Posts Tagged ‘Kathryn Bigelow’

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Declassified Memo Shows ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Filmmakers Played Role of Willing Propagandists for CIA
Newly Declassified Memo Shows CIA Shaped Zero Dark Thirty’s Narrative

Torture is:

  1. Felony crime under US Law, 20 year penalty and death penalty if victim dies
  2. International War Crime
  3. A conspiracy to torture when multiple parties engage in it
  4. Conspiracy extends to those covering up these felonies and war crimes … do the math.

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Zero Dark Thirty Scandal Files

 

 

 

Argo: Time to Grow Up and Get Angry?

by Kieran Kelley

 

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off” – Gloria Steinem.

There have been a number of critical condemnations of the film Argo. The most thoroughgoing that I have read is this one. What seems to me to be missing is any critique that successfully conveys the utter ludicrousness of expecting something other than lying propaganda to come out of a Hollywood film about the CIA in 1979. It is like expecting the Soviets to have made an accurate and unbiased account of KGB activities during the Prague Spring. I saw the preview before the film’s release, and after about 5 or 10 seconds of suspense it became apparent that it was a load of crap – the usual Orientalist stuff, straight out of the Reel Bad Arabs playbook, except with Persians instead of Arabs. The film mirrors the preview – at first it seems possible that one might be about to see a balanced and thoughtful movie, and then… not. Decidedly not.

Let me begin with some historical context. The CIA’s first coup in Iran, considered at the time “its greatest single triumph”,1 brought the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi to a position of supreme power. The CIA “wove itself into Iran’s political culture”.2 They created SAVAK, a notorious “intelligence” agency, trained in torture by the CIA3 and supported by the CIA and DIA in a domestic and international dissident assassination programme.4 Repression was at its peak between 1970 and 1976 resulting in 10,000 deaths.5 By 1976 Amnesty International’s secretary general commented that Iran had “the highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture that is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record of human rights than Iran.”6

Nafeez Ahmed cites the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) who detail an extensive police state of intense surveillance and informant networks and torture “passed on to it” by US, UK and Israeli intelligence. Ahmed quotes the FAS on methods including “electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails.”7 Racism allows commentators such as Tim Weiner to blithely exculpate the CIA of fundamental guilt: “The CIA wanted SAVAK to serve as its eyes and ears against the Soviets. The shah wanted a secret police to protect his power.”8 After all, what could civilised Westerners teach Orientals about torture? But something of the real US attitude to such repression can be seen in the official reaction to the unrest developing in the late 1970s. Aside from US officials consistently urging and praising military responses to protest action, including inevitable massacres,9 the US ambassador objected strongly to a reduction in repression. In June 1978 he reported his finding that, “the Shah’s new directives to his security forces, such as instructions to desist from torture… are disorienting.”10 The funny thing about this was that it occurred after the US had forced the Shah into the liberalisation that set loose the forces that were to rip his régime apart.11 This may seem puzzling, but it made more sense for the US to push Iran into the easily vilified “enemy” hands of an Islamic theocracy than to try to maintain control over a Shah who, however repressive, was determined to develop his populous oil-rich country independently.

That is the key point that you will almost never hear about: the US was sick of the Shah. He had become too nationalistic and developmentally inclined, and they didn’t want him any more. They may not have really wanted a revolution in Iran, but they weren’t going to shed tears over the Shah’s departure. Their main fear was the strength of the secular revolutionary left, which had more popular power than the Islamists (despite SAVAK’s repression) so the US helped nurture the Islamist factions.

The CIA were far from unaware of the impending fall of the Shah’s régime, here is a quote in the film which is an instance of absolute barefaced deception: “Iran is 100% not in a pre-revolutionary state. CIA brief, November first, 1979.” Let’s not be stupid here – it is one thing to claim not to know of an impending revolution, but the film is claiming that the CIA were unaware of a revolution that had already happened. Of course some people in the CIA knew that revolution was brewing and the actual CIA brief was from August 1978 and was plainly dishonest even then. By that stage even the State Department was planning for a post-Shah Iran.12 The revolution had actually happened nearly a year before Argo claims that the CIA believed it wasn’t going to happen (the Shah fled Iran in January, Khomeini returned from exile on February 1). But Argo makers really, really, really want you to “know” that the CIA were caught flat-footed and are willing to go to considerable lengths to make you believe this lie.

There is another deception in the film which indicates a conscious systematic attempt to indoctrinate the audience. Some describe Argo as “well-intentioned but fatally flawed”, but these “good intentions” cannot possibly be reconciled with the disgusting propaganda treatment of the issue of the shredded documents put together by Iran. The documents seized by radicals in the embassy takeover were the Wikileaks of their time. Most seized documents were not shredded and they exposed massive systematic illegality and wrongdoing by US personnel, especially the CIA. They were extremely historically significant. Iran spent years piecing together the shreds and the reconstruction was a major intelligence and propaganda coup. In the film, however, we see a very different narrative played out, and we are shown a set of very different images.

In the film, for some inexplicable reason, there were xeroxed photographic images of the staff who had escaped from the embassy when it was seized by radicals. Could this simply be a cinematic plot device for generating suspense? Not really. Any number of other devices might have been used – such as a dragnet, or informants, or surveillance (mobile or static), signals interception and cryptography. You name it, if you are willing to make stuff up, then there is quite a lot you could make up that would be potentially more suspenseful and, unlike this particular conceit, wouldn’t run such a risk of the audience losing their suspension of disbelief because of such an obvious unrealism.

“Realism”, I should add, is a very import aspect of this film. It is not done in a documentary style, but is presented as a dramatisation of historical events. Let me illustrate with a quote at length from Wide Asleep in America:

[Salon’s Andrew] O’Hehir perfectly articulates the film’s true crime, its deliberate exploitation of “its basis in history and its mode of detailed realism to create something that is entirely mythological.” Not only is it “a trite cavalcade of action-movie clichés and expository dialogue,” but “[i]t’s also a propaganda movie in the truest sense, one that claims to be innocent of all ideology.”

Such an assessment is confirmed by Ben Affleck’s own comments about the film. In describing “Argo” to Bill O’Reilly, Affleck boasted, “You know, it was such a great story. For one thing, it’s a thriller. It’s actually comedy with the Hollywood satire. It’s a complicated CIA movie, it’s a political movie. And it’s all true.” He told Rolling Stone that, when conceiving his directorial approach, he knew he “absolutely had to preserve the central integrity and truth of the story.”

“It’s OK to embellish, it’s OK to compress, as long as you don’t fundamentally change the nature of the story and of what happened,” Affleck has remarked, even going so far as to tell reporters at Argo’s BFI London Film Festival premier, “This movie is about this story that took place, and it’s true, and I go to pains to contextualize it and to try to be even-handed in a way that just means we’re taking a cold, hard look at the facts.”

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Affleck went so far as to say, “I tried to make a movie that is absolutely just factual. And that’s another reason why I tried to be as true to the story as possible — because I didn’t want it to be used by either side. I didn’t want it to be politicized internationally or domestically in a partisan way. I just wanted to tell a story that was about the facts as I understood them.”

To emphasise this point, the initial part of the end credits juxtaposes images from the film with real documentary images. They show how much the actors look like the people they portray. The show how they had faithfully recreated scenes from the revolution. And they show the teeny tiny hands a the poor slave children forced to piece together shredded CIA documents. Wait a second though… don’t the hands in the real photo, despite severe cropping, look more like a woman’s hands? And why would young children be used to piece together valuable and vulnerable documents written in a language that they could not possibly understand?

For some reason the film makers took it upon themselves to invent a whole bunch of “sweatshop kids” putting together these documents. There is no conceivable reason to do so that does not involve conscious deceptive propaganda. In this case, the intent is to make deliberate emotive subliminal association. What do I mean by subliminal? As Joe Giambrone explains:

The father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, wrote in the late 1920s:

The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world to-day. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions. The motion picture can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation.” (Bernays 1928)

Bernays noted the “unconscious” character of much film propaganda. It was not necessary to directly state messages, but to let the scenarios and the story world carry the messages in the background. Once immersed in the foreground story — whatever it was — the “unconscious” background elements were passed to the audience without critical interference and often without the viewer’s knowledge.

This subliminal quality is praised by Bernays as a positive thing, in his view. This is hardly surprising as Bernays’ concept of propaganda is broad in scope encompassing every medium and method of communication that exists. Bernays’ seminal book Propaganda begins:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.” (Bernays 1928)”

Subliminality doesn’t mean that images are flashed too quickly to be noticed, rather that associations are made without conscious thought. It is true that you can find a great number of deliberately concealed images in advertising, but the claim that this is all that constitutes subliminal advertising is itself a deception. Advertising, in particular television advertising, is dominated by subliminal messaging, and it is not about tricky concealment. It uses repetition more than anything else, to make associations between advertised products and services with other desires – particularly, but not exclusively, sexual. If you want to sell a car, you don’t generally use brake horsepower or fuel consumption statistics. You associate it with a lifestyle, with attractive people, with status, with sex, with success, with normalcy, with excitement, with fine wine and food, and so forth. That is subliminal.

Obviously when film makers are unconsciously disseminating their own internalised propaganda they convey such messages subliminally. Subliminal means below the threshold, meaning, in this case, below the threshold of consciousness. This is a very, very significant manner in which an orthodox ideology, such as chauvinist US exceptionalism, is deepened and perpetuated. However the deliberate use of techniques designed to manipulate people by subliminal means can be far more powerful still. As an apposite example, let us examine Michelle Obama’s Oscar night appearance. Some have pointed out that Obama being flanked by military personnel as “props” suggests a desire to subliminally associate the First Lady and the presidency with military virtues. That may well be the case, but think how common it is to see faces arrayed behind political speakers in our times. Every time it is possible to do so nowadays, major US politicians will have a bunch of people in uniform behind them when they speak. But it is not strictly about the association with uniforms. Press conferences often pose colleagues behind the speaker – including military briefings almost as a matter of course – and when politicians speak to political rallies or party conferences, they are framed by a sea of supporters’ faces behind them.

You see, we automatically respond to other people’s facial expressions. In fact eliciting an emotional response is as much a component of facial expression as conveying emotion is, and this occurs subliminally. Now think again of Giambrone’s description: “… the ‘unconscious’ background elements were passed to the audience without critical interference and often without the viewer’s knowledge….” The people behind the speaker are being used as a way of evoking an emotional reaction like some science fiction mind control ray. Fortunately, people are fickle creatures and often their reaction to watching the back of a speaker’s head, no matter how eloquent, is to look bored or embarrassed. But clearly the technique is being perfected, and the people chosen are those who can be relied upon to convey the right emotions, hence the predilection for military personnel and partisan enthusiasts.

Similarly, subliminal messaging in advertising and film is often also aimed at a gut level. They are not conveying particular ideas, but emotions. The victim (I mean viewer) can rationalise these emotions any way they might later choose, and the brilliance of the system is that it enlists every victim’s own inventiveness tailored in response to each specific circumstance that might challenge or belie the conditioned sentimental sense of reality. So where does this leave us with regards to Argo‘s mythical “sweatshop kids”? We have precisely four references to them. The first is in our hero’s initial briefing: “The bastards are using these [pause and do gesture to indicate need to
convey novel concept] mmm sweatshop kids.” Nearly an hour later, we are shown about 5 seconds of the “sweatshop”. It actually looks very stupid if you pay attention to it, but it is over too quickly to register (more subliminality similar to that used in The Hurt Locker). What it actually shows, when the camera pulls back to reveal the scene for around one second, is dozens of children aged about five to eight sitting amidst piles of paper shreds. There is an unnatural hush, redolent with a sense of fear. Half of them are just staring into space, and there is no conceivable way that any of them could actually be doing any useful work. Accompanying the scene is one of the 16 tracks on the official soundtrack. It is called “Sweatshop” and here it is:

Note the image chosen for the album cover.

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All-American Babe Who Didn’t Torture Anybody Wins OscarJennifer_Lawrence_35972

 

One more waterboarding for Bigelow and Boal. Glenn Greenwald, who always keeps his razor sharp, gives a needed fuck you to the bootlicking film critics who ignore morality, ethics and propaganda, even when it’s right in their faces.

Zero Dark Thirty, the CIA and film critics have a very bad evening

The stigma attached to the pro-torture CIA propaganda vehicle, beloved by film critics, results in Oscar humiliation

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By Dennis Loo 

During Jack Nicholson’s announcing the Best Picture Oscar last night he brought in direct from the White House First Lady Michelle Obama as his co-presenter to announce the winner. Flanked by men and women in full military dress complete with awards regalia, Michelle congratulated Hollywood for its work.

Behind Michelle we don’t see a group of actors, creative types, children, regular Americans or even distinguished civilian Americans. This isn’t a Veteran’s Day broadcast either. This is the Academy Awards, the principle awards show for films.

In helping to introduce the 2013 Best Picture, the First Lady looks like she’s about to announce the Medal of Honor or the Distinguished Cross.

This tableau isn’t so inappropriate after all, for when she opens the envelope, the winner is (drum roll please): Argo! A film that depicts the Iranian Revolution through the eyes of the CIA, the people who brought the tyrant Shah to power in Iran through a coup in 1953, overthrowing the extremely popular Mossadegh who tried to nationalize the oil fields (which sealed his doom from the perspective of Big Oil and the U.S. Empire). The CIA provided torture instruction and equipment to the Shah for decades so that he could torture and kill his opponents in Iran (his opponents being the vast majority of the people). The 1979 Iranian Revolution drove him and the U.S. and the CIA out. As one of the film’s producers, Grant Heslov, says in a half an hour “The Making of Argo” piece: he’s proud of the film because it humanizes the CIA and makes us proud of them.

So Michelle Obama’s chosen backdrop of a military entourage does make sense after all in this season of all things military and secret agents/special ops. It’s just jarring to see it if you’re not completely seduced by the Military Security State.

***

I was very pleased to see that Zero Dark Thirty, despite being touted heavily by major movie critics upon its release a few months ago as the best film of the year which they said would sweep multiple awards at the Oscars, including Best Picture, was shunned by Hollywood, garnering only one Oscar, a tie for sound editing with the James Bond flick “Skyfall.”

A funny thing happened on the way to the podium for the makers of ZDT: people smelled a rat and wrote about it. This was something that took some time to build because as late as the Golden Globes, the biggest pre-Academy Awards show whose winners frequently predict the Oscar winners, Jessica Chastain (who played Maya the CIA torturer/killer in ZDT) won the Golden Globes’ Best Actress.

The shunning of this film that revels in torture came about clearly because of the stinging criticism and protests against it by a number of writers and activists, including notably actors such as David Clennon and Ed Asner, columnist Glenn Greenwald, director Alex Gibney, Jane Mayer, and others including myself, and World Can’t Wait which, among other things, staged a sarcastic first annual Leni Riefenstahl Award by the Committee for Sanitizing Crimes Against Humanity in Film outside of the Oscars yesterday, which I was pleased to join as, playing against type, John Yoo, to give out the First Annual Leni. Actor David Clennon, whose work in breaking ranks in Hollywood publicly condemning the film for its immoral endorsement of torture, played a signal role, joined and helped to make this counter-awards’ event.

We had trouble finding a place to do our performance piece, however, as a wide swath of the areas around the Hollywood and Highland area where the Oscars were happening were closed down to traffic and the foot traffic severely restricted by the police, another example of the Military Security State exercising its muscle to make sure that the spectacle occurred without the public having more than a glancing opportunity to be physically present or even very proximal physically.

Bigelow and her co-writer Marc Boal did not help their cause when criticisms of their docu – propaganda (docu-ganda?) piece were aired. Bigelow and Boal purposefully mischaracterized their critics as attempting to censor their film and mischaracterized what was in their film, as if people couldn’t recognize these misstatements after seeing the films for themselves. In this case it wasn’t Hollywood itself that pressed the attack on ZDT but mostly political writers. Hollywood, however, responded to that and it’s a good thing.

In a related matter, The New York Times is reporting today in its top story that the Afghan government has banned U.S. forces from operating in Maidan Wardak Province. Maidan Wardak is southwest of Kabul and is “the American military’s main source of offensive firepower from the area.” It is also a staging area for Taliban attacks. The reason for the ban from the Karzai government, a puppet of the U.S.? Fury among Afghans for the U.S. Special Forces torturing and killing villagers.

Our Special Forces? Our military? The kind of people that First Lady Michelle Obama surrounded herself with during the Academy Awards announcing the Best Picture?

By announcing the ban, the government signaled its willingness to take a far harder line against abuses linked to foreign troops than it has in the past. The action also reflected a deep distrust of international forces that is now widespread in Afghanistan, and the view held by many Afghans, President Hamid Karzai among them, that the coalition shares responsibility with the Taliban for the violence that continues to afflict the country.

Afghan officials said the measure was taken as a last resort. They said they had tried for weeks to get the coalition to cooperate with an investigation into claims that civilians had been killed, abducted or tortured by Afghans working for American Special Operations forces in Maidan Wardak. But the coalition was not responsive, they said.

The provincial government in Maidan Wardak expressed support for the ban. “There have been lots of complaints from the local people about misconduct, mistreatment, beating, taking away, torturing and killing of civilians by Special Forces and their Afghan associates,” said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial government.

He cited a raid on a village on Feb. 13, when American troops and Afghans working with them detained a veterinary student. “His dead body was found three days later in the area under a bridge,” Mr. Khogyani said, prompting protests against foreigners.

Mr. Faizi said that villagers in Maidan Wardak had reported a number of similar episodes in recent months, including the disappearance of nine men in a single raid. “People from the province, elders from villages, have come to Kabul so many times, and they have brought photographs and videos of their family members who have been tortured,” he said.

So while Hollywood both rejects and accepts the CIA’s preferred view of itself, the fact of U.S. military and CIA activities are emblazoned on the front pages of The New York Times again. Efforts to combat falsified history and the promotion of crimes as heroism and patriotism made and make a difference, as evidenced by Hollywood’s shunning of the pre-Academy Awards favorite in ZDT. Much more, however, must be done.

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Alternative Oscars happening today at 3pn.

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I actually addressed the Leni Riefenstahl / Kathryn Bigelow comparison here.

 

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The Unacknowledged “Master”: director Paul Thomas Anderson
& a film that’s not about Scientology

Jennifer A Epps

Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite film director who isn’t Scorsese. And even then, it’s getting very close. When I ambled out into the light after the L.A. native’s sixth feature, the psychological period epic The Master, I felt like I had just seen one of the greatest American films in a couple of decades. If you haven’t heard much about it, however, that’s because it isn’t nominated for any Oscars in the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, or Best Score categories – in all of which cases it was robbed, in my humble opinion. It did still, nonetheless, receive 3 Oscar nominations for the work of each of its principal actors (Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams). The acting was so rich and full it was impossible not to notice, but the Academy has treated the success of The Master’s cast as some kind of fluke, as if they could all just give spectacular performances without the words, story, and characters P.T. Anderson supplied them with in the first place, or the nuanced direction he gave them to guide them through some challenging and unusually-paced material.

One hears a lot about Kathryn Bigelow being snubbed by the Academy this year, and the question of whether this was in reaction to how she depicted torture in Zero Dark Thirty. One also hears about Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino, and Tom Hooper being left out of the Best Director category while their films were all nominated for Best Picture (though obviously when there are only 5 directors nominated yet 9 Best Picture nominees, there have to be some exclusions). What’s given little attention, however, is how severely Anderson and The Master were overlooked by the Academy (and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) in the top categories. In fact, Anderson was not even part of the “directors’ roundtables” assembled by various news agencies early in the awards season. The reason for this perhaps is that Anderson’s work is so stubbornly idiosyncratic. The Master is even more uncompromising than There Will Be Blood; both of these surprising films exist in alternate universes of filmmaking with scant interest in building a story along familiar lines, cutting where audiences expect a cut, or scoring a scene in a way that sounds like other movies.

This weekend, there’s a chance for the British Academy to take a stand for originality at the BAFTAs, as The Master is nominated (once again) for awards for all three of its principal actors, as well as for Original Screenplay. And next weekend, the Writers’ Guild could recognize Anderson’s screenplay at the WGA Awards. However, I’m not sure anyone is holding their breath at this point, since there’s a little thing called “momentum”, and The Master seems to have lost that, while other, more commercial fare, has surged ahead.

But it is important to note that the title of this review is not strictly accurate. The Master, and Anderson’s impossibly fertile talent, is not completely ‘unacknowledged.’ For one thing, Anderson took home the second highest award at the Venice Film Festival, the Silver Lion, for Best Director. The Venice jury also awarded the Volpi Cup for Best Actor to both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. And apparently, the jury also wanted to award The Master the top prize at Venice, the Golden Lion, for Best Film, but new rules limited the jury to no more than two awards per film, no matter how exceptional the film. (The third award The Master picked up at the City of Canals was from the critics, the FIPRESCI award for the best film in competition.)

The Master has been a critical darling at home, too. Early in the awards season, it picked up a boat-load of trophies from critics’ associations across the U.S. Its wins are noted in the table below. That won’t help anyone in their Oscar pools, but it shows how far apart the critics and the Academy are. And it is worth keeping in mind when The Master is released on DVD on Feb. 26th, two days after the Oscars.
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Imperial Propaganda: Our Highest Achievement

Joe Giambrone

Hollywood likes to pretend that things aren’t political when they are.  It’s that bi-partisan nationalist myth that if both corporate parties agree to cheer for the empire, then everyone cheers for the empire.  It’s gotten so bad now that races like the Oscars and the Writer’s Guild screenwriting award are tight contests between one CIA propaganda film and another CIA propaganda film.  The first one helps to demonize Iranians and set up the next World War scenario, while the second film fraudulently promotes the effectiveness of state-sanctioned torture crimes.

If there ever was a time for loud disgust and rejection of the Hollywood / Military-Industrial-Complex, this would seem to be it (contact@oscars.org).  Naomi Wolf made a comparison of Zero Dark Thirtys creators Bigelow and Boal to Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of the Will).  That, to me, seems inappropriately offensive to Leni Riefenstahl.  The good German filmmaker never promoted torture through deception.  Nor was Triumph a call to war.  The film was simply an expression of German patriotism and strength, rebirth from the ashes of World War I.  The current insidious crop of propaganda, as in the CIA’s leaking of fictional scenes about locating Osama Bin Laden through torture extraction, are arguably more damaging and less defensible than Riefenstahl’s upfront and blatant homage to Hitler’s leadership.

The Zero Dark Thirty scandal should be common knowledge by now, but here is what the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence wrote to Sony Pictures about it:

“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…  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 filmmakers had every opportunity to explore the issue more fully, instead of relying on the “firsthand accounts” of the torturers themselves, and/or their allies within the Central Intelligence Agency.  Notably, torturers are felons and war criminals.  Those who know about their crimes and help cover them up are guilty of conspiracy to torture.  Thus, these self-serving fairy tales that illegal torture led to the desired results (bin Laden) are tangled up with the motivation to protect war criminals from prosecution.  Not only does this claim of successful torture help insulate the guilty from legal prosecution, it also helps to promote further criminal acts of torture in the future.

Once this red flag issue was raised by the Senate, the filmmakers could have taken a second look at what they had put up on screens and reassessed the veracity of their material and the way it was being sold to the world.  Instead they doubled down.  Bigelow and Boal want it both ways, extraordinary access to CIA storytellers for a documentary-like “factual” telling of the bin Laden execution, but they also want license to claim that it’s just a movie and can therefore take all the liberties they please.

Jessica Chastain, who plays a state-employed torturer/murderer, who also allegedly located Osama bin Laden, said:

“I’m afraid to get called in front of a Senate committee… In my opinion, this is a very accurate film… I think it’s important to note the film is not a documentary.”

In a nutshell, that’s the Zero Dark Thirty defense.  It’s a highly sourced “very accurate film,” but we can take all the liberties we like because it’s not a documentary, and so if we made up a case for torture based on the lies of professional liars in the CIA, then oops.

Mark Boal went so far as to mock the Senate Intelligence Committee, at the NY Film Critic’s Circle:

“In case anyone is asking, we stand by the film… Apparently, the French government will be investigating Les Mis.”

Any controversy over the picture seems to help its box office, as more uninformed people hear about it.  The filmmakers themselves suffer no penalty as a result of misleading a large number of people on torture, to accept torture, to accept a secretive criminal state that tortures with impunity.

Kathryn Bigelow’s wrapped-in-the-flag defense of the film:

“Bin Laden… was defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely 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.” (emphasis in original)

Nice propaganda trick at the end equating those who “gave all of themselves” and “death” with the individuals who “sometimes crossed moral lines.”  Everyone’s dirty; you see.  All heroes are torturers; so it’s okay.

Bigelow’s half-assed response to getting called out by the Senate for putting false torture results into her film, is to say:

“Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore. War, obviously, isn’t pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences.” (emphasis added)

Ignore?  By her reasoning, because the Central Intelligence Agency tortured people, she was required to fit it into the plot somehow, whether it was relevant to the investigation or not.  That’s her excuse.  No matter that the scenes are fabrications, and the actual clues about bin Laden’s courier came from elsewhere (electronic surveillance, human intelligence, foreign services).

Bigelow told Charlie Rose, when asked the same question about the torture: “Well I think it’s important to tell a true story.”  Unfortunately, when confronted with the Senate investigation, truth quickly takes a back seat.

The truth Bigelow now clings to is that, “Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue.”  To Kathryn Bigelow, the fact that the so-called “experts” she has sided with are torturer criminals with a vested interest in her portrayal of their crimes never occurs to her.  She can dismiss the entire matter as a “debate.”  Perhaps she no longer finds it “important to tell a true story?”

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Genocide, Fuck Yeah!

How The Hurt Locker Put the Fun Back into Mass Murder

by Kieran Kelly

There is a question used to illustrate the way in which presuppositions can constrain discourse: “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” The discourse of US international relations is somewhat like the inverse of that question – perhaps equivalent to “have you been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize yet?” It appears that people find it very difficult not to become apologists for the US when they set out to critique the US. For example a recent paper on possible violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) in US drone “signature strikes” takes as written that there is a sustainable claim that these strikes are legitimate self-defence. This is in order to make the point that even acts of self-defence must conform to IHL and IHRL. You might think that is a reasonable stance, but how can anyone possibly think that signature strikes are legitimate self-defence? These are attacks carried out against unknown individuals based on patterns of behaviour such as visiting suspect buildings. This simply cannot be reconciled with the right of self-defence given under Article 51 of the UN Charter, so why on Earth would anyone simply concede this utter lie? Even the Obama administration prefers (citing US officials’ opinions as sufficient legal precedent) to claim that it is killing as part of an ongoing war, and that its violations of sovereignty are legitimate because the US has done the same thing in the past (and gotten away with it).

Sometimes, however, you don’t need to concede anything to have a critique subverted by the power of the hegemonic discourse. You stick your black spike of dissent in the path of the giant snowball of empire, and with barely a jolt or change in direction the ball gobbles up your spike which is soon obscured and does no more than add its weight to the thundering behemoth. For example, I greatly like the films Full Metal Jacket and Waltz with Bashir. They are both unflattering depictions of war from a conscript’s viewpoint. The problem is that they exist in a distorted context. It is good to humanise the forces of an aggressor, especially the actual grunts who have to face the dangers and do the most intimate dirty work. But to have a context wherein only the aggressors are humanised is sick and depraved, and I don’t mean that these films are sick and depraved. I mean the society we live in, that has never accorded such a deep three-dimensional humanity to Palestinians, Lebanese or Vietnamese, is sick and depraved – utterly sick and depraved.

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Waltz with Bashir deserves an acknowledgement in that, in its final moments, it very movingly humanises the victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacres through still photographs (similar to the approach of DePalma’s Redacted) . However, through no fault of the film-maker (who had his own story to tell), the victims were not protagonists; they were not actors; they were not agents. Both of these films unintentionally act to support Israeli or US aggression. Whenever Israel or the US invades a new country, our imaginations are embedded with their personnel. We think about their fears and their suffering, not the greater fears and suffering of their victims. The emotions of their victims can’t be shown in any significant way, because then the US and Israel would look like the “Bad Guys” and people might find it difficult to believe that their violence is founded in the fight against the “Bad Guys”.

It is not just perceptions of real life that are altered by this one-sidedness. The boundaries of what is allowable within the cinematic discourse may, because of this context, allow utterly toxic pieces of propaganda to pass unnoticed. They fit comfortably within the normal practice of privileging Western lives and Western stories. They blame the victims and revere the sacrifice of the perpetrators. They may even be ostensibly antiwar, but they are pro-war crime. Such a work is The Hurt Locker.

The film Zero Dark Thirty has rightly attracted criticism for being a repugnant pro-torture piece of propaganda. For example the Political Film Blog has quite a collection of posts from various writers on many different aspects of why it is a repulsive work. But writer, Mark Boal, and director, Kathryn Bigelow, received almost universal praise for their previous work, The Hurt Locker, and what criticism there was of this movie made it seem almost as if it was a vapid and empty thriller that, by default, promoted a nihilistic love of US muscularity and capacity for destruction. As one writer puts it: “When the film ends with James marching defiantly toward yet another bomb in slow motion, one can practically hear the parody song, ‘America, Fuck Yeah!’ playing in the background.”

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[See full coverage at: Zero Dark Thirty Scandal Files]

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The Assassination Bureau: the CIA and Zero Dark Thirty

by Jennifer A Epps

The cover of the Feb. 4 issue of Time features Kathryn Bigelow, the director of Zero Dark Thirty, and dubs her new film ‘the year’s most controversial movie’ in its headline. The article inside makes an even bigger claim, calling Zero Dark Thirty “the most politically divisive motion picture in memory.” Though Bigelow has made a point in interviews to condemn torture as “reprehensible”, her depiction of torture in the Oscar-nominated dramatic thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden has created a firestorm, and could create some frissons at the 85th Academy Awards telecast later this month.

I’ve written a separate article on how Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal portray CIA torture of terror suspects in the movie, and this huge issue deserves the attention it’s getting. But it’s far from the only reason to be concerned about the content of Zero Dark Thirty.

In interviews about ZD30, Bigelow has taken to citing Oscar-winning political classics of past decades to suggest that this is the heavyweight context in which her film should be seen, films such as: All the President’s Men, In the Heat of the Night, and, though they are thematic opposites when it comes to the Vietnam War, both Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter. She has also included in the list the guerrilla warfare docudrama The Battle of Algiers (itself nominated for three Oscars), perhaps because of the scenes of torture, or perhaps because it is obvious that when Marxist director Gillo Pontecorvo shows the brutal repression of the Arab independence movement by French forces, “depiction is not endorsement,” as Bigelow says of her own movie.

But I think a more useful comparison with which to view Zero Dark Thirty is not the high-minded auteur-driven films of that rebellious age, but a commercial, inconsequential, big studio, romcom-adventure from 1969, called The Assassination Bureau.

Though the movie is just an excuse for Oliver Reed, with intrepid girl-reporter Diana Rigg at his side, to dash around foiling assassins with smirking British aplomb, The Assassination Bureau also happens to be about a secret mercenary firm of international hit men. The refined businessmen on its board of directors have happily influenced world events for decades by murdering dictators and other political figures. If it weren’t for the explicit commissions from clients, the private sector status, and the lack of government endorsement, they could remind one of the CIA.

The tone of the comedy is set minutes into the film when the bureau’s board, led by Reed himself, meets in an imposing star chamber. Ivan (Reed) directs their attention to large paintings of historic assassinations adorning their round boardroom: “Look around you at the great deeds recorded on the walls, gentlemen. Each one of them performed in the course of bettering the world, purging it of evil, striking down tyranny. In those days we were all ruled by my father’s basic principle that our bureau would never kill anyone without a sound moral reason.” A board member instantly responds: “He was a saintly man.” Ivan’s only qualm is that they might have begun to stray from “the high moral principles” of their founding — “the torch we once held so high.”

It’s tongue-in-cheek, this proud talk about ethical murder; the poised board members talking rationally in their elegantly appointed star chamber accept murder as completely civilized, and take their right to commit it as a given. (Intriguingly, the film was derived from an unfinished novel by socialist author Jack London, in turn developed from an early 20th-century story by anti-fascist novelist Sinclair Lewis.) But in Zero Dark Thirty, we get very similar scenes, and this time they’re not comedic. Though the CIA operatives in ZD30 don’t bring up ethics at all, they do sit around a conference table discussing, in a very professional and business-like way, whether they’re ready to green-light murder, or whether they should wait until they’re 100% certain they’ve got the correct target. Their authority to go around the world assassinating people is never up for debate.

ZD30 is a far more serious and ambitious film than The Assassination Bureau, but the broad characters in the ‘69 fantasy are (briefly, at least) more honest. When their ethics are questioned, they retort: “Everyone from some point of view deserves death,” and “It’s always possible to find a moral principle for killing someone.” By contrast, the CIA’s philosophy of killing is not on the table in ZD30: the agents certainly engage in analysis, but it’s not any moral or legal justification for their actions that they consider. They only analyze intelligence: photos, videos, interrogations, clues. Meanwhile, the movie’s momentum is very powerful, with everything building toward Act 3 and the climactic raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. It is easy to get sucked into this suspenseful forward drive. This risks obscuring the realities behind the system and policies depicted.

Remote-controlled Execution

ZD30 hits theaters at a time when the drone industry is booming, when more and more of the U.S. strategy in the (still underway) ‘War on Terror’ is about using unmanned drones to take out pre-targeted individuals from control rooms on the other side of the globe.

The U.S. multiplied the number of drones in their arsenal 100-fold in the decade after 9/11. In occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, these strikes have been conducted by the Pentagon; in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia, where we are not technically at war, they are handled by the CIA. And the next gambit in the ever-expanding drone playbook is Mali; the U.S. has apparently already arranged to base drones in Niger to be flown over its North African neighbor.

Now, ZD30 doesn’t make drone warfare an overt part of its subject, but the ‘targeted killing’ program – the belief in ethical murder — is very much a part of the CIA culture which ZD30’s filmmakers embraced, or at least got into bed with, and the central event of the movie is a pre-planned assassination.

The film does show protests in Islamabad leading to the ouster of the CIA’s Pakistan station-chief, but Bigelow lingers over the station-chief’s defeat, and lead actress Jessica Chastain’s words of comfort to him – accusing the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, of letting him down. The direct relationship between the drone strikes and animosity toward the U.S. is not made clear.

ZD30 also runs news footage on the 2010 Times Square bombing incident that was staged by a naturalized U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin. Though in real life the bomber referred to the missile strikes on Pakistan as part of his incitement, the movie bypasses that explanation. Instead, NYC Mayor Bloomberg reads the man’s mind, sloganeering on a TV in the background of a shot that it was ‘our freedoms’ which motivated the terrorist plot.

Much later in the film, after CIA agent Maya (Chastain) has discovered bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan and struggled mightily to get an attack on it launched, she declares to a Navy SEAL that she’d really prefer to just drop a bomb on the compound. She has a proud, defiant air at the time that she says it: she scoffs at her supervisors’ concern that ‘UBL’ might not really be there. Since she turns out to have been right about UBL’s location, viewers are given little reason to distrust other people like her, people who prefer to drop bombs and skip all the pesky red tape.

Maya’s attitude is not really much different from that of maverick-warrior types from many mass-appeal movies  — like Rambo, The Dark Knight and 300 – in which the man or woman of action is held back by small-minded bureaucrats or worse. (A kind of detective, Maya is also akin to on-screen sleuthers who obsessively follow their hunches, like the heroes of Chinatown, Dirty Harry and Zodiac.) The usual result is that the audience roots for the maverick. Indeed if they didn’t, they’d be rooting against the very resolution of the story itself.

Bigelow and her screenwriter Boal have repeatedly sworn that they were scrupulous about not judging the methods of the professionals they were documenting. But the trouble with Bigelow and Boal’s pretence of detachment is that Maya’s obsession is the only game in town; again, if the audience were to detach from it, they’d have to go home. There’s more backstory in an Antonioni film. Bigelow and Boal’s previous drama, the Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker, felt like a character study despite an intense, action-heavy main storyline. But ZD30 does not delve deeply into Maya’s psyche, and her reactions to events are fleeting and inscrutable. Thus, by default if not by design, the movie lends itself to the well-worn grooves of commercial movie-making, and encourages the audience to side with Maya and her agenda. This is further strengthened by the fact that there are only two other alternatives in this film: a) timid supervisors who just want to delay action, and b) terrorists. Whistleblowers, diplomats, lawyers, human rights observers, and non-terrorist Muslims or Arabs are basically invisible. (When Muslims or Arabs are shown, they are often alien and mysterious – one may admire the beauty of a shot in which chador-clad figures suddenly surround a man in a formal garden, producing rifles from their dark drapery, but Bigelow really ought to know better than to perpetrate the same kind of tired images of exoticism that Edward Said condemned 45 years ago.)

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[Extensive coverage of the Zero Dark Thirty torture scandal here.]

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Michael Moore, Inc.

by MARK EPSTEIN

I thought Michael Moore was supposed to be a director…    I thought he was supposed to have made some documentaries…

I guess Michael Moore, having become “Inc.”, now has other priorities, such as propagandizing for those institutions that have “honored” him and his ‘fellow’ club-members (please don’t try any more “captatio benevolentiae”, Mike, of the kind my “fellow leftists” etc…; after the way you have treated Ralph Nader and even more after this piece, I doubt there will be any somewhat sane members of the human race who would consider you a ‘leftist’ of any kind…).    I must say both the movie he defends and the essay he wrote to defend it are the ones that at this point should more appropriately be entitled “Sicko”…

Michael Moore has come out to “defend” Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty”.    So let us take a look at this “defense” and contrast it with what is actually a careful, thorough, calm, balanced but devastating assessment, that of David Bromwich.

One of Moore’s chief arguments, following the desperate attempts to grab at straws by the director herself, is that actually “Zero Dark Thirty” is against torture, and in fact is an ethical film, a film that looks at the “morality” of torture instead of its “practicality”…

To ‘factually’ anchor this contention, Moore frames it by the alleged contrast in “torture” policies of the W Bush administration and those of the Obama administration.

For someone with the sort of background in documentary filmmaking and the at least partial investigative work this entails (at least done by others, consultants, etc.) this pseudo-factual architecture is perhaps the most egregious web of deceit in his whole essay…     In fact its factual basis is as nonexistent as that in those political “vote for us, we have no achievements of our own to run on, but be scared, oh so scared of what the OTHER party could do…” ads, these days the bread-and-butter of autho-totalitarian electoral manipulation of fear that the one-party system with two right-wings the Empire has become (or party-politics as torture…)…

Has Michael Moore not been following any political news for the last 4 years?     Has he digested even one story in the non-Korporate or “less-Korporate media”??

Moore’s essay is basically founded on the Obama promises (from his 2007-8 run) in the area of rights and foreign policy, vs. some of the W administration facts.    Let’s start with torture: did the Obama administration actually stop the use of torture?    Given what has leaked out of prisons in Afghanistan and those of proKonsular allies, that contention seems completely devoid of credibility and unfounded…

On the other hand what we DO know is that the Obama administration did everything it possibly could to NOT prosecute all those in the W administration that were guilty of masterminding, implementing, “legally” defending, etc. said practices of torture…

John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent, has instead been persecuted by the Obama administration, for REVEALING facts about the torture program(s).   Kiriakou who, being a person who actually does have moral convictions, also was outraged by the government’s persecution of Aaron Swartz.    Instead both the journalists and White House personnel guilty of revealing the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, as in the case of those involved in the torture program(s), were never touched by US “justice” under either W Bush or Obama…

So much for the ‘moral high ground’

One of the other major oppositions Moore tries to sell in this horror-travesty dressed as a fairy-tale, is that the film shows the opposition of: 1) the W administration, characterized by torture (immoral), no will to find or pursue Bin Laden, incapable of engaging in any “detective work”, and therefore complete lack of results vs. 2) the Obama administration, characterized by opposition to torture (moral), the will to find and pursue Bin-Laden, deeply engaged in “detective work”, and therefore … hey presto, Bin-Laden’s head on a platter… (yes the biblical echo is intentional dear Mike…)

Well Mr. Moore must think his ‘pals’ on the “left” really all are embodiments of the insults that Rahm Emanuel hurled at them…  if he thinks his story amounts to any “detective work” of any kind whatsoever…

I think virtually any (I mean literally any) issue of “CounterPunch” in the last four years would have at the very minimum one article that would totally disprove Moore’s fantasies about the Obama administration.

Let’s start with those issues most closely related to torture and human rights in foreign policy, in other words Moore’s much touted alleged “morality”.

* Guantanamo?    Never closed, still open for business, complete betrayal of electoral promises.

* Similar prisons, as for instance at Bagram in Afghanistan, or similar facilities in Pakistan, other third party proKonsular “allies” (i.e. accomplices):    Open for business as usual, same as under W.    (For one of many accounts cf. Andy Worthington “Bagram and Beyond”.)

* Renditions?     Continue as before, or rather, more secretively than ever…     Again, absolutely no prosecution or even the faintest attempt at enforcing legal accountability in this area…

*Drone strikes (remember the Nazi V1 and V2 programs: those are the sort of powers that like state-terror and legal non-accountability): at their acme under Obama, with the overwhelming majority of victims being innocent civilians (except in the tyrannical Obama administrations serial lies about the results and consequences).    Decidedly Mr. Moore’s moral arguments are getting more ballistic by the minute…

* Targeted assassinations: the exact opposite of the Moore narrative.    It is Obama who has introduced them, boasts of personally approving them, and in the processes has put the Constitution through the shredder (he has on so many different issues it is difficult to keep count…), something the W administration, at least officially, did not engage in.    Obama actually has a US citizen assassinated without any proof or having to defend (as if it really could be defensible in any case, unless Mr. Moore’s morality comes with a defense of the death penalty, etc.) its proofs, decisions, courses of action, etc. in a court of law…    In fact Obama has reversed to worse than Richard Nixon, since it was the Church committee and other similar developments that led to the exposure and shut-down (at least from what we know overtly) of the sorts of programs that the Obama administration is now pursuing with a vengeance (Bigelow’s kind of ‘vengeance’…).   For a discussion of some of these continuing practices cf. Noah Gimble “Obama and Rendition”.

Continues

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Good stuff in this morning’s CounterPunch:

Michael Moore’s Repellent Defense of “Zero Dark Thirty”

‘Feminist’ torturer and murderer? Get real, Mike.

[See our extensive coverage of the Zero Dark Thirty torture scandal here.]

PS

Obama just imprisoned the one CIA officer who exposed war crimes in the CIA, whistleblower John Kirakou, while promoting and protecting war criminals who torture and murder for the state. That makes Barack Obama party to the conspiracy to torture. Kirakou is railroaded for “Leaks of highly sensitive, closely held, and classified information” about torture war crimes he allegedly divulged to NY Times journalists and defense lawyers for Guantanamo detainee torture victims.

A petition to Obama demanding to release John Kirakou.

Hey Michael Moore — where are you?

 

[Editor’s Note: See our extensive coverage of the Zero Dark Thirty torture scandal here.]

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The Great White Camel

by RANDY SHIELDS

Probably many people have read the informed and thoughtful commentary on the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” by Glenn Greenwald or Jane Mayeror Karen Greenberg.

But what you’re really wondering is: what does a scalawag, what does a completely unrepentant flame thrower and certified America-hater think about “Zero Dark Thirty”? Come, sit by me.

“Zero Dark Thirty,” like director Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” (which I reviewed and contrasted with “Avatarhere), is about the trials and tribulations of American occupiers, torturers, death squads and empire builders — no Muslims need apply for any humanity, although they’re allowed to scream a lot and blow up shit. (In real life they scream a lot, too, because some party unknown to Bigelow keeps dropping bombs on them, day after day, year after year, decade after decade.)

First off, I think the critics of this movie are lost in minutia. They mistakenly credit Americans with a humanity which they don’t possess and assume that Americans will be unduly influenced by the movie’s depiction of torture when, in fact, more Americans support torture than are against it, according to this 2012 poll. More Americans support torture now than in 2007. Americans are a lost cause. Instead, let’s see the waterboard pitcher as half full and celebrate how the rest of the world might see this movie.

Two things stuck out for me about the movie, one at the very beginning and the other at the end. Watching the CIA torturers at work, waterboarding, beating, hanging a guy in stress positions, depriving him of sleep, confining him in a little box, the sexual humiliation, the blinding light and blaring music — all of it called to mind George Bernard Shaw’s observation on animal experimentation: that a race of people who would use something as barbarous as animal experiments to “save” themselves would be a race of people not worth saving. No matter what the CIA, director Kathryn Bigelow (don’t overlook that comma!) and screenwriter Mark Boales intended, that’s the real message (subliminal only if you’re an American) of “Zero Dark Thirty”: America isn’t worth saving. Creative artists don’t always know the forces and influences that they’re working under or the ultimate import and meaning of what they’re creating. History, someday even written by the working class, will judge the meaning of this film.

The definition of torture is “the infliction of pain to elicit information.” That’s why I’ve never had a problem calling animal experimenters torturers. Torture isn’t in the mind or the intent of the torturer, it’s what they do. They cause pain to get information. So the torturers in “Zero Dark Thirty” can go from being brutal to joking around in mere seconds. They aren’t foaming-at-the-mouth sadists 24/7 — they’re the war criminals standing behind us in the grocery line. It’s Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil.”

If the experiments/torture didn’t actually start out this way, in the end it always becomes about the sick fuck craziness of the torturers/experimenters themselves, their desire to be obeyed and take absolute power and control over a helpless being’s life, not the search for truth or “cures” or “protecting the American people.” (It’s perfect symmetry that the “learned helplessness” experiments of University of Pennsylvania dog shocker Dr. Martin Seligman formed the “intellectual” basis of the Bush torture program.) “Zero Dark Thirty” shows American torturers in action, which is good. In fact, I think it would be dishonest of Bigelow and Boales to toss in the one or two FBI agents who objected to the systematic torture of one of hundreds (thousands?) of people and the torture trail that went all the way up to Yoo, Bybee, Addington, Cheney and Rumsfeld for their recommendations on torture techniques. This fucking movie should go down hard in the craw of the world — there was never any humanity or conscience or enough ”good Americans” involved to even be worth noting. I don’t recall those FBI agents making any arrests of the torturers or raising hell in the press at the time they witnessed the torture.

(An aside on waterboarding: as awful as waterboarding is in the movie, I think this written description — by a man who waterboarded himself — conveys the suffering better. In media interviews, director Bigelow never calls waterboarding torture — she always calls it ”enhanced interrogation.” People who don’t call waterboarding torture are either: 1) misinformed 2) diabolical servants of the American empire or 3) the New York Times. Waterboarding has been known as torture since at least the Spanish Inquisition and the Reagan Justice Department recognized it as such when it prosecuted Texas sheriff James Parker and three deputies for doing it to prisoners to obtain confessions back in 1983.)

The other thing that struck me about “Zero Dark Thirty” was no face to face confrontation with Osama bin Laden when the Navy SEALs are blowing up doors to his compound and proceeding up the different levels to his bedroom. Once there, everything gets even murkier, despite the night vision goggles worn by the SEALs. We don’t see the shot that fells bin Laden — we see him after he’s shot and laying on the floor as a SEAL pushes away two of his wives and then another SEAL pumps his supine body with a couple more bullets.

In a movie where plenty of dramatic license is taken, why no face to face confrontation with the great terrorist mastermind, with the Navy SEAL gunslinger at high midnight delivering vengeance for the smoking ashes of the twin towers? Why no look into bin Laden’s face as he realizes he is about to die in the “claws of the eagle” (America) as he said he probably would? Why no cathartic righteous justice? It doesn’t matter that maybe in “real life” it really was dark and difficult to see and that the one-to-one look in bin Laden’s eyes didn’t happen. These filmmakers don’t give a damn about “real life” and context when it comes to vilifying Muslims. Without fail, they care about drama and maximum emotional impact, from the real life September 11 911 callers which lead directly to the waterboarding to the CIA agent who bakes a cake for the man she thinks has been turned into an informant only to have him detonate a suicide vest and kill her and several other agents. This movie is all about drama but only within the confines of CIA propaganda.

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The filmmakers would no doubt consider showing bin Laden’s face to be “glorifying” him. If bin Laden was shown to be afraid, he might draw some sympathy as an unarmed man executed in his bedroom by a death squad. If he was defiant, this might rev up his followers. So there must not be anything recognizably human about him. Code-named “Geronimo” by the American government, bin Laden must die like every indigenous person at the hands of cowboys and soldiers in American movies: just fall down dead like a cardboard cutout, incapable of expression, meaning or emotion. Only the White Man’s struggles are of any interest. Paradoxically, bin Laden remains a boogeyman who still holds so much power that even his death in a movie can’t be shown. Moby bin Laden’s dead and America, through Ahab Bigelow, is still afraid of him, a kind of Great White Camel, an obsession, a fiend who played a very useful role for American warmongers, from terror alerts always sounded near key political and legislative moments to being the supposed inspiration for every zealot with a Kalashnikov that America must spend a fortune exterminating — not a mere criminal who could have been easily been captured alive and tried in court.

America’s pursuit of the Great White Camel told us much more about ourselves than it did about him: we killed over one million Iraqis and wrecked their country which is still going on to this day, every day. We’ve now killed more Afghan civilians than Americans were killed on 9/11, and our drone strikes in Pakistan are making it a close second. The pursuit of the Great White Camel let the world see through a mirage: America isn’t a model to be emulated, it’s not a soaring eagle but a Chicken Little who scares easily and rushed to throw away every civil liberty and legal protection it had via the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act and the National Defense Authorization Act. A deluded cowardly and bullying country that will mainly fight you from 10,000 miles away and 20,000 feet above. A country whose dumb ass personality-cult liberals believe it’s a big improvement going from Bush capturing and torturing alleged “terrorists” to Barackus Obombus Caesar who captures no one and simply kills whoever he wants wherever he wants whenever he wants. It’s no coincidence that the CIA works with an Oscar-winning director on a film depicting torture now that its preferred modus operandi is extrajudicial assassination.

So why is this movie good for the world? Because it shows the ugly beast of America out of control, it comes to you bloody and crazed, so detached from reality that it believes its vices are virtues. It congratulates itself on its military prowess while the rest of the world sees sadistic torture, innocent people killed, nations’ sovereignty violated with impunity, international law and the Geneva Conventions jettisoned, lumbering death squads coming in the night from thousands of miles away to wreck your world, terrifying women and children and sometimes killing them. This movie’s message is: America makes the whole world insecure — therefore: arm yourselves to the teeth, preferably with nuclear weapons.

“Zero Dark Thirty” shows America swaggering and bragging, torturing and killing and proud of it. Americans love this shit because they have no empathy — they never imagine themselves on the receiving end of it. And they’re so damnably stupid and easy to manipulate that even when they are on the receiving end of it, as on 9/11, they don’t learn anything from it. Forget about any self-reflection as to why so many people in the world hate America. It was so easy for the ruling class to channel Americans’  bigotry onto Muslims and deflect away the normal healthy reaction of what should have been tremendous anger at the US government for not preventing 9/11 after all the trillions of dollars spent on “defense” and “security.” (Ralph Nader suggested four decades ago that cockpit doors on planes should be strengthened and locked. But what does he know compared to “bottom line” airline executives — he only gave us seat belts.) Almost three thousand people dead, a nation shellshocked and yet no one in our vast political/intelligence/military/surveillance state lost a day’s pay or got a reprimand. No one on top pays for anything in America whether it’s torture, financial fraud, illegal eavesdropping or negligent homicide. “Zero Dark Thirty” shows the incredible resources available to kill and destroy while Americans live in cardboard boxes in New York City and tents next to off-ramps in San Diego. A country whose infrastructure is so dilapidated that it’s not even safe for people to live under its bridges. A moral and social wasteland where more of its “true believers,” its trumpeted soldiers, kill themselves each year than are killed by its enemies. A country so fucked up, from its rotting Obama drone-head on down, that an increasing number of alienated citizens make their final statement the mass killing of total strangers, especially children. One great day it will be unanimous: three hundred million Americans will hate America.

Now wasn’t this a better movie review than some reverent cinephile talking about camera angles and lighting and references to other movies that weren’t worth seeing in the first place? The only way that I could be wrong about all of this, and the S & M America-lovers could have the last laugh, is if the goal of the American government, through propaganda vehicles like “Zero Dark Thirty,” is to cause as much hatred and blowback to America as possible in order to justify ever more “defense” and “security” spending, as if the whole reason for the being of America was the wildly successful business of plunder and murder. I flame. You decide. Have it your way at Vegan King.

Randy Shields can be reached at music2hi4thehumanear@gmail.com. His writings and art are collected at innagoddadadamdavegan.blogspot.com.