The Preemptive Strike
on ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal under fire from progressives outraged by film’s accurate depiction of enhanced interrogation techniques

Zero Dark Thirty
December 10, 2012

Left-wing commentators are outraged by the accurate portrayal of enhanced interrogation techniques in the upcoming film from the Oscar-winning creators of The Hurt Locker.

New York magazine’s David Edelstein named Zero Dark Thirty as the best he had seen this year, though he added a caveat: "It also borders on the politically and morally reprehensible. By showing these excellent results—and by silencing the cries of the innocents held at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other ‘black sites’—it makes a case for the efficacy of torture."

But at least Edelstein has seen the movie. Other, more ignorant critics have expressed their outrage despite not having seen the film in question. For example:

Glenn Greenwald: With its release imminent, the film is now garnering a pile of top awards and virtually uniform rave reviews. What makes this so remarkable is that, by most accounts, the film glorifies torture by claiming—falsely—that waterboarding and other forms of coercive interrogation tactics were crucial, even indispensable in finding bin Laden.

Andrew Sullivan: If Bigelow is calling torture "harsh tactics" she is complicit in its defense. And lies do have an agenda, whatever Bigelow says. They pretend that the law allows torture, they violate the historical record, and they make war crimes more likely in the future. Yes, it makes for a more thrilling ride if we start with a torture scene in a movie drama. But actual torture, authorized illegally by war criminals, is not fiction and is far too grave a matter to be exploited as a plot device. It is illegal because it is evil and because it provides unreliable and often false leads, not real ones. Bigelow cannot argue that her movie has no agenda, or duck behind the excuse that this is a "movie" and not a "documentary". If it lies to promote the efficacy of torture, it has a very real agenda. And that is a defense of barbarism as entertainment, and as the law of the land.

Adam Serwer: No amount of correcting Bigelow's baseless portrayal of torture as necessary to getting bin Laden will undo the damage … she made a pro-torture propaganda film. But she's so tall and striking!

Michael Tomasky: Can I just say that I am equally bothered, and indeed even more bothered, by the fact that the movie opens with 9-11. Real-life voices of people in great distress or about to die. According to reports. I haven't seen the film, so maybe it's handled well, but that decisions seems to make to make the film automatically and definitionally a work of propaganda.

Jose Rodriguez, the C.I.A. official who authorized harsh interrogation techniques, has said that without such tactics after 9/11 additional lives would have been lost:

 "We were flooded with intelligence about an imminent attack," he said. "That al-Qaeda had an anthrax program, and that they were planning to use it against us. And that they were seeking nuclear materials to use in some type of nuclear weapon."

That is why he authorized the use of stress-inducing interrogation methods—including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and the use of diapers—on high-level terrorist operatives such as 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and top al-Qaeda henchman Abu Zubaydah, Rodriguez said.

The tactics, which he said were not intended to inflict pain, yielded crucial information that ultimately saved lives.

A portrait of Mr. Rodriguez hangs on the Center for American Freedom’s Wall of Legends.