erik lundegaard

The Annotated Jeffrey Wells: 'Torture Has Been Used For Centuries'

The following is a post on Jeffrey Wells' “Hollywood Elsewhere” site. The annotations in bold are mine...

Are you going to tell me that if your son or daughter has been kidnapped and is being held in some secret, all-but-impossible-to-discover location and might possibly be killed if you don't find him/her...are you going to tell me that if you've captured a close accomplice of the kidnappers who refuses to talk...are you going to tell me that all you're going to do is take this guy out to lunch and feed him hummus and tomatoes, and if that doesn't work you're going to take him out for drinks and then set him up with $5000-a-night prostitute in hopes that he'll reveal the location? The objection to “Zero Dark Thirty” isn't about the urge to torture in extreme situations to gain desired information; it's about the efficacy of that torture. It's about whether the person you're torturing is in fact a close accomplice of the kidnappers ... or me, since I'll say anything you want me to say, since you're torturing me to say it. That's always been the problem with torture. The torturer tends to gain the information he wants whether that information is true or not. More specifically, the objection with “Zero Dark Thirty” (which I, like most of the world, haven't seen yet), is whether Bigelow and Boal have misrepresented the efficacy of torture by drawing a line between post-9/11 enhanced interrogation techniques and the intel that led to Osama bin Laden. The information we have indicates there was no line. Do Boal and Bigelow have new information? Did they draw the line themselves? Should we torture them to find out?

If your answer is “yes” (and I'm talking to you, Hollywood liberals, and to you, Alex Gibney) then you are a liar. In fact, you have never been more of a liar than you are right now. And you, Jeff Wells, have never been more wrong than you are now. Except every time you write about Abraham Lincoln's voice, which reveals how much you actually buy into the myth-making tendencies of Hollywood that you pretend to abhor.

Zero Dark Thirty doesn't precisely say that torture was the thing that got the information about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden (Again, this is the key question; everything else is more-or-less irrelevant), although it has obviously been applied for several centuries, and presumably with some benefit to the torturers. (Why else would the practice continue over the millenia? Because people like to torture?) Irrelevant, but ... I assume we keep torturing because people in desperate situations do desperate things. And because sometimes it works. And because we don't have any new ideas. And because it's in our nature.

Maya (Jessica Chastain) and Dan (Jason Clarke) and their CIA colleagues do whatever they can to get their captors to talk. They try a little torture, they try little hummus. And by hook or crook, they finally get the info they want. Are you going to tell me that if they'd used only hummus, they would have discovered Bin Laden's Abbotobad address? Focus, Jeff. Does ZDT show that intel gathered via torture led to Osama bin Laden? If “yes,” do Bigelow and Boal know something Senators McCain, Levin and Feinstein don't? The other day, in warning about “Zero Dark Thirty,” CIA director Michael Morell actually backs it up. He wrote, “Some [of the Osama bin Laden intelligence] came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well.” If I were you, Jeff, this is the kind of thing I would focus on rather than the above.

Abu Ghraib torture pics

Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end.

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Posted at 10:03 AM on Mon. Dec 24, 2012 in category Movies  


Uncle Vinny wrote:

Generally, we don't leave questions of justice to those who are victims; we don't ask the mother of the missing child what we ought to do with the alleged buddy of the alleged captor.

In the case of torture, we don't (or shouldn't) leave it up to the aggrieved nation to decide whether or not a suspect should be tortured. Because any nation, when it feels threatened, is more likely to do what it wants on impulse, instead of letting cooler heads prevail. Torture is roundly condemned in civilized circles (i.e., the international community) during peacetime, because it is horrifying, and self-evidently evil. It's only when in a panicky situation that an otherwise humane person says, “Hey, maybe this evil behavior is the way out of my jam.”

The fact that wide swathes of the commentariat continue to support the use of torture is no longer about panic, but rather the need to justify the past evils of their “team”. We're running the real risk that this pro-torture stance will harden into something people affirm while sipping tea in peacetime. Wells sounds like he's on the way.

I don't doubt that torture is occasionally effective; maybe even more than half the time. It might have even given us exactly the info we needed to kill OBL. (Though the Senators may have bulletproof evidence underlying their claim that it didn't, they also have ideological and political reasons to lie or mislead themselves — well-intentioned though they are.) I don't give a shit. Glenn Greenwald has never based his case against torture on its efficacy. It's simply vile, and is not to be tolerated by civilized people.

Comment posted on Mon. Dec 24, 2012 at 11:15 AM

Erik wrote:

All good points, Vinny. But I'm not arguing about torture; I'm simply addressing the accuracy of the use of torture in the film ZERO DARK THIRTY.

Interestingly, the people who are doing the most talking in favor of torture now aren't right-wing chicken hawks but left-wing fans of the movie who don't want some other movie (LINCOLN, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK) to win best picture.

It's all gotten pretty silly. Considering how serious it all is.

Comment posted on Mon. Dec 24, 2012 at 11:34 AM

Erik wrote:

Amended my opening sentence slightly to avoid confusion.

Comment posted on Mon. Dec 24, 2012 at 11:49 AM

UV wrote:

Ugh, then I'm even more nauseated.

Comment posted on Mon. Dec 24, 2012 at 11:57 AM
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