It’s a slightly reworked repeat of what she’s already said, published as an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times:
As a lifelong pacifist, I support all protests against the use of torture, and, quite simply, inhumane treatment of any kind.
Those of us who work in the arts know that depiction is not endorsement. If it was, no artist would be able to paint inhumane practices, no author could write about them, and no filmmaker could delve into the thorny subjects of our time.This is an important principle to stand up for, and it bears repeating. For confusing depiction with endorsement is the first step toward chilling any American artist’s ability and right to shine a light on dark deeds, especially when those deeds are cloaked in layers of secrecy and government obfuscation.
Indeed, I’m very proud to be part of a Hollywood community that has made searing war films part of its cinematic tradition. Clearly, none of those films would have been possible if directors from other eras had shied away from depicting the harsh realities of combat.
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.
Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue. As for what I personally believe, which has been the subject of inquiries, accusations and speculation, I think Osama bin Laden was found due to ingenious detective work. 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.
In that vein, we should never discount and never forget the thousands of innocent lives lost on 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks. We should never forget the brave work of those professionals in the military and intelligence communities who paid the ultimate price in the effort to combat a grave threat to this nation’s safety and security.
Bin Laden wasn’t defeated by superheroes zooming down from the sky; he 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.
Again (because many Internet commentators have made this point), Bigelow is trying to have her cake and eat it, too. She says that depiction is not endorsement, which is true, but she ignores that the context in which depiction occurs, matters. By placing the torture in the context of the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden, and by not depicting any of the tension and conflict that existed within the intelligence community, and between the FBI and the CIA, over the efficacy of torture versus traditional interrogation methods, Bigelow is effectively saying that torture, although a nasty business, did contribute to a glorious conclusion; namely, the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden. That is, at the very least, a distortion of historic truth.
Bigelow keeps saying that we can’t and shouldn’t deny that torture occurred after 9/11. But who has suggested or asserted the opposite? Certainly not those of us who oppose torture, on every possible ground — pragmatic, moral, and legal. Bigelow may have missed this, but opponents of the CIA’s torture program have been working to expose it and end it and hold responsible the people who designed it and carried it out since it began shortly after 9/11.
What Bigelow’s critics have decried about Zero Dark Thirty is the film’s dishonesty, as Jesse Kornbluth eloquently laid out in his call for a boycott of the film (emphasis is mine):
Zero Dark Thirty starts with phone calls from the World Trade Center on 9/11 and moves rapidly to detainees being waterboarded and twisted into positions not seen in nature. That torture produces a clue. Which is useful when the film turns to traditional investigative methods.
Yes, we tortured. But that sequence of events is wrong. In the film — and as a matter of widely-acknowledged fact — it’s only the traditional methods that pay off. No matter. Frank Bruni put the film’s takeaway bluntly it in a recent New York Times column: “No waterboarding, no bin Laden.”
Or as a headline in the New York Post has it: “Waterboarding is necessary. Gitmo worked. Bush was right.”
It’s no accident that we’re seeing sharply divided views on those torture scenes. By front-loading the film with the gruesome reality of torture — but not presenting a single character who sees what’s happening and condemns it as illegal, immoral and ineffective — director Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, her screenwriter and co-producer, get to have it both ways.
Kornbluth goes on to shred the filmmakers’ claim that ZDT only “depicts” torture without “endorsing” it:
Mark Boal has been interviewed about the fact vs. fiction element in the film. (To read it, you need to get around the Wall Street Journal‘s pay wall. Google “Zero Dark Thirty Takes Some Flak” to get a link that works.)
It is, he says, “preposterous to say Zero Dark Thirty glorifies torture.” After all, it’s “a movie — not a documentary.” His obligation, therefore, is not to make the movie accurate, but to make it compelling:
“I’m not asking the film to be held to a journalistic standard. I’m asking it to be held to a cinematic standard. If I’d wanted to write a book, I’d have written a book.”
On the other hand:
By necessity, the movie had to be reported because there was very little information to draw on. There have been some books that have come out since we wrapped, but when we started there was very little in the public domain. Given the sensitive nature of the material, we had to do our homework…
Our depiction of the raid was based on pretty meticulous research. We built a replica of bin Laden’s compound on location, and we tried to replicate everything from the equipment used and the wardrobes of all involved to the exact positioning of the house’s occupants and the Seals. I hope it puts the audience right in the scene and lets them feel what it was like to jump off the helicopters and into bin Laden’s house.
“My sensory impressions of Vietnam all come from films made contemporaneous to and right after that war, especially The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now.”
In other words, Zero Dark Thirty is both factually accurate and a drama “inspired” by fact. Confused? Majorly: I dare you to find consistent logic here. …
Getting back to Bigelow’s op-ed, it’s not just that her claims for the neutrality of ZDT’s message about the CIA’s use of torture don’t match up with the impressions of so many reviewers who have seen the film. It’s also that her own language in the op-ed is inconsistent and self-contradictory. She tells us she is a “lifelong pacifist,” and that she “support[s] all protests against the use of torture, and, quite simply, inhumane treatment of any kind” — then rhapsodizes about “ordinary Americans who fought bravely [to defeat bin Laden] even as they sometimes crossed moral lines. …” That’s Bigelow’s emphasis on “sometimes.” So which is it? Does Bigelow oppose torture as well as “inhumane treatment of any kind”? Or does she believe torture was a rare aberration in the battle our noble warriors fought to end terrorism and necessary to achieve that end? If it’s true that, as she says, “War … isn’t pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences,” then what are the moral consequences of torture that ZDT portrays? Did brutalizing detainees after 9/11 brutalize the men and women who carried it out? Did they suffer from guilt afterward? Did they have nightmares and flashbacks? Did they have to struggle with feeling that their souls had been tarnished and compromised? Because that’s one of the actual real-life cosequences of torture on torturers. Did the use of torture in the hunt for bin Laden end up degrading Americans’ own civil liberties, and our own sense of right and wrong? If Bigelow is saying that torture is immoral but sometimes it’s necessary, and it was necessary in the hunt for bin Laden, then what’s the consequence of engaging in that immorality? Bigelow is saying that torture was a moral consequence of the hunt for bin Laden. But she does not say — or, more to the point, Zero Dark Thirty does not say — what those consequences were. That seems to me the heart of what’s wrong with her argument that ZDT merely depicted torture as a moral consequence in the “war against terror.” She says that, but then the film also unequivocally says (according to everyone who has seen it, even those who loved it) that torture provided actionable information that led to finding and killing bin Laden. So then the film does not grapple with the moral consequences of the moral issue of using torture at all. It’s a cop-out.
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