Posts Tagged ‘Osama bin Laden’

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Capture of Top al-Qaeda Operative Highlights Turkey’s Role in U.S.-NATO Terror Operations
Al-Zawahiri’s Man in Libya Detained in Turkey: Another Desperate Attempt to Save the War on Terror Myth
Since the start of the so-called “Syrian civil war,” NATO member Turkey has played a decisive role in fueling the conflict by funneling countless weapons and fighters into Syria. Were it not for Turkey’s strong support of terrorists fighting in Syria, the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) would not have been possible, as ISIS fighters themselves acknowledged.[1]… [So has the Vice President of the United States!]

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From Michael Riconosciuto Document Archive

 

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The al-Qaeda Menace: A Tale of Two Headlines

by JP Sottile | Newsvandal

What exactly is al-Qaeda?

Is it a group of committed jihadists previously led by Osama bin Laden? Or it is a “brand?”

Is the enemy just the so-called “core” al-Qaeda, or it is now an amorphous conglomerate of affiliates, franchisees and enthusiasts?

If “core al-Qaeda” is, as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper just said in his most recent congressional testimony, those “remnants” of the original ideological core still in Pakistan and Afghanistan, by what criteria are other groups not self-identifying as “al-Qaeda” then deemed as “designated al-Qaeda”

Considering the President’s State of the Union anti-terrorist to-do list of Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Mali, is al-Qaeda really “on the path to defeat?” Is it “resurgent?” Or is the to-do list just a broad wish list of militants and insurgents not really associated with “core” al-Qaeda?

And now that Osama bin Laden is long-since dead, is Ayman al-Zawahri truly running a massive network of evildoers? Or is he, as CNN’s Peter Bergen wrote in 2012, “a black hole of charisma” who will never fill the void left behind by Osama bin Laden?

Questions are manifold. Answers are, as ever, scarce.

The confusion about al-Qaeda’s role in Syria and Iraq—supposed fronts in the nearly thirteen year war on those responsible for 9/11—illustrates the extent to which an ill-defined al-Qaeda is the crucial element sustaining the War On Terror.

It has been both officially asserted and widely accepted that al-Qaeda is actively fighting to take control of both Syria and Iraq. Both print and television news media used alarming headlines to emphasize the persistent specter of al-Qaeda in Syria and to bemoan its takeover of two Iraqi cities—Fallujah and Ramadi.

But then came a poser. Zawahri seems to have distanced himself and his “core” version of al-Qaeda from the proceedings in Syria. The way two major news agencies handled the story tells as much about the problem of defining al-Qaeda as it does about al-Qaeda itself.

Here’s how the Associated Press headlined the story: “Al-Qaida breaks with Syria group in mounting feud.”

However, that was not the first version to appear on AP’s website. The original headline from AP was: “Al-Qaida breaks ties with group in Syria.” And that was the headline run by Yahoo!News, US News & World Report, the San Francisco Chronicle and a variety of outlets that use AP’s wire service. FOX News altered AP’s headline a bit: “Al Qaeda announces it’s breaking ties with militant group fighting in Syria,” and the Times of Israel followed suit by also adding a qualifier: “Al-Qaeda breaks ties with rebel group in Syria.”

On the other hand, The Guardian took the story from Reuters and, therefore, a completely different tack: “Al-Qaida denies links to ISIL in Syria.”

This isn’t a simple difference in style. In this second headline, al-Qaeda “denies” a connection to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)—a group consistently identified as “al-Qaeda” by the U.S. news media. Other European outlets used both “denies” and “ISIL” in their versions, and Haaretz used the Reuters wire story and an even more precise headline: “Al-Qaida denies link to Syrian militant group ISIL.”

“Syrian militant group” is a far cry from al-Qaeda, which is how the ISIL is consistently referred to by the US government, members of Congress and much of the U.S. media. Make no mistake, it matters how these groups are characterized. Although decision-makers like to raise the all-inclusive threat posed by “The Terrorists,” there is a black and white distinction at the very center of who’s who in the wide world of terrorism.

That’s because the War On Terror depends upon the Authorization For Use Of Military Force (AUMF). Passed on Sept. 14, 2001 and signed by President Bush four days later, the AUMF authorized the President to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons.”

This is the authorization President Obama uses every time a drone kills “suspected militants” in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. Although 9/11 was officially the alpha and the omega of the AUMF, the expansive language of “designated al-Qaeda,” its affiliates and various linked groups provides an evergreen public relations cover story for the mostly-secret program of targeted killings. Mostly secret.

While relentless gumshoes at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism piece together the details of the killer drone program from numerous sources and tabulate the mounting death toll in spite of official silence, Team Obama happily leaks information when it suits their purposes. An unnamed official told the Washington Post that the killer drone program was being curtailed in Pakistan as a concession to the Pakistani government’s peace talks with the Taliban. The official did note that the U.S. reserves the right to kill “…senior al-Qaeda targets, if they become available, and move to thwart any direct, imminent threat to U.S. persons.”

But aren’t senior al-Qaeda targets who directly and imminently threaten U.S. persons the whole point of AUMF? Aren’t these the “core al-Qaeda” DNI Clapper defined in his testimony? Also, has the killer drone program been assassinating people who are not “core” evildoers? The anonymously-confirmed pseudo-hiatus implies that the U.S. has been killing insurgents engaged in a political battle with their government. In fact, former Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf stated exactly that after he returned to home to run for office, but then ended up on trial for treason.

This is the ultimate danger of this program—that the ever-expanding AUMF transforms the killer drone program into a de facto assassination tool used in quid pro quo agreements with governments, to shore up factional allies or to tip the balance of power in sovereign nations. It’s something that got the CIA into trouble back in the 1970s.

And it’s something made so much easier by the advent of drones and the secrecy surrounding the program. Ever since Dick Cheney hailed a taxi to the dark side, it’s been harder and harder to trust executive power operating under the cover of national security. Perjury by DNI Clapper about the NSA’s spying program makes it difficult to trust him on anything—including about the parameters and capabilities of al-Qaeda.

So, what is al-Qaeda? And what happened in Syria?

The AP characterized Zawahri’s statement as an “apparent” move “to reassert the terror network’s prominence in the jihad movement across the Middle East amid the mushrooming of extremist groups during the upheaval of the past three years.”

The Reuters story stated, “Al-Qaida‘s general command has said it has no links with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in an apparent attempt to assert authority over the Islamist militant groups involved in Syria‘s civil war.”

Apparent? To whom?

Reassert prominence? Or assert authority?

Are extremist groups really “mushrooming,” and do they, like “core al-Qaeda,” now fall under the AUMF?

What is the truth? How can we verify it? And without it, will the war ever really end?

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Questions about the Death and Dumping at Sea of Osama bin Laden Remain

by Vic Sadot, the TruthTroubadour

Osama bin Laden: Dead or Alive?

If he is dead, when did he die? Was he really the “mastermind of 9/11,” or not? How can we know the truth?

One thing we know is that Osama bin Laden was a CIA asset used to recruit Muslim fundamentalists to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. What else do we know for sure? Why would Obama claim to have ordered a kill on Osama, and then dispose of his body at sea? Does that sound like the American way of justice?

Dr. David Ray Griffin published “Osama bin Laden Dead or Alive” in 2009. It’s a good read today! Evidence of fraud is abundant. The questions he raises need to be answered.

The Corporate media spin machine has cranked out an avalanche of “reports” on the “daring” execution of a supposedly-alive Osama bin Laden hiding in a “million dollar mansion” in Pakistan.  The story of the amazing commando raid may end up being another high-tech production from the same folks who brought us the lies about Pat Tillman, Jessica Lynch & WMD in Iraq. In the case of Pat Tillman, the “official glory story” was that he got killed in a shoot out with the Taliban. Later, as the Tillman family bravely pressed on and on for the truth, the story was amended to be “friendly fire”. Then the military coroner report revealed that the evidence showed that Pat Tillman was shot “by 3 bullets to the forehead at 10 yards range”. Ignored AP story.

In the case of Jessica Lynch, she refused to go along with the “official glory story”. She testified to Congress that she was wounded by an explosion, not in a firefight. Iraqi hospital authorities informed the US military that she was alive and well and under their care. But the Pentagon sent a commando unit in there to “rescue the heroic soldier”. Was the truth less important than having a recruitment poster boy and girl to use to lie to young people about corporate resource & domination wars?

In the aftermath of 9/11, we were all in “shock & awe” as the media reported “explosions” at the WTC (World Trade Center) and the Pentagon. This was rapidly revised to the “official story” that the jet fuel from the planes that hit the two tallest towers of the WTC complex “melted the steel” and caused their collapse. It’s against the laws of physics! Both Dan Rather and Peter Jennings mused aloud as it was happening that the only way that steel frame buildings could be brought down by fire would be to “get at the inner structures” as in a “demolition”. What’s worse, the WTC buildings did not just collapse. They disintegrated to dust in 10 seconds! Building 7, which was not hit by a plane, did so in 7 seconds at around 5:30 that evening. In fact, Dan Rather reported on CBS that Osama bin Laden was in a Pakistani military hospital on Sept 10, 2001 getting dialysis treatments for kidney failure. Read about that here.

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In spite of the lack of any evidence to prove that bin Laden was the man whose body was killed in Pakistan and dumped into the ocean, we are simply being intellectually bullied by authority to accept their story as true. We have a media so consolidated and conscripted into service to the secret security state that they just repeat what they are told to us so that they can keep their jobs. No wonder people call them “presstitutes” doing fake journalism for money.

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Now we have a new Hollywood movie called “Zero Dark Thirty” that was done in secret complicity with the CIA and the Orwellian-named fascist sounding Homeland Security apparatus to deliver a movie that falsely claims that torture works and was necessary. The 9/11 Commission had no access to CIA prisoners but they accepted and used confessions wrought through torture as if they were reliable evidence gained from good detective work.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) not only authorized 622 billion dollars for the Pentagon, the bill passed the U.S. House on Dec. 14, 2011, the U.S. Senate on Dec. 15, 2011, and was signed into United States law on December 31, 2011 by President Barack Obama while most Americans were celebrating the New Year and he signed similar repressive legislation on New Year’s Eve 2012 as well. These NDAA bills include a clause that legalizes the dissemination of propaganda to US citizens. With executive claims to the power to indefinitely detain and disappear anyone it deems a “suspect” without judicial due process as the Constitution clearly requires, we have treasonous criminal and immoral conduct declared acceptable.

Those who question the 9/11 story and the rewarding of those who failed to defend us on that day, what hit the Pentagon or how that could even happen after the New York attacks, why and how three World Trade Center buildings could disintegrate to toxic dusk and rubble in 10 seconds, the WMD lies about Iraq, the lack of accountability for torture and murder in secret prisons, the prosecution and punishment of whistle-blowers instead of the criminals they expose, the incredibly lethal firepower unleashed on Libya without Congressional authorization, and the need for evidence and transparency about major events and policies to have an informed electorate and a functioning democracy, the challenge is frightening and intimidating. But as any American who has taken an oath “to honor and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies both foreign and domestic” will tell you, it does not have to continue to go down this way. The US does not have to descend into a fascist police state or global corporate empire. We have a right to question and we will continue to do so.

Movies like “Zero Dark Thirty” turn our political culture into a stinking cesspool. The reader is referred to this excellent critique in Global Research on 2-25-13 by London-based writer Patrick Henningsen,“Hollywood History: CIA Sponsored “Zero Dark Thirty”, Oscar for “Best Propaganda Picture”. Henningsen asks, “Was bin Laden really killed by Seal Team 6 that day? Examine the evidence, if you can find any.” In mock sympathy, Henningsen says,

“I felt sorry for the director, the cast and all the production crew who put in their hard work and sweat, and probably believed that bin Laden was indeed in the Abbotabad compound in May 2011, and that they were reenacting a rare and proud piece of American history. In order to believe this, they would also would have to have believed that somehow, that same bin Laden also masterminded a multi-pronged assault that managed to bypass the whole of the US Defense apparatus – all from his legendary cave in Tora Bora. …Unfortunately, the mythology does not measure up to reality, with multiple admissions in public by heads of state, by Pervez Musharraf, and Benazir Bhutto, as well as by Madeline Albright and others, and even mainstream media reports going all the way back to 2001, stating that Osama bin Laden was dying, or had in fact died in late 2001. Knowing all this, when I heard the news of Obama and the Navy Seal Team 6 raid on bin Laden, I knew immediately that not only was this almost certainly a fiction, but that there would be no photographs and videos released, because a dead man cannot come back to life after 10 years for a photo session. As predicted, a few days later the White House confirmed my suspicions, announcing that indeed, ‘no photos or video will be released’… On top of that, we were also told that they dumped bin Laden’s body at sea 48 hours after allegedly killing him. Fancy that? But even that pillar of the official story fell apart later when it was revealed that no US sailors aboard the USS Carl Vinson ever saw the alleged burial at sea, and that no images exist in any government records of bin Laden aboard the decorated US sea vessel.”

With all of this heavy information, I would recommend a good laugh at it all as well. This Joy Camp Channel video spoof at YouTube is just what the doctor ordered!

“Best Propaganda Film (OSCAR 2013 SPOILER!LEAKED CLIP!!)” http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Clza1XVA0SI

 

 Full Coverage of Zero Dark Thirty Torture Scandal

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Crackpot Pragmatism: Richard Cohen and Torture

By Steve Breyman

It’s 2013 and Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen is still conflicted about torture. Why? The proximate cause is that he went to the movies, and saw “Zero Dark Thirty,” which impressed upon some viewers the efficacy of torture in unearthing the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Cohen considers the movie “fantastic,” Oscar worthy “in the category of ‘thought-provoking.’” The fuller explanation is that Cohen is a crackpot pragmatist.

The radical American sociologist C. Wright Mills coined the term “crackpot realist” in The Causes of World War Three, a broadside against the men, ideas, and habits of mind driving the Cold War to what seemed its inevitable conclusion in 1958. The crackpot realist is that no-nonsense operator, a Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, who appears cold and hard, capable of making the tough decisions. These decisions are typically cloaked in “high-flying moral rhetoric” (Mills). Problem is, the ‘tough decisions’ of this sort invariably make matters worse.

Cakewalk wars for ‘freedom’ (even when it’s not easy as in Iraq or Afghanistan) rather than uneasy and unsettling peace. The clarity and release of armed force for ‘peace and stability’ over the murk and anxiety of diplomacy.  Bombardment over negotiations (even when the former makes the latter, universally agreed as necessary in the end, more difficult). Problems are solved, and conflicts resolved, through the application of violence (even and especially when they aren’t and can’t be). Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger’s conduct of the Vietnam War was crackpot realism par excellence. Crackpot realism remains a touchstone in Washington, DC, a vital element of the conventional wisdom that must be accepted should one want to be taken seriously.

Crackpot pragmatism is a close cousin of crackpot realism. The defining characteristic of the crackpot realist is his readiness to use military force under most any foreign policy circumstances regardless of the abundance of alternatives. The crackpot pragmatist is obsessed by what “works,” by what gets the public policy job done now. The crackpot pragmatist has a narrow time horizon; his obsession with practicality extends only to the near-term. He is unconcerned about the fuzzy future, about whether what allegedly works today might create more problems down the road.

Senators Feinstein, Levin, and McCain, Cohen tells us, “protested the film’s depiction of torture as instrumental in locating and . . . killing bin Laden.” This gives Cohen pause because the three are “as a group, a somber lot” (i.e., they are crackpot realists), and because of course, they are powerful people. They may know something he doesn’t because they are privy to “highly classified information” (a crucial, mythical component of the self-justifying system of crackpot realism; ‘trust us, we know secrets’).

The senators’ complaint is a screaming siren for everyone but the torture advocate and the crackpot pragmatist. Feinstein, Levin and McCain voted in congenial bipartisan fashion for unimaginable horror and death over their many years in the Senate, and are ready to do so again, at a moment’s notice. They are Minutemen of Death. They are complicit in virtually all of Bush and Obama’s War on Terror atrocities. These non-gentle souls are sanguine about preemptive war, warrantless domestic spying, indefinite detention, military commissions, extraordinary renditions, drone strikes (even against US citizens), covert operations in dozens of countries and all the rest of the Devil’s Toolbox. They draw the line, however, at torture. But Cohen is unable to follow their lead because he’s bothered by “all these declarative statements about the morality of torture . . . from various journalists.” Such certainty is too “basso profundo” for him. He draws the line instead at what “works,” at what “saves lives.”

That those with first-hand knowledge claim that torture “doesn’t work” is not enough for Cohen. He justifies his stance by pitching it as reasonable uncertainty over unreasonable certainty. Everybody else is so sure of either the evils or merits of torture, but not the crackpot pragmatist. What, after all, of extreme emergencies?

Is it immoral to waterboard someone who knows of an imminent Sept. 11-type attack? Wouldn’t it instead be immoral not to do everything in your power to avoid the loss of thousands of lives? Torture in that case might be hideous, repugnant and in some rarefied way still immoral, but I could certainly justify it. . . . Morality and the clock are, inescapably, connected.

For Cohen, morality only enters our decision calculus should time permit. What became of his discomfort with certainty? He appears ready here to torture “someone who knows” of an imminent attack. How can we be sure this someone knows? By torturing him? Circular logic escapes the crackpot pragmatist. Cohen ought to know that not a single instance of the infamous ‘ticking bomb’ torture-scenario exists (outside Hollywood).

Drawing lines, proscribing certain practices, is what civilized societies do. Those lines are often mere segments, insufficiently bright, or morally wrong; hardly the last word. But whether the practice “works” is what the crackpot pragmatist cares about. Concern for aftermaths, backlash, spiritual death, or moral degradation simply evince a lack of seriousness.

“[I]t would be all right with me,” writes Cohen, “if the government were silent on torture so that no detainee could be confident of civilized treatment or if, in a crisis, an understandable looking away was permitted. Life ain’t neat.” Such a view would’ve placed Cohen in grave danger before the Nuremburg Tribunal. Note the use of “detainee” rather than “prisoner.” Even Cohen might require “civilized treatment” of someone for whom due process was required. Cohen likely believes capital punishment deters those contemplating homicide.

The upside of all the fuss about “Zero Dark Thirty” for Cohen is that “we are getting a robust debate over torture that we should have had years ago.” Where has Cohen been the past decade? Could he truly be ignorant of Bush’s lies—“we don’t torture”–or Alan Dershowitz’s grotesqueries in defense of it? Eight years of official prevarication about torture, and four more of failing to demand accountability for it? This is why Cohen retains his job. Alex Pareene named Cohen the number one “hackiest pundit in America” on his list of thirty pundit-hacks in 2010. His columns since may be even worse. Anything goes in the name of crackpot pragmatism, and inconvenient facts go down the memory hole.

Steve Breyman served as William C. Foster Visiting Scholar Fellow at the US State Department in 2011-12. Reach him at breyms@rpi.edu

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

File photo of U.S. Army Military police escorting a detainee to his cell in Naval Base Guantanamo Bay
 

Torture and the Dark Side of ZERO DARK THIRTY

by Jennifer A Epps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“all along, it’s been apparent that there’s only been a very small number of genuine terrorist suspects at Guantánamo and that the rest of the people included large numbers of innocent people who were swept up… [T]here were a lot of low-level Taliban foot soldiers in there, as well, which is really at the heart of the failure of the war on terror to make a distinction between, on the one hand, terrorists and, on the other hand, soldiers in a military conflict…Major General Dunlavey, who was the commander of Guantánamo in 2002, complained about the “Mickey Mouse” prisoners, the number of “Mickey Mouse” prisoners, as he described them, that he was being sent from Afghanistan. Here they are. Here are the farmers and the cooks and the taxi drivers and all these people who should never have been rounded up in the first place and who ended up in Guantánamo because there was no screening process.”

The large number of innocent people at Guantánamo is in fact relevant to Zero Dark Thirty despite what the filmmakers might think because it’s all part of the same system, and because what’s being presented to us is also similar. First of all, Guantánamo was supposed to glean intelligence to thwart terrorism, and secondly, because it was a massive torture operation. Or in Andy Worthington’s words again: “what these files reveal in detail is that when people didn’t have anything to tell, because in so many cases they were nobodies, the Bush administration actually introduced torture techniques in an attempt to extract information from them.”

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

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

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

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

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

“the Bush years were racked by internal strife over just that issue—again, not just among human-rights and civil-liberties lawyers, but inside the F.B.I., the military, the Justice Department, and the C.I.A. itself, which eventually abandoned waterboarding because it feared, correctly, that the act constituted a war crime. None of this ethical drama seems to interest Bigelow.”

By positing that torture helped the CIA track down bin Laden while at the same time taking an uncritical stance toward the practice, the filmmakers have drawn a great deal of ire. (Recently, noted activist-actors David Clennon, Ed Asner, and Martin Sheen have brought the fight to the Academy by publicly opposing the film as an Oscar contender.) Bigelow and Boal may very well find torture abhorrent themselves, but if they do, they’ve really bent over backwards to hide it. What seems more likely is that their outrage has diminished because of their closeness to the culture which did those deeds. This comes out in small ways. Concerned about investigations, Boal has now enlisted the help of Jeffrey Smith, the attorney who represented Henry Kissinger and Robert McNamara – hardly scions in the cause of human rights. Smith also happens to be former CIA general counsel, so Boal is picking an apple not far from the tree. Meanwhile, Bigelow’s L.A. Times piece defending her film salutes the “ordinary Americans who fought bravely” to defeat bin Laden “even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, who labored greatly and intently, who gave all of themselves in both victory and defeat, in life and in death, for the defense of this nation.” She may call herself a pacifist, but no pacifist I know has so much equanimity about crossing ‘moral lines’ like these.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

la-et-katheryn-bigelow-speaks-out-pictures

The queen speaks (in the LA Times), still ignoring the charges by the Senate that she fabricated a false presentation of torture RESULTS.  Still attempting to hide behind “free speech” and laughably labeling herself a “pacifist.”   This label is contradicted by her repeated actions.  She, more than anyone, should know that actions speak louder than words.

It isn’t that you depict torture on screen, Kathryn dear, it’s that your results of said torture are a lie, spoon-fed to you by CIA torturers, these “experts” who “disagree.”

BIGELOW: “On a practical and political level, it does seem illogical to me to make a case against torture by ignoring or denying the role it played in U.S. counter-terrorism policy and practices.”

That’s exactly what the Senate Intelligence Committee has done, Kathryn, denied your tortures’ alleged “role” in extracting useful information about Osama bin Laden.  The information came from other sources, completely unrelated to the torture that your film claims was key.

BIGELOW: “Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue.”

She refuses to acknowledge that the Senate’s year long investigation determined that the courier’s identity came from sources not related to the torture program.

To her it’s a matter of “debate” and has no importance beyond academic tit and tat.  The fact that her Big Lie of a film tells audiences that torture works and helped locate Osama bin Laden is irrelevant to her.

Ugly American, as ugly as they come.  Pretty face, but a hideous soul.

PS

Dark Lord Cheney’s daughter tweeted:

“Just saw Zero Dark Thirty. Excellent film about years of heroism, including in the enhanced interrogation program, that led to bin Laden.”

Leni Riefenstahl ain’t got nuthin’ on you, Bigelow.

 

 http://wp.me/pwAWe-ZG