not all: in the film the detainee gives up the key evidence, the identity of bin Laden’s courier, during this “civilized lunch” which the rest of the film then is a follow-up to.

Contrary to this movie’s premise, however, not only did the identity of bin Laden’s courier in reality not come from torture or any lunch of any kind – no information of any kind that was useful in finding bin Laden came from torture or threatened torture of any detainees.

Boal in the aforementioned interview states right after the quote cite above, the following:

“And then it shows the [Jessica Chastain] character go back to the research room, and all this information is already there – from a number of detainees who are not being coerced. That is what’s in the film, if you actually look at it as a movie and not a potential launching pad for a political statement.”

Bigelow is quoted earlier in the article as saying “Was it difficult to shoot? Yes. Do I wish [torture] was not part of that history? Yes, but it was,” she claimed.

She says she had to show torture, which makes up most of the first 45 minutes of the film, because it was “part of that history.” She wishes it wasn’t, but it was, and for historical accuracy, she had to show it. Her fidelity to historical facts is admirable, except that what she shows in the film by connecting torture sessions to the extracting the key piece of evidence after torture during a “civilized lunch” is entirely false.

Yes, torture is part of the historical record of this period and the CIA’s use of it by the express direction of the Bush Regime (and its continued use under Obama via rendition and by U.S. personnel, although without using waterboarding specifically). But the torture did not in fact produce useful intelligence.

The government has stated this itself. As reported by Agence France-Presse, on Wednesday, December 19, for example, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (head of the Senate Intelligence Committee), Carl Levin, and John McCain wrote a letter to Sony Pictures head Michael Lynton stating:

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” 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 (Bin Laden) is not based on the facts, but rather part of the film’s fictional narrative.

When conservative Democrats like Feinstein and conservative Republicans like McCain have to ask liberal and hip Hollywood “feminists” to back away from right-wing representations in their films is when we might have cause to wonder about whether we have stepped into a gathering of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

The film’s depiction of the key piece of evidence coming from torture and from information that after the torture Chastain’s character discovers was already there from information not extracted by torture, is not going to make the average movie goer say: “Well, see, all the torture that I just watched wasn’t necessary after all!”

The average film viewer is going to follow the broad strokes of the film’s narrative to conclude, and correctly so given what is being shown them and the film’s sequencing, that torture produced the key piece of evidence to get bin Laden.

Greenwald has described the film’s overall perspective as that of the CIA – and I would add, minus the fact that a number of prominent and rank and file CIA officers as well as other members of the government disputed the propriety and/or efficacy of the U.S. committing war crimes to the point of some of them resigning or being ousted and demoted. So even on the level of claiming to represent the historical truth here, Bigelow conveniently omits the loud dissent within the CIA and the government over the use of torture.

The film begins with the actual audio track of cries of help from people in the Twin Towers on 9/11 and the torture sequence follows that. What is any viewer to conclude, consciously or unconsciously, except that these two are intimately connected?

Whatever this film’s makers’ subjective intent in making this film – and one has to wonder what they think they’re going to end up with given their priviliged access to the CIA in the making of the film and their entirely false representation of après-torture producing the key piece of evidence that gets bin Laden – this film is going to be understood by the vast majority of people as showing why torture is unfortunate but necessary. Zero Dark Thirty, in other words, is going to contribute further to the brutalization and degradation of not only detainees but of the American people as a whole. And as the revelations of and depictions of torture did when the nation learned of it under Bush, it will also contribute to the further violent and vile acts by individuals and groups against other individuals and groups in unsanctioned and sanctioned ways alike.

Like the argument used by the Democrats in calling for progressive-minded people to vote for Obama as the “lesser evil” versus the alleged greater evil of Romney, Zero Dark Thirty claims that the lesser evil of torture is superior to the greater evil of the numerous acts of anti-state terror depicted in the film. But the argument around the elections, just as in the war of terror (not war on terror), are both false.

When you make a film about the most politically charged event of our times (9/11) and manhunt in history (the pursuit and assassination of bin Laden), how can you truthfully claim that you are not making a political statement? How could you possibly avoid making a political statement, even if that was your express intent? And why would you falsely present how the key piece of evidence was obtained, if you were trying to be journalistically honest, which is what Bigelow and co-writer Boal claim they are doing?

I don’t know if the descriptor of a “civilized lunch” is a Freudian slip on Boal’s part. But one can readily see his notion of who the civilized are and who the uncivilized are in the film, based on his own comments and those critics who have written extensively about the film, both pro and con: the civilized ones are the ones who, despite whatever reservations they might have about using these methods, have used torture to extract information and the uncivilized ones are those Arabs who have been blowing up buildings and people. We in America can have our “civilized lunches” … as long as we’re not trying to eat in a mall (Portland), a high school (Columbine, Colorado), a movie theatre (Aurora, Colorado), or in an elementary school (Newtown).

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When Bush was building the case for invading Iraq, juxtaposing 9/11 to Saddam Hussein over and over again, he was preparing Americans to commit atrocities upon an entirely innocent people. In that propaganda campaign The New York Times, trading upon its liberal reputation, played an indispensable role, particularly through Judith Miller’s articles, in greasing the path for the war upon Iraq. People who did not ordinarily accept claims by someone like Bush were won over, thinking, “Well, if The New York Times says Iraq’s got WMD, and if the Times says they’re a grave threat, then it must be true.” When liberal and hip Hollywood types juxtapose 9/11 to graphic scenes of torture by the “good guys,” they are likewise preparing Americans to accept atrocities as acceptable, even if stomach churning.

http://dennisloo.com

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Learning to Love Torture, Zero Dark Thirty-Style
Seven Easy, Onscreen Steps to Making U.S. Torture and Detention Policies Once Again Palatable

By Karen J. Greenberg

On January 11th, 11 years to the day after the Bush administration opened its notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s deeply flawed movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, opens nationwide. The filmmakers and distributors are evidently ignorant of the significance of the date — a perfect indication of the carelessness and thoughtlessness of the film, which will unfortunately substitute for actual history in the minds of many Americans.

The sad fact is that Zero Dark Thirty could have been written by the tight circle of national security advisors who counseled President George W. Bush to create the post-9/11 policies that led to Guantanamo, the global network of borrowed “black sites” that added up to an offshore universe of injustice, and the grim torture practices — euphemistically known as “enhanced interrogation techniques” — that went with them. It’s also a film that those in the Obama administration who have championed non-accountability for such shameful policies could and (evidently did) get behind. It might as well be called Back to the Future, Part IV, for the film, like the country it speaks to, seems stuck forever in that time warp moment of revenge and hubris that swept the country just after 9/11.

As its core, Bigelow’s film makes the bald-faced assertion that torture did help the United States track down the perpetrator of 9/11. Zero Dark Thirty — for anyone who doesn’t know by now — is the story of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young CIA agent who believes that information from a detainee named Ammar will lead to bin Laden. After weeks, maybe months of torture, he does indeed provide a key bit of information that leads to another piece of information that leads… well, you get the idea. Eventually, the name of bin Laden’s courier is revealed. From the first mention of his name, Maya dedicates herself to finding him, and he finally leads the CIA to the compound where bin Laden is hiding. Of course, you know how it all ends.

However compelling the heroine’s determination to find bin Laden may be, the fact is that Bigelow has bought in, hook, line, and sinker, to the ethos of the Bush administration and its apologists. It’s as if she had followed an old government memo and decided to offer in fictional form step-by-step instructions for the creation, implementation, and selling of Bush-era torture and detention policies.

Here, then, are the seven steps that bring back the Bush administration and should help Americans learn how to love torture, Bigelow-style.

First, Rouse Fear. From its opening scene, Zero Dark Thirty equates our post-9/11 fears with the need for torture. The movie begins in darkness with the actual heartbreaking cries and screams for help of people trapped inside the towers of the World Trade Center: “I’m going to die, aren’t I?… It’s so hot. I’m burning up…” a female voice cries out. As those voices fade, the black screen yields to a full view of Ammar being roughed up by men in black ski masks and then strung up, arms wide apart.

The sounds of torture replace the desperate pleas of the victims. “Is he ever getting out?” Maya asks. “Never,” her close CIA associate Dan (Jason Clarke) answers. These are meant to be words of reassurance in response to the horrors of 9/11. Bigelow’s first step, then, is to echo former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s mantra from that now-distant moment in which he claimed the nation needed to go to “the dark side.” That was part of his impassioned demand that, given the immense threat posed by al-Qaeda, going beyond the law was the only way to seek retribution and security.

Bigelow also follows Cheney’s lead into a world of fear. The Bush administration understood that, for their global dreams, including a future invasion of Iraq, to become reality, fear was their best ally. From Terre Haute to El Paso, Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, Americans were to be regularly reminded that they were deeply and eternally endangered by terrorists.

Bigelow similarly keeps the fear monitor bleeping whenever she can. Interspersed with the narrative of the bin Laden chase, she provides often blood-filled footage from terrorist attacks around the globe in the decade after 9/11: the 2004 bombings of oil installations in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, that killed 22; the 2005 suicide bombings in London that killed 56; the 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad that killed 54 people; and the thwarted Times Square bombing of May, 2010. We are in constant jeopardy, she wants us to remember, and uses Maya to remind us of this throughout.

Second, Undermine the Law. Torture is illegal under both American and international law. It was only pronounced “legal” in a series of secret memorandums produced by the Bush Justice Department and approved at the highest levels of the administration. (Top officials, including Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, evidently even had torture techniques demonstrated for them in the White House before green-lighting them.) Maintaining that there was no way Americans could be kept safe via purely legal methods, they asked for and were given secret legal authority to make torture the go-to option in their Global War on Terror. Yet Bigelow never even nods toward this striking rethinking of the law. She assumes the legality of the acts she portrays up close and personal, only hedging her bets toward the movie’s end when she indicates in passing that the legal system was a potential impediment to getting bin Laden. “Who the hell am I supposed to ask [for confirmation about the courier], some guy at Gitmo who’s all lawyered up?” asks Obama’s national security advisor in the filmic run-up to the raid.

Just as new policies were put in place to legalize torture, so the detention of terror suspects without charges or trials (including people who, we now know, were treated horrifically despite being innocent of anything) became a foundational act of the administration. Specifically, government lawyers were employed to create particularly tortured (if you’ll excuse the word) legal documents exempting detainees from the Geneva Conventions, thus enabling their interrogation under conditions that blatantly violated domestic and international laws.

Zero Dark Thirty accepts without hesitation or question the importance of this unconstitutional detention policy as crucial to the torture program. From the very first days of the war on terror, the U.S. government rounded up individuals globally and began to question them brutally. Whether they actually had information to reveal, whether the government had any concrete evidence against them, they held hundreds — in the end, thousands — of detainees in U.S. custody at secret CIA black sites worldwide, in the prisons of allied states known for their own torture policies, at Bagram Detention Center in Afghanistan, and of course at Guantanamo, which was the crown jewel of the Bush administration’s offshore detention system.

Dan and Maya themselves not only travel to secret black sites to obtain valuable information from detainees, but to the cages and interrogation booths at Bagram where men in those now-familiar orange jumpsuits are shown awaiting a nightmare experience. Bigelow’s film repeatedly suggests that it was crucially important for national security to keep a pool of potential information sources — those detainees — available just in case they might one day turn out to have information.

Third, Indulge in the Horror: Torture is displayed onscreen in what can only be called pornographic detail for nearly the film’s first hour. In this way, Zero Dark Thirty eerily mimics the obsessive, essentially fetishistic approach of Bush’s top officials to the subject. Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney’s former Chief of Staff David Addington, and John Yoo from the Office of Legal Counsel, among others, plunged into the minutiae of “enhanced interrogation” tactics, micro-managing just what levels of abuse should and should not apply, would and would not constitute torture after 9/11.

In black site after black site, on victim after victim, the movie shows acts of torture in exquisite detail, Bigelow’s camera seeming to relish its gruesomeness: waterboarding, stress positions, beatings, sleep deprivation resulting in memory loss and severe disorientation, sexual humiliation, containment in a small box, and more. Whenever she gets the chance, Bigelow seems to take the opportunity to suggest that this mangling of human flesh and immersion in brutality on the part of Americans is at least understandable and probably worthwhile. The film’s almost subliminal message on the subject of torture should remind us of the way in which a form of sadism-as-patriotic-duty filtered down to the troops on the ground, as evidenced by the now infamous 2004 photos from Abu Ghraib of smiling American soldiers offering thumbs-up responses to their ability to humiliate and hurt captives in dog collars.

Fourth, Dehumanize the Victims. Like the national security establishment that promoted torture policies, Bigelow dehumanizes her victims. Despite repeated beatings, humiliations, and aggressive torture techniques of various sorts, Ammar never becomes even a faintly sympathetic character to anyone in the film. As a result, there is never anyone for the audience to identify with who becomes emotionally distraught over the abuses. Dehumanization was a necessary tool in promoting torture; now, it is a necessary tool in promoting Zero Dark Thirty, which desensitizes its audience in ways that should be frightening to us and make us wonder who exactly we have become in the years since 9/11.

Fifth, Never Doubt That Torture Works. Given all this, it’s a small step to touting the effectiveness of torture in eliciting the truth. “In the end, everybody breaks, bro’: it’s biology,” Dan says to his victim. He also repeats over and over, “If you lie to me, I hurt you” — meaning, “If I hurt you, you won’t lie to me.” Maya concurs, telling Ammar, bruised, bloodied, and begging for her help, that he can stop his pain by telling the truth.

How many times does the American public need to be told that torture did not yield the results the government promised? How many times does it need to be said that waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, 183 times obviously didn’t work? How many times does it need to be pointed out that torture can — and did — produce misleading or false information, notably in the torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the Libyan who ran an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and who confessed under torture that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Sixth, Hold No One Accountable. The Obama administration made the determination that holding Bush administration figures, CIA officials, or the actual torturers responsible for what they did in a court of law was far more trouble than it might ever be worth. Instead, the president chose to move on and officially never look back. Bigelow takes advantage of this passivity to suggest to her audience that the only downside of torture is the fear of accountability. As he prepares to leave Pakistan, Dan tells Maya, “You gotta be real careful with the detainees now. Politics are changing and you don’t want to be the last one holding the dog collar when the oversight committee comes…”

The sad truth is that Zero Dark Thirty could not have been produced in its present form if any of the officials who created and implemented U.S. torture policy had been held accountable for what happened, or any genuine sunshine had been thrown upon it. With scant public debate and no public record of accountability, Bigelow feels free to leave out even a scintilla of criticism of that torture program. Her film is thus one more example of the fact that without accountability, the pernicious narrative continues, possibly gaining traction as it does.

Seventh, Employ the Media. While the Bush administration had the Fox television series 24 as a weekly reminder that torture keeps us safe, the current administration, bent on its no-accountability policy, has Bigelow’s film on its side. It’s the perfect piece of propaganda, with all the appeal that naked brutality, fear, and revenge can bring.

Hollywood and most of its critics have embraced the film. It has already been named among the best films of the year, and is considered a shoe-in for Oscar nominations. Hollywood, that one-time bastion of liberalism, has provided the final piece in the perfect blueprint for the whitewashing of torture policy. If that isn’t a happily-ever-after ending, what is?

Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School. She is the author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days and the co-editor of The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib.

Copyright 2013 Karen J. Greenberg (used with permission)

 

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