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Zero Dark Thirty: Bigelow's "Civilized Lunch"

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

In particular, Bigelow states the following in defense of her film:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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http://dennisloo.com
Cal Poly Pomona Sociology Professor. Author of "Globalization and the Demolition of Society," co-editor/author (with Peter Phillips) of "Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney." National Steering Committee Member of the World Can't (more...)
 

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