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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Another Way 'ZDT' Justifies Torture

I thought I'd read about every reason to criticize "Zero Dark Thirty" and its handling of torture but now comes this offering from the Kings of War blog at Kings College in London (where my daughter happens to be getting her Ph.D.)   Read the whole thing, by Johannes Thimm, but here's a key excerpt.  He notes "one dramaturgical decision by the filmmakers that so far has received little attention deserves mentioning. While generally not much except Maya’s immediate surrounding is shown, terrorist attacks are part of the plot at regular intervals....
After opening with a sound montage of 9/11 itself, the movie shows an attack on a Saudi oil installation in Khobar in 2004; the London bus bombings of 7/7/2005; the bombing of the Islamabad Marriott hotel in 2008 (Maya is eating there with a colleague and barely survives); the suicide bombing that wiped out almost an entire CIA unit at the US military base Camp Chapman near the Afghan town Khost (Maya loses a close colleague); even the failed attempt to set of a car bomb on Times Square in New York in 2010. As Karen Greenberg has noted, these attacks provide a constant backdrop of fear. But they do more than that. They provide the ticking time bomb scenario that is indispensable to anyone who wants to defend the use of torture. Even advocates of torture only ever justify it as a means of stopping an imminent attack and saving the lives of innocent people. However, in the real world ticking time bomb scenarios rarely if ever happen. The many attacks shown in the film provide an effective substitute. They are not presented as separate events, carried out by local operatives and each with its own particular circumstances, but rather as a steady continuous onslaught of strikes masterminded by the leadership of Al Qaeda. By making this choice the filmmakers turn the hunt for bin Laden into a race against time.

If one wants to legitimize enhanced interrogation, claiming that torture led to bin Laden by itself is not enough. The overwhelming focus of the debate on the role of torture in locating bin Laden neglects an important point. Even in the opinions of advocates of coercion and even in the case of in Laden, bringing a terrorist to justice for acts committed in the past does not justify its use. It is also necessary to make the case that bin Laden is still a danger. If he were an old man hiding out with little communication to the outside world and without much influence on the actions of a lose network of terrorists who increasingly act independent from Al Qaedas leadership, it would be hard to argue that torturing potential informants would be anything but revenge. However, if he is still the central figure continuously plotting attacks from the Middle East to Manhattan…

The point is made explicit in a little-noticed exchange between Maya and her superior. After the failed Times Square bombing Maya presses Joseph Bradley, the CIA station chief in Pakistan, for more ressources to find bin Laden. Bradley tells her that he doesn’t care about bin Laden and that Maya should be more concerned with protecting the homeland. Maya then lectures him about how bin Laden provides the inspiration for all these attacks. She stops just short of saying that if they get him, the attacks will end. Needless to say, in this scene Maya is the one the viewer identifies with. As usual Bradley is just one more obstacle to her doing her job. And the hunt for bin Laden is one great attempt to protect the homeland against further attacks and save the lives of innocent Americans.
(h/t Barbara Bedway)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Where were the GOP demands for an investigation when all of these attacks took place under Bush? Sec. Rice never endured what Sec. Clinton did with Benghazi . Where is the justice for the American people who Bush damaged as he ordered "Torture in our name? Just as torture is always wrong, equally wrong is allowing Bush to go silently into the night retiring as no justice comes still to the American people he betrayed with incompetence in allowing these attacks, the lies to 2 wars and torture, as well as his raiding the US Treasury. In the end no one received justice. But, under this President we did get Bin Laden. History alone will judge us all and make the final decision. History may also be the only justice any ones gets in punishing Bush.