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December 15, 2012


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I'll say a couple of things, since I saw it last night: one, you're asking the right questions. The movie does NOT condone or condemn torture explicitly. Should we demand that it does? Especially since it's drawn on the recollections and reports of the people involved. Sure, some of them may be covering their ass, maybe quite a lot and putting the things they did in a heroic light. Is it Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow's responsibility to argue against that? I can't say that it is.

(Mild spoiler alert for the following point.) One thing that is continually misrepresented is that the first clue comes *from* the torture scene at the beginning. I don't think that's the correct reading of the sequence of events. The detainee is tortured, brutally, in an attempt to get information about an upcoming attack. Finally, he starts babbling about dates, providing no usable information. While he's in the confinement box, an attack happens. The CIA lies to him and tells him that, under duress, he did provide information that prevented that attack (since he'll never know either way) which is what actually breaks him. Later in the movie, another detainee is brutally tortured, but provides no information. Almost all of the useful information provided comes from bribes and human intelligence.

If anything, the characters in the film are pro-detainee. After the administrations change, many of them lament the loss of the detainee program as a source of information.

The Mayer piece and Greenwald's criticism are both correct, in essence: the filmmakers decline to take a moral position on torture or torturers. They do present torture as awful, but possibly a necessary evil. Isn't that the actual debate? When Mayer talks about the national security community being split on the efficacy of torture, that means both sides have good, if questionable, points. But she (and Greenwald) demand being shown that their side is correct. I agree with them: torture is morally reprehensible and history will judge our country accordingly. But we're not talking about Birth of A Nation here. Then again, we're not talking about Uncle Tom's Cabin. I think the movie does a good job of showing the work of people who lived in a gray area, both legally and morally.

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