Film Spurs Discussion on Harsh Interrogation

Kathryn Bigelow and writer-producer Mark Boal have been under the watchful eye of film critics and politicians alike for the film “Zero Dark Thirty” and the portrayal of torture as a means of capturing Osama bin Laden. With the disapproval of torture, and a movie that portrays its use by the government, there is a lot of tension between the facts of its use and who is actually in support of torture.

The film “Zero Dark Thirty” is a dramatized chronicle of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6’s hunt and assassination of bin Laden in May 2011. The film has had a difficult reception with many critics saying it takes a pro-torture stance. There are scenes of very intense torture used by the U.S. team to gain information to help locate bin Laden.

“Sequences of brutality pile upon one another… Yet, Bigelow intercuts them with scenes from other terrorist attacks to help us understand the furtive desperation of the CIA, which then allows us to stay loyal to their cause? Or is it to convince us that all the ‘enhanced interrogation’ in the world did nothing to prevent those attacks and these agents’ efforts are futile and criminal?” said National Journal.

Bigelow and Boal claim to have no remorse for the disturbing nature of the film.

“I feel we got it right. I’m proud of the movie, and I stand behind it completely,” said Bigelow. “I think that it’s a deeply moral movie that questions the use of force. It questions what was done in the name of finding bin Laden.”

“If the general impression you get from this movie is that torture played a role in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, that’s because that’s true.

That’s a fact. It doesn’t mean they had to torture people or that torture is necessary or torture is morally right,” said Boal.

This heated subject prompted several pundits and senators including Diane Feinstein and John McCain to write letters to Sony Pictures addressing the inaccurate and misleading insinuation of torture in the film.

According to these letters, the filmmakers didn’t quite get it right.

“It remains a stain on our national conscience. We cannot afford to go back to these dark times, and with the release of ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ the filmmakers and your production studio are perpetuating the myth that torture is effective. You have a social and moral obligation to get the facts right,” said senators McCain, Feinstein and Levin to Sony Pictures.

The United States has been combating the use of terror and has even stated a prohibition of it. In his speech in Cairo on June 4, 2009, President Obama said that the U.S. would prohibit the use of torture, and simultaneously declaring the closing of Guantanamo Bay by 2010.

“Just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter our principles. 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year,” said Obama.

Obama addressed the attacks of 9/11 and the violence that followed among citizens.

“This has bred more fear and mistrust. So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. This cycle of suspicion and discord must end,” Obama said.

Despite the President’s statement to work for an end to fear and mistrust, torture remains a debated topic years after his speech.

Reed College released a report on public opinion of torture in the United States between 2001 and 2009. The last year of this survey coincided with Obama’s speech in Cairo.

“A majority supporting torture did not emerge until June 2009, six months after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, and simultaneous with the reappearance of former Vice President Dick Cheney on the public stage to defend the use of coercive interrogation techniques.” said the Reed College Report.

In the early years of the War on Terrorism and throughout the Bush administration, a majority of Americans were opposed to torture. The Report examines this in light of scenarios of imminent terrorist attacks and when it was said torture would produce the information. Most Americans were against the use of torture.

“Not once during this nine-year period was there a majority in favor of the use of torture. Approximately 55 percent of the public expressed opposition to torture during this period,” the report said.

Not only civilians, but soldiers and military personnel oppose torture methods. The opposition of torture methods is actually higher in the military than with citizens.

“Above all, people who are asked to torture by politicians feel a deep sense of betrayal by those who ask them to do terrible things that are beyond what can or should be demanded of a professional soldier,” the report said.

This film that appears to take a pro-torture stance has been poorly received by the public and the government. Despite Obama’s 2009 speech, the idea of torture is prevalent in American media, despite and even in response to the public majority that opposes it.

Veronica may be reached at [email protected]