Propaganda 102 Supplemental: Holly Would “Zero Dark Thirty”

(c) 2012, Columbia Pictures, image used w/o permission.
(c) 2012, Columbia Pictures, image used w/o permission.

by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

Upon the suggestion of long time and valued blog contributor James in LA, this column on “Zero Dark Thirty” and the controversy surrounding that film is offered as a supplement to the earlier entry in the series on propaganda,”Propaganda 102: Holly Would and the Power of Images“. It is in part movie review and in part a critical examination of the film’s content as related to the controversy around whether or not this film is pro-torture propaganda. Thank you for the excellent suggestion, James!

Is “Zero Dark Thirty” (ZDT) a good film? Is ZDT propaganda? If so, is it pro-torture propaganda (i.e. does it support or promote the idea of torture as a valid and/or necessary intelligence gathering methodology)?  Let us examine these questions . . .

ZDT is well paced, the cinematography is strong and it is well written by Mark Boal – all tributes to the technical expertise behind this film being first rate and director Kathryn Bigelow ties it all together in a better than average Hollywood package. The 157 minute running time moves rapidly and keeps you engaged. As a film, ZDT works. Kind of. And I’ll get to that, but first, the acting.

The supporting cast is a veritable who’s who of some of today’s best character actors from James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”, “Where the Wild Things Are”) to Harold Perrineau (“The Matrix Reloaded”, “Lost” and “Oz”) to Stephen Dillane (“Game of Thrones” and even more notably Thomas Jefferson in the “John Adams” HBO mini-series) to Mark Strong (perennial Guy Ritchie gangster favorite, “Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy”) to John Barrowman (known to any Whovian and “Torchwood” fans as Capt. Jack Harkness).  Many of these strong actors though are a bit wasted on parts that often are only a couple of lines and/or scenes, but their presence does greatly contribute to the overall quality of the film. Three actors really drive the film and get the bulk of the screen time: Jessica Chastain (“The Help”, “The Debt”), Jason Clarke (“Lawless”, “Public Enemies”), and Jennifer Ehle (“Contagion”, “The Ides of March”, “The King’s Speech”). My compliments to the cast and crew on skilful execution of their jobs. Especially the lovely Jennifer Ehle who is as strong a stand out in this film’s deep ensemble cast as she was as the scene stealing epidemiologist she played in the equally strong cast of “Contagion”.

Character-wise the film’s primary focus is on Chastain’s “Maya”, Clarke’s “Dan” and Ehle’s “Jessica” and in some ways they are representations of two different schools of thought on how to best gather intelligence. Maya is the young blood. New to field intelligence work, she’s thrown into the deep end. Her first field assignment and her first scene is with Dan as he is in mid-torture, er, interrogation. Maya is the audience proxy into Dan’s “Torture Works!” world and into Jessica’s “Old School/We Have Rules” world. Her choice is clear and it is clear from the first scene. She’s with Dan.

The torture itself is brutal and inhumane and the character Dan comes across as a pure psychopath and a sadist. Dan alternates charm with threats, beatings, stress positions (including cramped confinement), humiliation, and waterboarding. The waterboarding depicted is done so in a spontaneous and off hand way that is seems almost a casual aside. We know from memos from Cheney’s lawyers that the practice was methodical and repetitive. This is not the only time the film deviates from what we know to be the reality of torture. The other is that torture led to a detainee revealing the nom de guerre of OBL’s courier when it has been revealed that this information was in fact part of a larger traditional human and signal intelligence operations. In the real world, almost all of the information acquired through “enhanced interrogation techniques” was recalled because it was inherently unreliable.

Dan is the least sympathetic character of the film, but I don’t think he’s meant to be unsympathetic. He’s just a guy with a tough job. Maya is at first a bit taken aback, seemingly uncomfortable by Dan’s torture techniques, although she rather quickly (almost unbelievably so) opts to participate instead of watching although her involvement in the torture proper is fairly passive compared to Dan. To show how tough she is, she assures Dan she’s “fine” when asked. In one fell swoop, the young blood becomes true believer. This is all within the first fifteen minutes mind you.  The torture component is only in the first part of the film, but it does set the tone thematically and as Maya character development. Maya meets Jessica afterwards in a mid-level status update meeting among the various CIA assets running ground operations in Pakistan. Jessica advocates using greed as a motivating factor to encourage people to bring them actionable intelligence. Later, Maya offhandedly dismisses this tactic by noting “it worked well enough in the Cold War” and rationalizing her tacit approval of Dan’s techniques under the rubric that the enemy are fanatics. The relationship of Jessica and Maya is important later down the road as they become friends despite their differences. This is important to the analysis of whether this film constitutes pro-torture propaganda, but the basic progression of the film is fairly simple.  Torture, misadventures in human intelligence gathering, solid lead, decision to act, apprehension, afterward/closing.

At the most basic level, ZDT is a well made film. On that level, I must say it was a good movie. Not everything that is propaganda is excluded from being art. In cinema, the prime example of that is “Casablanca”. It was certainly pro-Allied propaganda in the “good people choose to act against the Nazis” kind of way. That in no way interferes with enjoying it as a film and in part because the message is one that just about everyone not a Nazi can agree with.  That is not the case with ZDT and it is part and parcel of why it almost works as a movie. ZDT is certainly a piece of propaganda in the most negative meaning of the word. It presents a clear and unambiguous portrait of torture as being critical to intelligence gathering and it does so from the first scene.  This message is irrevocably fundamentally wrong from both a human rights and Constitutional standpoint as well as an outright lie about the role of torture in capturing bin Laden. It is revisionist history of the worst sort; the kind designed to whitewash the actions of bad actors.

Not only does the new blood Maya quickly buy in to the torture paradigm of information gathering, it is never once denounced by any character. This includes the “voice of traditional intelligence methods” character of Jessica. She voices her opinion in favor of traditional techniques, but she seems otherwise perfectly fine with Dan’s methods. That Dan’s methods are justified is further illustrated by traditional human and signal intelligence as being portrayed is not only ineffective but a direct causal factor in the death of the Jessica character which serves as the final impetus for the Maya character to kill bin Laden.  And it’s consistently and from the get go kill bin Laden – no talk is had of capture.  Maya wants him dead and will stop at nothing until he’s dead. Several other characters take action based upon or make comment of the value of the “detainee program”. Dan leaves the field and goes back to Washington in part because he’s “burned out” in the unintentionally least sympathetic scene in the whole film.  Po’ ol’ Psycho Dan is just worn out from all that torturing.  He’s “seen too many naked men.” Of course, that he smells the changes on the political wind and wants to get out before he gets caught does nothing to enhance sympathy for the psychopath’s plight. His interest is strictly in himself and his self-preservation. He even warns Maya that she “doesn’t want to be the last one left holding the dog collar” before going home, in reference to the earlier torture scene where Dan makes a prisoner wear a dog collar and walks him around the cell. The CIA Station Chief Joseph Bradley (played by Kyle Chandler) bemoans the loss of the detainee program as does Mark Strong’s character George, a nebulously defined CIA manager fairly high up the food chain and in charge of the task force that employs Maya. These commentaries stand out in stark contrast to what the later half of the movie shows, namely that human and signal intelligence are the means which ultimately lead to bin Laden’s capture despite the dogged insistence that the initial break came from torture. Even when prisoners choose to cooperate, they make it clear it is because they do not want to be tortured further.

Some in the press are speculating that Bigelow was played by the CIA’s right wing elements that followed Cheney’s lead on torture. Some think she’s a right wing ideologue endorsing torture herself. I say it is irrelevant to the end product being propaganda by merit of having a decidedly pro-torture message. Dupe or willing propagandist, the product is propaganda just the same.

ZDT is propaganda at its blackest. It starts with torture, never criticizes torture, bemoans the loss of the tool and never waivers that it was instrumental in capturing bin Laden despite the reality to the contrary. It ends with Maya on a plane home, crying – unrepentant, unquestioning, tears of her sacrifice that ignore her part in war crimes, still very much the hero. And that is the final nail in the coffin that makes ZDT almost work as a movie. There is no examination of whether torture is wrong or not. Just a tacit endorsement writ large in the self-pitying tears of the lead actress as she rides off into the sunset.

As the credits rolled, from behind me I heard another theater patron say, “Well . . . f@ck.”  I turned to see a college kid with a t-shirt bearing the text of the 8th Amendment. I smiled a slight sad smile, tipped my ball cap to him and his girlfriend. “Nice t-shirt,” I said. They waved before walking away hand in hand up the aisle, excitedly mumbling to each other in that insular way young lovers do.

I knew how they felt. It was cold and rainy outside as I exited the side door of the theater opposite the young couple. It was rainy and cold in my heart. I thought, “So many people are going to see this movie and buy its bullshit without questioning the message, or worse, believing it.” But maybe not. Maybe it will backfire and act as unintentional agitprop to reinvigorate the discussion about torture and what we should do to hold those responsible accountable.  Ah, hope. Our greatest strength as a species and concurrently our greatest weakness. But I digress.

There has been much defense in the media played by many involved with the film. Director Kathryn Bigelow said, “We depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden. The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes.” Which is utter nonsense as every bit of intelligence gathered is predicated on torture forcing a prisoner to tell us the nom de guerre of OBL’s courier when in real life we knew that from other traditional sources of intelligence. It’s abundantly clear in the film that no progress would have been made without torture first revealing that bit of information.  Even a Sony executive weighed in. “We are outraged that any responsible member of the Academy would use their voting status in AMPAS as a platform to advance their own political agenda,” said Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment and chairman of its Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group. “This film should be judged free of partisanship,” she said, adding that the film “does not advocate torture.” Also utter nonsense and anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of propaganda can tell it is utter nonsense by the content of the film. The film doesn’t explicitly endorse torture, true, but the implicit endorsement practically screams off of the screen. Thanks, Amy, but I think I’ll judge the movie by simple human decency and the fact that torture is unconstitutional and illegal and any film that acts as a tacit endorsement of torture is vile no matter how well made it is. Then again, what do you care? You got my money and I’m not a member of the AMPAS. I will, however, probably choose to vote with my dollar on the next film either you or Kathryn Bigelow are attached to that I might be interested in seeing as well as any product in general from Sony or Columbia/Tri-Star. I don’t think I’ll see another Kathryn Bigelow film even if it’s so good it makes you cry tears of gold, sweat happy playful puppies and smell like fresh baked cookies.

I don’t regret seeing the film. It was not a waste of time. It is an excellent study piece in propaganda. It was well made.  However, I do wish I had my money back. People who advocate torture – even implicitly – shouldn’t get a dime for doing so. Having seen this, I urge you to see it for as free as possible and make up your own mind in light of what you have learned from this series or elsewhere about the nature of propaganda.

If you’ve seen it or not, but especially if you have, what do you think?

Source(s): “Zero Dark Thirty“, CNN, Global Research

~submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

The Propaganda Series;

Propaganda 105: How to Spot a Liar

Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Streisand Effect and the Political Question

Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Sound of Silence

Propaganda 104: Magica Verba Est Scientia Et Ars Es

Propaganda 103: The Word Changes, The Word Remains The Same

Propaganda 102: Holly Would and the Power of Images

Propaganda 101 Supplemental: Build It And They Will Come (Around)

Propaganda 101: What You Need to Know and Why or . . .

Related articles of interest;

Mythology and the New Feudalism by Mike Spindell

106 thoughts on “Propaganda 102 Supplemental: Holly Would “Zero Dark Thirty”

  1. It’s always good to read one of Gene Siskel Howington’s reviews. :) I will probably pass on the movie, withholding my money for the same reasons.

  2. Your review makes me want to see this film not in the least. Thank you for your review none the less. They will get not one dime from me to view propaganda.

  3. Now they are telling us that we should support this pro-torture film because its really about an empowered woman. Pure BS. Thanks for the review. I won’t be giving these people any of my $. I hope Ed Asner wins and blocks any Oscar for this trash.

  4. Very good article. If it is not an accurate documentary then it is a nazi propaganda film. I would like to see the whole cast waterboarded. The director and those tweeps need to be tasered.

  5. Lets step up the drone attacks in Pakistan so we don’t have to waterboard anymore, We could just blow’em away. Oh excuse me the Obummer adminiatration is steping up drone attacks. How to make friends and influence people.

  6. We never “had” to waterboard in the first place, Bruce. It was a choice.

    1) It like all torture is a poor intelligence gathering method as someone will tell you exactly what you want to hear to get you to stop and the stress torture induces impairs memory as a physiological fact,
    2) it’s unconstitutional,
    3) it’s against Federal law and we’ve prosecuted both citizens and foreign nationals for doing it,
    4) it’s defined by international law and treaty as a war crime and our officials here responsible for ordering it are subject to immediate arrest in many foreign jurisdictions and
    5) it’s simply barbaric and serves as a recruiting tool to our enemies who play it to the revenge motive in potential recruits making it counterproductive in multiple ways.

    Bush administration, Obama administration, The Wonderful World of Disney, I don’t care one whit who violates such laws or their party affiliation. They need to be arrested, tried and sent to prison for their crimes against both the tortured and against American citizens for their treasons in usurping the Constitution.

  7. Mr. Howington, Your critique was spot-on! Will not attend this propoganda movie. The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld legacy is shameful to America. The producers, directors and cast ALL deserve to be water-boarded!

  8. Gene,
    It is really frustrating when one decides to boycott a movie you did not intend to patronize in the first place. Drat!

  9. I watched the Golden Globes tonight and the empowerment of women spin is in full play. I guess one could opine that Kathryn Bigelow and Sony are imitating the character, Dan, “smelling the changes on the political wind and wanting to get out.”

    OS … yep ;)

  10. Gene,

    I’m so happy you did this review because everything I’ve read about this movie set my teeth on edge. We watched the Golden Globes Awards tonight and Chastain won best actress. Bigelow was lionized and praised. I think the back story is that Bigelow is favored in Hollywood because she is the ex-wife of James Cameron. Cameron though he is a blockbuster director is disliked for his arrogance and gruff manner. Bigelow seems to be starting a cottage industry making gritty war on terror films, her previous film was the “Hurt Locker”. The quote from Sony’s Amy was in a sense hilarious. If Birth of a Nation was released today by them could you see her decrying “partisan ” criticism of it?

  11. Mike S.,
    wouldn’t the truth have been even more powerful in this movie if they had actually admitted that the torture was evil and illegal and unsuccessful? Now that would have produced an even bigger turnout at the box office, imo.

  12. movie endorsing torture? i haven’t seen it yet, but it sounds like the reviewer is repulsed by the toture. and describes dan as psychopath. so why think the movie is endorsing torture?

    is this another natural born killers ? and i don’t think natural born killers was endorsing or pro – violence ?

  13. Gene above said it was a choice. A choice? You mean it was a choice not an echo? What would Barry say about waterboarding?

  14. I was in another room at home when the Golden Globes were playing, my wife half asleep on the couch. I went into our living room and just caught part of the ZDT exhibition. But having read this blog article earlier in the day, I just brushed it off and didn’t want to even watch it. So I griped about it and grabbed a pop from the fridge.

    Sometime later, I walked back into the living room and saw Anne Hathaway. I guess there was something redeeming after all. I don’t think my wife agreed with my assessment.

  15. I said on this blog a few weeks ago that I did not plan to this movie and I still don’t, and I see a movie at a theater every week or two. I think Spielberg’s Lincoln will win best picture and Daniel Day Lewis will win best actor. The nominations for leading actress are not that strong so it is hard to say. Some of the performances by the supporting actress nominees were far better.

  16. I’ll pass on the film. Whether the intent was to endorse torture or not isn’t the issue. The film deliberately implies torture was part of the pertinent information gathering. The killing of OBL is a very big factual event in US history. That the film chose to insert a deliberate falsehood about the contribution of torture to the end result will keep me from seeing it.

  17. @Gene: I have not seen it. Thanks for the review, they shall not get MY money. And with you I shall remember, Pascal and Bigelow, let me try to avoid their work in the future. (Ah, the many enjoyable hours I have spent with Pascal’s Triangle and Bigelow’s Tea, it is a shame to have to attach negatives to those names.)

  18. With “The Hurt Locker”, Bigelow became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director. I really liked the “The Hurt Locker'” although I did not think that I would. She does tension well.

  19. “What I find troubling and infuriating is that by turning the hunt for bin Laden, however expertly, into a glorified police procedural, Bigelow neutralizes the most controversial and charged aspects of this story. (To no avail, I might add: The film is controversial anyway.) President George W. Bush is never shown, ditto Dick Cheney, Iraq is AWOL, and President Obama is only glimpsed in a 2008 campaign interview. This is a bit like making a movie about the D-Day invasion without referencing FDR or Eisenhower.” review, Christian Science Monitor

  20. SWM, There is much not shown in ZDT. The movie is about the men and women on the front lines, CIA and soldiers, particularly Seals. In Saving Private Ryan we just got a glimpse of General Marshall. There was no FDR, Churchill, Ike, Patton, etc.

    We spoke about Jennifer Lawrence previously. What I like about the Globes is they separate films between drama and comedy/musical. This allowed to the 2 best female performances IMHO to win. Lawrence and Chastain were both deserving and both gave quite different, but good speeches. On other Globe notes, I was very pleased to see Argo get the credit it deserved. Affleck was genuinely shocked and grateful. He showed his honesty and vulnerability when he said his career hasn’t been going was raw. That’s what bottles of Moet on the tables encourage. I really like Jodi Foster a lot and she just went up a notch w/ her no bullshit acceptance speech. The gentle part about her mom who apparently has dementia was a real tear jerker. Daniel Day Lewis will also deservedly win the Oscar. My favorite curmudgeon Tommy Lee Jones had a front row seat, showed no emotion, and appeared to be eating dinner rolls throughout the first half of the show. Finally, Fey and Poehler are my favorite type women..funny, tough, and smart. They gave an A performance. Did you watch?

  21. And enter John Brennan, whose time has come again.

    Old news, but as The Daily Texan weighs in:

    “Brennan was the first administration official to publicly acknowledge the program and defended the ethics and effectiveness of the program before the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 2012.

    “The sense I have from a distance is that he’s been the principal architect of that program,” Inman said.”

    Torture; drones; government-supported, criminal harassment networks…

    Good Morning, America.

  22. nick, I watched part of it. I watched Downton Abbey and HBO’s Girls, too. Poehler and Fey were great. Hope Affleck did not have too much Moet as he is an admitted recovering alcoholic. ;) I am glad Argo won, too.

  23. SWM, I didn’t know that about Affleck. Then I hope not also. I did notice there was no Moet near Downey and Gibson seated next to Jodi Foster. I tried Girls for a couple episode, I think it’s primarily a girl show. Curb Your Enthusiasm is primarily for boys. I like shows that have their own niche..ala Arrested Development, Dexter, etc.

  24. nick, Had some red posole Saturday night at a Mexican restaurant which has a Mayan influence. The food was some of best mexican food I have had in this area.

  25. SWM, What’s the name..details, girl! My widowed brother-in-law has been struggling. I’m going to visit him on my trip out west and would like to take him out for a good, Mexican meal. It would be nice to take him somewhere he and my sister didn’t go, he gets quite melancholy. Some of my first real Mexican food was on Cozumel which is Mayan. When you weed out the tourist places there are some good authentic places. It’s really simple. Whether it’s Mexican, Chinese, etc., you go where they eat. Even in tourist areas there are authentic places. In Chicago’s Chinatown we go to the Evergreen. It’s @ the very south end of Chinatown and almost always more Chinese than Americans eating there.

  26. WOW! What a great piece. Having now seen it, I can report disappointment in the telling of this story. The writers had a chance to pose Other Questions and instead fell down the rabbit hole of torture. The ends, it appears, justify the means. As a cinematic gesture it ruined the film. It was worthy of hurling tomatoes at the screen far too early,

    There will come a time when the Bush and Cheney families will answer for what they have done. A critical mass of grizzled hands holding our debate hostage for (pick one: torture, warrantless data mining, indefinite detention, debt ceiling, vaginal interests) will soon pass from this round earth and they will not be replaced.

    Who will start talking once Bar Bush cannot intimidate them with her home-spun board of Bush family propaganda?

    So long as we have Gene and others to Tell It, we shall overcome.

  27. nick, I live in the Dallas area. My daughter is currently in Austin so I go down there every other month. Go to Fonda San Miguel in Austin. The Dallas restaurant is Mesomaya.

  28. Bruce:

    Posted to “Targeted Hype”

    anonymously posted 1, December 1, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    America’s Use of Drones: The Legality Issue

    Published: November 30, 2012

    “Election Spurred a Move to Codify U.S. Drone Policy” (front page, Nov. 25) raises the issue of the legality of the United States’ ever-changing drone policy.

    As his first term in office draws to a close, and with a vacancy to fill at the top of the Central Intelligence Agency, President Obama has an opportunity to press the reset button on American drone policy.

    Over the last four years the use of drones has become ever more permissive. Lethal strikes are no longer restricted to “high-value targets,” Guilt, not innocence, is the apparent presumption.

    Administration sources have told the media that in the tribal areas of Pakistan, men of fighting age are assumed to be combatant targets in the absence of intelligence to the contrary. If true, this is both unconscionable and a violation of the laws of war.

    This can’t go on. American drones have taken lives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines. Meaningful public review of this most secretive of government programs is long overdue. We don’t need a new rule book; we just need the existing rules — international human rights and humanitarian law — to be applied.

    Executive Director
    Amnesty International USA
    New York, Nov. 27, 2012

    To the Editor:

    You report that President Obama is finally expressing some “wariness of the powerful temptation drones pose to policy makers. ‘There’s a remoteness to it that makes it tempting to think that somehow we can, without any mess on our hands, solve vexing security problems,’ he said.”

    What an understatement of the “mess on our hands” given how 76 countries now possess drones, having discovered how cheap and easy they are to develop and use! Whose hands will they fall into? More and more people in foreign countries living under American drone strikes have understandably become radicalized. Didn’t anyone consider how they would make the perfect weapon of asymmetrical warfare?

    Pandora’s box has opened wide, adding to our “vexing security problems.” We should never have forgotten what Sir Peter Ustinov is credited as saying: Terrorism is the poor man’s war, and war is terrorism of the rich.

    Apple Valley, Minn., Nov. 26, 2012

    The writer is the retired F.B.I. agent who exposed intelligence failures before the 9/11 attacks.


  29. SWM, Jason Stanford, a Dem political operative who worked for Ann Richards gives a much different critique of this film today in the Huffington Post.

  30. Here’s the comment that I had intended to post, Bruce:

    anonymously posted 1, January 12, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Drones are fool’s gold: they prolong wars we can’t win

    New appointments in the White House hail an era of hands-free warfare. Yet these weapons induce not defeat, but retaliation

    The Guardian, Thursday 10 January 2013


    The drone wars seem pointless yet unstoppable. Their appeal to western leaders lies partly in their sheer novelty, partly in the hope they may make defeat less awful. They are like the USS New Jersey’s shelling of Lebanon’s Chouf mountains in 1984, a blood-thirsty display to cover withdrawal. The drone is not an aid to victory, but it eases the defeat its use has made more likely.

    The Taliban in Waziristan are no threat to London or to Washington. Al-Qaida can do no more to undermine the state than set off the occasional bomb, best prevented by domestic intelligence. Today’s “wars of choice” reflect a more sinister aspect of democracy. Elected leaders seem to crave them, defying all warnings of the difficulty of ending them. Mesmerised by Margaret Thatcher’s gain from the Falklands, they all want a good war.

    In this the drone is fool’s gold. Driven by high-pressure arms salesmanship, Obama (and David Cameron) are briefed that they are the no-hands war of the future, safe, easy, clean, “precision targeted”. No one on our side need get hurt. Someone else can do the dirty work on the ground.

    The tenuous legality of this form of combat requires the aggressor to have “declared war” on another state. But al-Qaida is no state. As a result these attacks on foreign soil are not just wars of choice, they are wars of self-invention. How soon will it be before the US finds itself “at war” with Iran and Syria, and sends over the drones? When it does, and the killing starts, it can hardly complain when the victims retaliate with suicide bombers.

    Nor will it just be suicide bombers. Drones are cheap and will easily proliferate. Eleven states deploy them already. The US is selling them to Japan to help against China. China is building 11 bases for its Anjian drones along its coast. The Pentagon is now training more drone operators than pilots. What happens when every nation with an air force does likewise, and every combustible border is buzzing with them?

    I did not fear nuclear proliferation because I believe such bombs are mere prestige acquisitions, so horrible not even lunatics would use them. Drones are different. When they were called guided missiles, they were in some degree governed by international law and protocol, as was the practice of global assassination.

    Obama rejects all that. He and the US are teaching the world that a pilotless aircraft is a self-justifying, self-exonerating, legal and effective weapon of war. However counter-productive a drone may be strategically, it cuts a glamorous dash on the home front. It is hard to imagine a greater danger to world peace.

  31. nick and SwM,

    Daniel Day Lewis’ acceptance speech was eloquent and sincerely humble. One could tell from the expressions on the faces of Spielberg and others that his words were genuinely appreciated.

    Amy Poehler’s reaction to Bill Clinton’s appearance was priceless … “Wow! That was Hilary Clinton’s husband…Bill Rodham Clinton.” (It was pure ‘Parks and Recreation’ … [if you’ve watched the show then you’re also aware of her character’s obsession with Joe Biden who gave a wonderful cameo appearance on one episode])

    Ben Affleck seemed to be in shock heaven and I am pleased with his win especially as Argo continually questions the use of torture … “Several times in the movie, both hardened C.I.A. agents and American diplomats wonder what we’d been thinking when we decided to support a torturer, and why we were still protecting him …” and the presentation of torture in Zero Dark Thirty wherein “torture is something that steady professionals do in quiet rooms, and that only cowardly politicians question … And Maya, the character we are meant to identify with, becomes a torturer herself.”

  32. Bruce, please pay attention. The same people condemning torture also tend to condemn unsupervised drone attacks, Nice try at your continued division though. Oh, wait. It wasn’t even that.

  33. Blouise, The cameo scene w/ Biden on Parks and Rec[currently the smartest sitcom w/ great writing and characters] was priceless. Much to your chagrin, the promos have Newt making a cameo along w/ Andrew Luck. I assume you’re ok w/ Luck..I bet you wish he were a Brown. That Bill Rodham crack was pure Poehler and as I said, she’s very smart and quick, as is Fey.

    Daniel Day Lewis is one in a long line of classy, dignified, Brit actors. Spielberg wears his emotions on his face and your take was also mine. Regarding ZDT, I don’t know where you get the “and only cowardly politicians question.” As critics and others here have pointed out, there was virtually no politics except for the brief CNN clip in the background of Obama and then Maya’s mentor’s comment about, “the last person standing w/ a dog collar.” You know a lot about the intelligence biz. All operatives know they are always vulnerable to the ebb and flow of politics. There’s a long and sordid history on that covering numerous administrations. The “Last person standing” comment was a veteran mentor making sure his student understood how the game is played. This was a story about the front lines..the grunts as it were.

  34. nick,

    The ” … I don’t know where you get the “and only cowardly politicians question.” was part of the quote I referenced in the New Yorker … those would be Amy Davidson’s words, not mine.

  35. Blouise, Thanks. I just read her piece. I disagree w/ her take. I did not get that @ all in the movie. We agree on Argo.


    Zero Dark Torture

    Viewers and critics have been shocked by Zero Dark Thirty’s depiction of enhanced interrogation techniques. But, if anything, the film goes way too easy on the CIA.


    “Zero Dark Thirty, the movie drama of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, has spawned a wide array of commentary. None is as misleading or morally disturbing, however, as the one from former CIA counterterrorism chief Jose Rodriguez, who seized on the film as an opportunity to defend — and completely distort — the CIA torture program he supervised. This from the guy who, ignoring instructions from the White House and CIA, destroyed 92 videotapes depicting the waterboarding of detainees in CIA custody, claiming it was to protect the identities of CIA operatives on the tapes.

    In Rodriguez’s rosy version of events, the CIA program was “carefully monitored and conducted,” bearing “little resemblance to what is shown on the screen.” Most detainees, he claims, received “no enhanced interrogation techniques,” and for those who did it was only after written authorization was obtained.

    Zero Dark Thirty has many factual inaccuracies, about which U.S. senators with access to the classified record have publicly complained. More important is that the film may leave viewers with the false impression that the U.S. government’s use of torture was an ugly but necessary part of the fight against terrorism.

    In Rodriguez’s rewrite, however, the torture program sounds like a well-guided walk in the park. What we know from released government documents and multiple interviews with people in the program, though, is that Rodriguez’s description of the program bears little resemblance to reality. Although the CIA did initiate guidelines requiring written permission before so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) were used, the CIA’s own inspector general’s report says these guidelines were not formalized until the end of January 2003, when EITs were already in use. And though the guidelines were an improvement, the inspector general said, they still left “substantial room for misinterpretation and [did] not cover all Agency detention and interrogation activities.”

    Research I did for a September 2012 Human Rights Watch report documented the experiences of five Libyan opponents of the government of Muammar al-Qaddafi probably detained under the CIA program. During their time in U.S. custody — ranging from eight months to two years — they said they were chained to walls in pitch-dark cells, often naked, sometimes while diapered, for weeks or months at a time; restrained in painful stress positions for as long as two weeks; forced into cramped spaces; beaten; repeatedly slammed into walls; kept inside for nearly three months without the ability to bathe or cut their hair or nails (“We looked like monsters,” one detainee said); denied food and sleep; and subjected to continuous, deafeningly loud music. They were held incommunicado with no visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Their families had no idea whether they were alive or dead. From released documents, we also know that techniques like placing a detainee with a known fear of bugs “in a cramped confinement box with an insect,” and then falsely telling him it would sting, were approved for use.

    Rodriguez claims, “No one was hung from ceilings” in the CIA program. Yet, of the five detainees interviewed for our report, two said they were restrained in cells with their hands above their heads. One said he was kept this way for three days while naked, forced to urinate on himself; the other said he was restrained with his hands above his head for about 15 days, in an extremely cold cell while naked except for a diaper. He was only taken out of the room about five times for questioning. A third detainee said he was restrained with his handcuffed wrists above his head while kept in a tall narrow box with speakers on both sides of his head, just inches from his ears, blasting loud music. He was in this box, naked, without food, for a day and a half. Other detainees have described similarly being restrained from above at what appears to be the same location.

    Rodriguez also said, as have other CIA officials in the past, that only three detainees, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were waterboarded in the program — though the CIA qualified this a bit after our report came out, saying it was on record as having said there were only three “substantiated” cases of waterboarding. Yet one of the five Libyan detainees I spoke with (though not using the term “waterboarded”) gave credible testimony that he was frequently strapped to a wooden board, with a hood over his head, while water was poured over his nose and mouth to the point that he felt like he would suffocate. Another detainee said he was threatened with use of the board but that it was never used on him.

    Both said they were subjected to another type of suffocation-inducing water abuse that, like waterboarding, is a form of torture. Each was forced, separately, to lie in plastic sheeting, hooded, sometimes while naked, while guards poured icy cold water all over them, including over their nose and mouth, to the point where they felt they would suffocate. The men said doctors were present during both types of water torture, raising issues of medical ethics.

    Moreover, Rodriguez doesn’t mention the number of times waterboarding was used on each detainee he acknowledges — 183 on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, at least 83 on Abu Zubaydah, and twice on Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — and the sensation of near death the practice produces.

    Rodriguez also claims that “no one was bloodied or beaten in the enhanced interrogation program,” ignoring that some of the longest-lasting effects of torture are psychological. But many detainees others and we have interviewed, including the Libyans, did describe being beaten in the program, especially during transfer procedures. And some were sent to other countries by the CIA with the knowledge and understanding that they would be beaten and tortured there.

    These are just a few of the details we know about the CIA program. Unfortunately, there is still a lot we do not know. We still don’t know, for example, all the names of those held as part of the program, how long they were detained, when they were released, and what happened to them. The details that are known have been pieced together by journalists and human rights workers tracking down former detainees, filing Freedom of Information Act requests, and litigating.

    The U.S. government has gone to great lengths to keep information about the program secret. The Justice Department refused to prosecute Rodriguez for destruction of evidence — those 92 videotapes depicting waterboarding — or any other senior U.S. official or CIA operative involved in the abuse for that matter, despite a four-year investigation. (Rodriguez was lightly reprimanded by the CIA.)

    Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee recently produced a report — more than 6,000 pages long — that provides the most comprehensive information about the CIA’s torture program. Congress has yet to make the report public, though the Senate Intelligence Committee chair, Dianne Feinstein, said it “uncovers startling details” about the program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight. She has also said it concludes that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective way to gain intelligence and did not lead to finding bin Laden. Rodriguez, who had left the CIA years before the bin Laden operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan, asserts exactly the opposite, yet evidence that rebuts his claims remains classified.

    This brings us to maybe the most frustrating thing about Rodriguez’s comments and this whole debate about Zero Dark Thirty. We would not even be having this debate, and this film probably would not have even been made in the way it was, had the U.S. government not gone to such great lengths over the past 11 years to cover up the tracks of its crimes and bury the facts. Make no mistake about it: These allegations amount to crimes.

    What the United States is alleged to have done in its name is torture — practices prohibited by the Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States and 152 other countries, and U.S. law under the Anti-Torture Act. It is also prohibited during times of war by the Geneva Conventions, again ratified by the United States and virtually every other country. The U.S. government’s authorization of torture during George W. Bush’s administration violated U.S. law and should be prosecuted.

    It is deeply disappointing that President Barack Obama and the Justice Department have ignored these calls for sanction. In the absence of accountability, however, the least the United States should do is publicly acknowledge and explain the reasons that the use of torture was wrong and counterproductive.

    The Senate Intelligence Committee report appears to be an opportunity to do just that. Calling the use of enhanced interrogation techniques a “terrible mistake,” Feinstein said, “I also believe this report will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques.” Yet while the report remains classified, available to just a handful of senators, CIA insiders like Rodriguez are free to say what they please, and unfortunately, the debate rages on. “

  37. Jose Rodriguez should be in jail for obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence and that’s just for starts.

  38. “Jose Rodriguez should be in jail for obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence and that’s just for starts.”


  39. James in LA
    So Bush and Cheney will someday atone for the practice of torture. No problem. Should Obama and Biden face consequence for assassination? Increased drone attacks? Collateral damage?

    Is murder more humane than water boarding?
    You make no comment regarding current policy.
    Did you listen to the confirmation hearings on Holder? Responding to a direct question, he did not rule out torture under merited circumstances.

  40. The US use to occupy the high ground. (or my youth failed to see the propaganda) A major concern of condoning torture: Our enemies have full justification to use it against us. Colin Powell and many other military persons have used this as a reason NOT to torture.
    Occupying the high ground and maintaining it, is a noble human and societal goal. Human Ethical Nobility seems to have lost its place in this discussion.
    The propaganda being oxygenated in the (go along-get along-make money) press, seems to be American hegemony first, then Profit, Ego, Dominance etc…. High ground … 5th? or 10th?

    Ethics do not stop at borders, The Ethics we practice globally are the ethics other countries judge us by. Woe is us Pogo.

  41. David Blauw, You described it very well. Ethics do not stop at borders. Unfortunately, war and the U.S. mass industrial prison complex go hand in hand. How they treat those outside the borders, as the former American (outside prison consultants) prison wardens and officers come back from setting up foreign prisons where torture took place, are bringing the tactics and practices back to our jails / prisons / detention centers.

    Then there’s Guantanamo that sits “outside” of the law, where anything goes. It’s shameful. Holding prisoners who were deemed innocent by the courts and cleared for release 8 years ago, 6 years ago, etc. Sitting “indefinitely” — lost in the fray. One recently died and who have gone home long ago. Sold into the system as a teenager for a bounty.

    What are we becoming as a nation? Time to SHUT down Guantanamo. People need to work on releasing the innocent prisoners. It’s been 11 years since it opened and the world is watching and getting angrier.


    The Torture Memos, 10 Years Later

    FEB 6 2012, 8:30 AM ET
    Our journey toward Abu Ghraib began in earnest with a single document — written and signed without the knowledge of the American people


    On February 7, 2002 — ten years ago to the day, tomorrow — President George W. Bush signed a brief memorandum titled “Humane Treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda Detainees.” The caption was a cruel irony, an Orwellian bit of business, because what the memo authorized and directed was the formal abandonment of America’s commitment to key provisions of the Geneva Convention. This was the day, a milestone on the road to Abu Ghraib: that marked our descent into torture — the day, many would still say, that we lost part of our soul. ” (excerpt)

  43. UPDATE: More Bigelow on the defense . . .


    “First of all: I support every American’s 1st Amendment right to create works of art and speak their conscience without government interference or harassment,” Bigelow wrote. “As a lifelong pacifist, I support all protests against the use of torture, and, quite simply, inhumane treatment of any kind. But I do wonder if some of the sentiments alternately expressed about the film might be more appropriately directed at those who instituted and ordered these U.S. policies, as opposed to a motion picture that brings the story to the screen.”

    True, true . . . and may it be so, but you didn’t stop there.

    “I thankfully want to say that I’m standing in a room of people who understand that depiction is not endorsement, and if it was, no artist could ever portray inhumane practices,” Bigelow said while accepting the organization’s award for Best Director. “No author could ever write about them, and no filmmaker could ever delve into the knotty subjects of our time.”

    Well your train goes off the track there, Katie. If you’re such a pacifist, why doesn’t a single character once question the use of torture? Hmmm? Your content belies your assertion that it is not an endorsement of torture. See, when you present one side of an argument but not the other and portray that side as critical to the success/resolution of the story? That’s called advocacy.

    advocacy /ˈadvəkəsi/, n.,

    1: public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy:

    Denounce all you like now. The film is out of the box and it is what it is and it says what it says. You had the perfect chance to make this film into defensibly what you claim it to be in the character of Jessica – the only character with a moral center in the story – to have at a bare minimum be critical of the practice of torture. But you didn’t take it.

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

  44. Gene, does due process matter at all? it did not happen.
    If bush had committed this special ops murder it would be a huge part of the discussion.
    selective hatred, like all prejudice. tunnel vision.

  45. Torture did not happen? It wasn’t ordered by Cheney and approved by Bush? It wasn’t given flimsy legal cover by Bybee, Yoo and OLC? It wasn’t rubber stamped by Ashcroft?

    Ignoring the facts is the very worst kind of tunnel vision.

    Did I even mention Bush? No.

    The very portrait of a straw man argument.

  46. “I thankfully want to say that I’m standing in a room of people who understand that depiction is not endorsement”


    I hate to re-use an analogy but can’t you see D.W. Griffith and Leni Reifenstiehl saying the same thing if they were around today. From what you wrote her depiction certainly was advocacy.

  47. Hey, Blouise, ” Former Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has joined Fox News Channel and Fox Business as a paid contributor, TV Newser reports.

    “Through 16 years in Congress and two presidential campaigns, Fox News has always provided me with an opportunity to share my perspective with its enormous viewership,” Kucinich said in a statement. “I look forward to a continuation of our relationship this time as a Fox News contributor.” TPM

  48. Dennis Kucinich will be working out of the Fox affiliate in Roswell, NM.

    On a serious note, I don’t find this a surprise. Kucinich was often a guest on Fox. The guy has gonads, unlike most pols.

  49. nick,

    “The guy has gonads, unlike most pols.”

    Yep. That’s why I still like him despite being disappointed on a few matters. Most of the left would avoid being on Fox like the plague. My question is though is adding him to the roster a sign of a move toward legitimacy for FOX or simply window dressing and they still intend to be the propaganda network for the far right. I tend to think the later. Rupert is a tiger who cannot change his stripes. Not to insult tigers.

  50. FYI –

    “A claim regarding the existence of black sites was made by The Washington Post in November 2005 and before by human rights NGOs.[37] US President George W. Bush acknowledged the existence of secret prisons operated by the CIA during a speech on September 6, 2006.[38][39]

  51. One is labeled a sockpuppet because one cannot hide their writing style very well and aren’t nearly as clever as they think.

    Any more questions? Oooo. Wait! I got one, Mr. Kotter!

    Why is it that someone called a sockpuppet would object to having their strategy revealed when their name wasn’t?

    FACT: Identifying a strategy is not identifying a poster.

  52. Gene, Ailes is a businessman and idealogue. That’s why he gets the ratings and has been very successful. It’s the news BUSINESS, just like it’s show BUSINESS. Fox tv has been way ahead of the bloated Big 3 networks for a couple decades now w/ much better tv shows. It started w/ The Simpsons. They’re way more innovative. The same w/ Fox/Searchlight Films. They consistently produce quality, out of the box films. I know these are all different divisions in the corporate empire but what is consistent in these divisions is imagination and a fearlessness. They are not “conservative” like the other media empires.

  53. I like the fact that Dennis has moved on. He needs a forum so that he can continue to get his ideas out in front of an audience. If Fox is willing to provide that forum, I’m all for it.

    Dennis is an honest man with years of experience dealing with public forums. He isn’t going to change no matter what stage he’s on.

    This is a good thing for all of us.

  54. nick,

    I have no issue with FOX’s entertainment divisions – they make some good product – except for FOXNews, which of course isn’t even close to actual news even compared to the other networks. Overall, TV news is basically a joke.

  55. ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Is Osama bin Laden’s Last Victory Over America

    by Matt Taibbi


    I mean, this is real Keystone Kops stuff, on a grand scale, only it had the minor side effect of destroying everything America purports to stand for, in addition to being comically stupid and ineffective.

    Zero Dark Thirty is like a gorgeously-rendered monument to the fatal political miscalculation we made during the Bush years. It’s a cliché but it’s true: Bin Laden wanted us to make this mistake. He wanted America to respond to him by throwing off our carefully-crafted blanket of global respectability to reveal a brutal, repressive hypocrite underneath. He wanted us to stop pretending that we’re the country that handcuffs you and reads you your rights instead of extralegally drone-bombing you from the stratosphere, or putting one in your brain in an Egyptian basement somewhere.

    The only way we were ever going to win the War on Terror was to win a long, slow, political battle, in which we proved bin Laden wrong, where we allowed people in the Middle East to assess us as a nation and decide we didn’t deserve to be mass-murdered. To use another cliché, we needed to win hearts and minds. We had to make lunatics like bin Laden pariahs among their own people, which in turn would make genuine terrorists easier to catch with the aid of genuinely sympathetic local populations.

    Instead, we turned people like bin Laden into heroes. Just like Marlowe in The Long Goodbye, there were a lot of people in the Middle East who were on the knife-edge about America after 9/11. Yes, we were hated for supporting Israel, but the number of people willing to suicide-bomb us was still a tiny minority.

    The EIT program changed that. We tortured and humiliated thousands of people across the world. We did it on camera, in pictures that everyone in the Middle East can watch over and over again on the Internet. We became notorious for a vast kidnapping program we called by the harmless-sounding term “rendition,” and more lately for an endless campaign of extralegal drone attacks, through which 800 innocent people have died in Afghanistan alone in the last four years (the Guardian claims we’ve killed 168 children in that country in the last seven years).

    Now we have this movie out that seems to celebrate the use of torture against Arabs, and we’re nominating it for Oscars. Bigelow can say that “depiction is not endorsement,” but how does she think audiences will receive it in the Middle East? Are they going to sell lots of popcorn in Riyadh and Kabul during the waterboarding scenes?

    This film got nominated for Best Picture – it could even win. Has anyone thought about how Zero Dark Thirty winning Best Picture will be received in places like Kashmir and Waziristan and Saudi Arabia?

    But forget about all of that. The real problem is what this movie says about us. When those Abu Ghraib pictures came out years ago, at least half of America was horrified. The national consensus (albeit by a frighteningly slim margin) was that this wasn’t who we, as a people, wanted to be. But now, four years later, Zero Dark Thirty comes out, and it seems that that we’ve become so blunted to the horror of what we did and/or are doing at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and Bagram and other places that we can accept it, provided we get a boffo movie out of it.

    That’s pathetic. Bin Laden was maybe the most humorless person who ever lived, but he has to be laughing from the afterlife. We make an incredible movie that celebrates his death – a movie so good it’ll be seen everywhere in the world – and all it does is prove him right about us.

    (The entire article is worth the read.)

  56. Beyond Torture: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and the Promotion of Extrajudicial Killing
    Rebranding the War on Terror for the age of Obama

    by Deepa Kumar


    As Glenn Greenwald notes, Brennen has “spouted complete though highly influential falsehoods to the world in the immediate aftermath of the Osama bin Laden killing, including claiming that bin Laden “engaged in a firefight” with Navy SEALS and had “used his wife as a human shield”.”

    Zero Dark Thirty, nominated for the “best picture of year” Oscar award, is a harbinger of things to come. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law by Obama earlier this month includes an amendment, passed in the House last May, that legalizes the dissemination of propaganda to US citizens. Journalist Naomi Klein argues that the propaganda “amendment legalizes something that has been illegal for decades: the direct funding of pro-government or pro-military messaging in media, without disclosure, aimed at American citizens.”

    We can therefore expect not only more such films, but also more misinformation on our TV screens, in our newspapers, on our radio stations and in social media websites. What used to be an informal arrangement whereby the State Department and the Pentagon manipulated the media has now been codified into law. Be ready to be propagandized to all the time, everywhere.

    We live in an Orwellian world: the government has sought and won the power to indefinitely detain and to kill US citizens, all wrapped in cloud of secrecy, and to lie to us without any legal constraints.

    The NDAA allows for indefinite detention, and a judge ruled that the Obama administration need not provide legal justification for extra judicial killings based on US law thereby granting carte blanche authority to the president to kill whoever he pleases with no legal or public oversight.

    Such a system requires an equally powerful system of propaganda to convince the citizenry that they need not be alarmed, they need not speak out, they need not think critically, in fact they need not even participate in the deliberative process except to pull a lever every couple of years in an elaborate charade of democracy. We are being asked, quite literally, to amuse ourselves to death.

  57. ap,

    That a pure piece of apologist propaganda like that came from the WSJ does not surprise me at all. They aren’t worth wrapping fish in since Rupert bought them. I love that Mary Kissel “corrected” herself mid-sentence to say that the film “showed how uses of enhanced interrogation techniques might have led to, or did lead to, the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden”. Ahhhh. The WSJ towing the neocon line. i.e. lying. No surprise there. That NDAA removing the prohibition on domestic propaganda is already up to full steam is without question. But the quote of Bigelow? It wasn’t a direct quote, but a paraphrase of the opinion of the lying dingus that was what Bigelow was doing, showing that torture has its uses in intelligence gathering which the experts agree is not the case. Not the smokin’ gun as it were on Bigelow’s manifest hypocrisy, but the review itself was quite telling as a piece of standalone pro-torture propaganda. Thanks for the update.

    You catch so much good stuff, you must have an Internet IV. ;)

  58. anonymously posted 1, January 20, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Bigelow: “Torture has its uses.”



    Bigelow: Torture has its uses. (No quotation marks. Thanks for catching it.)

    Gene H. wrote: Not the smokin’ gun as it were on Bigelow’s manifest hypocrisy, but the review itself was quite telling as a piece of standalone pro-torture propaganda. Thanks for the update.

    I agree and you’re welcome.

    ( Regarding “You catch so much good stuff, you must have an Internet IV.”

    ;-) )

  59. Next up: Dirty Wars (screenwriter Jeremy Scahill and director Richard Rowley),0,1039574.story

    Sundance 2013: ‘Dirty Wars’ documentary sells to Sundance Selects

    By Julie Makinen and John Horn

    January 20, 2013, 12:02 p.m.

    PARK CITY, Utah — Compared to feature films, documentaries are selling like hotcakes at the Sundance Film Festival: On Sunday, Sundance Selects snapped up the North American rights to “Dirty Wars,” a journalistic look at America’s covert operations.

    The movie premiered in the U.S. documentary competition section and was directed by Richard Rowley. The film follows investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill as he traces the rise of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a secret and elite fighting force. The film’s screenplay is by Scahill and David Riker.

    Jonathan Sehring, president of Sundance Selects/IFC Films, called the movie a “tough-minded, gripping film that plays out like a detective story.”

    “Dirty Wars” is the second doc acquired by Sundance Selects at the festival; the company also bought rights to Nick Ryan’s K2 movie “The Summit.”

  60. A CIA veteran on what ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ gets wrong about the bin Laden manhunt

    By Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., Published: January 3

    Jose A. Rodriguez Jr. is a 31-year veteran of the CIA. He is the author of “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives,” written with former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, who also contributed to this essay.

    So says Jose Rodriguez.


    “Feinstein, McCain and Levin have now turned their focus to the CIA’s cooperation with a movie that they believe conveys the mistaken impression that torture led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Rodriguez makes no secret of what he thinks about Congress prying into the CIA’s dark corners. He singles out a scene in Zero Dark Thirty when an agency employee threatens to alert a congressional committee about her boss’s seeming failures. “Now that,” Rodriguez writes, “would be torture.””

    (Congress must start “prying”, but it won’t happen. Not in my lifetime.)

  61. Dirty Wars: Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley’s New Film Exposes Hidden Truths of Covert U.S. Warfare


    RICK ROWLEY: Yeah. All we had were these tiny little scraps of clues that weren’t even supposed to exist, and pictures of a person who was unknown at the time. I mean, Admiral William McRaven, you know, no one knew who he was. I mean, that was the first sort of shock here—looked at him, see his rank, read his name. But he’s not—he wasn’t from the NATO command. He wasn’t from the Eastern Regional Command that owns that battle space. He was not even—I mean, why was this elite force operating, kicking in the doors on farmers? I mean, that is the sort of the—the mystery that begins the investigation.

    AMY GOODMAN: And then you take this forward, Jeremy, back to the United States and show McRaven a photograph.

    JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. And so, you know, after—after we learn that this figure, William McRaven, was the leader of this raid, it sort of—our film was sort of in the—this journey was sort of like pulling on the tail of an elephant that’s behind a hidden wall. And you’re pulling on it, and you’re pulling on it, and the cracks start to show this behemoth that’s behind a wall, and you realize that this is part of a much bigger story. And really, that kicked off a journey that took us to Yemen and Somalia and elsewhere.

    And, you know, for us, I mean, the sort of—just this incredible looking-glass moment happened when Osama bin Laden was killed. And all of a sudden, everyone is talking about JSOC. It’s everywhere. I mean, we had spent so much time embedded in this story, where there was very little being written about it, except for a small circle of journalists. And all of a sudden, the people that—whose journey we’d been tracking had become national heroes. And Disney tried to trademark SEAL Team 6, and, you know, the Hollywood producers got in bed with the CIA to make their version of the—you know, the events, the sort of official history.

    AMY GOODMAN: And you’re saying that’s the film…?

    JEREMY SCAHILL: Oh, Zero Dark Thirty. I mean, it’s—and we can talk about that film later. But, I mean, the relationship between the CIA and Hollywood over this issue is one that I think needs to be very, very thoroughly debated. And I’m thankful that we are debating it. And, you know, one great thing that has happened as a result of Zero Dark Thirty is that people are actually talking about torture and what has happened in the past. But for us to see, you know, McRaven sitting in front of Congress and JSOC being talked about publicly was really an incredible experience, because we had seen this other side. Our film is about all these things that these same units did that almost never get talked about. What Americans know about JSOC is overwhelmingly limited to what happened in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. And, you know, Rick often points out sort of the irony of the way that that’s covered versus the role these forces play around the world.

    RICK ROWLEY: Yeah, I mean, we’re flooded with details about one raid, the—on May 2nd, 2011. We know everything about it. We know how many SEALs were in the helicopters. We know what kind of helicopters they were. We know what kind of rifles they were carrying. We know that they had a dog with them that was a Belgian Malinois named Cairo. We know everything about this raid. But that same year, there were 30,000 other night raids in Afghanistan. So, we know everything about this, but those—those are all hidden from us. … interview continues

  62. Among those “leaks” featured in the film are implications that Iran is working on a nuclear bomb. Assange rejected such notion and claimed the film “fans the flames to start a war with Iran.” -RT (link below)

    Assange calls WikiLeaks film ‘propaganda attack’

    Published: 24 January, 2013, 08:33

    Julian Assange has lashed out at a Hollywood film about WikiLeaks, calling it “a massive propaganda attack” against the whistle blowing website, also accusing it of fanning “flames of war” against Iran.

    DreamWorks Studious announced Wednesday that “The Fifth Estate,” starring British actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange, will be released in the United States in November 2013. The film’s director though says it will not try to pass final judgment on Assange.

    The famous whistleblower, who managed to obtain a copy of the script, denounced the film as “a lie.” He spoke to students of Britain’s top Oxford University on Wednesday via a video-link from his refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

    “It is a lie upon lie. The movie is a massive propaganda attack on WikiLeaks and the character of my staff,” he told the Oxford Union debating club.

    However the video of Assange’s speech has not yet been posted on the Oxford Union Society’s YouTube channel, where the organization usually publishes such videos.

    “‘The Fifth Estate’ traces the heady, early days of WikiLeaks, culminating in the release of a series of controversial and history changing information leaks,” DreamWorks said describing its project.

    Among those “leaks” featured in the film are implications that Iran is working on a nuclear bomb. Assange rejected such notion and claimed the film “fans the flames to start a war with Iran.”

    “How does this have anything to do with us?” the Australian questioned.

    “It may be decades before we understand the full impact of WikiLeaks and how it’s revolutionized the spread of information,” the film’s director, Bill Condon said. “So this film won’t claim any long view authority on its subject, or attempt any final judgment,” said Condon in a statement.

    Assange has been confined inside the Ecuadorian Embassy since the 19th of June, after Ecuador granted him political asylum. Should he leave the building the whistleblower faces immediate arrest and extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on charges of sex crimes.

    Despite all the difficulties the WikiLeaks faced in 2012, Julian Assange vowed to publish some 1,000,000 new documents in the coming year. In his Christmas speech he called for people to continue fighting for democracy “from Tahrir to London.”

  63. “It would be good to remember that there is no worthy feminism without justice and if there is no justice, there is no peace.”

    Dark, zero-feminism

    The heroine in Dark Zero Thirty is hardly an example of progressiveness – there is nothing feminist in revenge.

    by Zillah Eisenstein


    “My point: do not justify or explain US war revenge with a pretty red-head white woman with an “obsession” to catch the mastermind of 9/11. This film is not to be made seemingly progressive or feminist because it presents a female CIA agent as central to the demise of Osama. Nor should any of us think that it is “good” that Maya is female, or that several females had an important hand in the murder of Osama. There is nothing feminist in revenge. We can learn from the Indian feminists just now who say that they do not seek the death penalty for the men responsible for the brutal death and rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey. Kavita Krishnan says: “Gender justice needs to be brought and kept in the centre stage of the debate, not the death penalty”.

    Maya is not believable to me. She is an awful stereotype: a driven, obsessive woman, alone with no friends. She has no depth. She is all surface. She says she prefers to drop a bomb rather than use the Seal team. She says she knows 100 per cent that Osama is in the building. She says she is the “motherf—er” who found the safe house in the first place. She assures the men of the Seal team that Osama is there and that they must kill him for her.

    I was thinking through the film – if they hate us, they do so because we are hateful. I am sad to know that this film will be seen across the globe. It will be read as another story of imperial empire with a (white) female twist. How unfair to all the people in the US who do not choose revenge and murder. How unfair to my Pakistani friends who are also US citizens. How unfair to most of us across the globe.

    I was hoping that maybe no nods would be given to Jessica Chastain for her role as Maya at the Golden Globes. I was hoping that no one would give a feminist nod to Kathryn Bigelow for directing ZDT. I was just hoping that maybe feminism would not get mucked up in the conversation about torture and the murder of Osama. But that was not to happen.

    Chastain calls Maya an “unsung hero” and I think this is deeply troubling. But it got worse for me when Chastain accepted the Golden Globe Award for best actress and thanks Bigelow for putting forward “powerful, fearless women” who disobey and make a difference.

    I do not like the film or the way that Bigelow and Chastain choose to depict it. Given both, and the way each bleeds into the other, there is no neutral ground here. I think it is important to reject the imperial feminism that is embedded here.

    It would be good to remember that there is no worthy feminism without justice and if there is no justice, there is no peace.”

    “Zillah Eisenstein has written feminist theory in North America for the past thirty years. She is an internationally renowned writer and activist and Distinguished Scholar of Anti-Racist Feminist Political Theory at Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York.”

  64. “Chastain calls Maya an “unsung hero” and I think this is deeply troubling. But it got worse for me when Chastain accepted the Golden Globe Award for best actress and thanks Bigelow for putting forward “powerful, fearless women” who disobey and make a difference.”

    Hmm……Maybe we should reconsider Leni Riefenstiel’s role as a powerful feminist director.

  65. “Maybe we should reconsider Leni Riefenstiel’s role as a powerful feminist director.” -Mike S.

    Crowd cheers… laughter…


    Kathryn Bigelow: Torture scenes in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ are ‘honest’

    By Meredith Blake

    January 23, 2013, 10:40 a.m.


    Describing the movie as a “first rough cut” of history, Bigelow expressed her own unequivocal objection to torture, which she characterized as “reprehensible.” But she said she would have been “whitewashing” history if she had chosen not to include scenes of enhanced interrogation.

    Colbert noted the difficult position Bigelow was in with regard to her critics: Although she’s being attacked by many on the left who see “Zero Dark Thirty” as an explicit endorsement of torture, they also “would have been screaming bloody murder” if she left it out.

    “It was also part of the history and we wanted to tell the story respectfully and honestly,” Bigelow replied. “And so since it’s part of the history we had to show a few sequences of enhanced interrogation.”

    Curiously, the abridged interview that aired Tuesday did not include the most intense exchange in the conversation. Colbert asked Bigelow about the veracity of a sequence in the film in which Maya (Jessica Chastain) gathers information from videotaped sessions with detainees subjected to various enhanced interrogation techniques.

    “It’s part of the history, it’s part of the story. Could you have found the house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, without the detainee program? I don’t know, I think it’ll be debated for perhaps years if not decades to come,” Bigelow replied.

    Not satisfied with her answer, Colbert sharpened his line of inquiry, asking whether Bigelow thought it might be possible that she had been “duped” by her sources in order to make the case for torture, as some of her critics have alleged.

    Bigelow initially replied with a question that didn’t exactly strengthen her argument — “Are you trying to say that people in Washington spin?” – but in the end she defended the film’s version of history, calling it “a fair assessment of those times.”

    As for whether she’s prepared for the possibility of testifying before Senate, Bigelow said that while “no one is ever ready for something like that,” she stands by the movie: “I believe in the film, I’m proud of the film, I wouldn’t change anything in the movie because it’s based on an honest telling of the story as we know it.”

    Colbert wrapped up the interview by asking if Bigelow planned to “play it safe” with her next film, perhaps by tackling a less controversial subject “like gun control.”

    “I don’t know if I’m capable of doing that,” she said.


    CIA Veterans Debate Accuracy of Film ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

    Washington, DC
    Tuesday, January 29, 2013

    “The American Enterprise Institute hosts a discussion on the accuracy of Director Kathryn Bigelow’s recent film “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the hunt for bin Laden, with three CIA veterans who were involved in the investigation.

    General Michael Hayden (ret.), former director of the Central Intelligence Agency; John Rizzo, former deputy counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency; and Jose Rodriguez, former director of the National Clandestine Service discuss the enhanced interrogation techniques depicted in the film, as well as the film’s linking of information gained from the interrogations to the capture of bin Laden.

    AEI Fellow Marc Thiessen, and author of “Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack,” moderates the discussion”

  67. Not a surprise. And he’ll be confirmed.

    John Brennan, Obama Nominee For CIA Director, Had Detailed Knowledge Of Torture

    Reuters | Posted: 01/30/2013 6:59 am EST

    by Mark Hosenball

    WASHINGTON, Jan 30 (Reuters) – John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, had detailed, contemporaneous knowledge of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on captured terrorism suspects during an earlier stint as a top spy agency official, according to multiple sources familiar with official records.

    Those records, the sources said, show that Brennan was a regular recipient of CIA message traffic about controversial aspects of the agency’s counter-terrorism program after September 2001, including the use of “waterboarding.”

    How deeply involved Brennan was in the program, and whether he vigorously objected to it at the time, as he has said he did, are likely to be central questions lawmakers raise at his Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing, scheduled for Feb. 7.

    After Brennan temporarily left government service in 2005, he publicly disavowed waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning, and other physically painful techniques that are often described as torture.

    The official records, which include raw CIA operational message traffic that remains classified, are silent on whether he opposed the techniques while at the spy agency, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Brennan served as deputy executive director of the agency beginning in 2001.

    Some former officials familiar with deliberations about the program said they don’t recall Brennan voicing objections to the use of harsh interrogation techniques.

    But other former officials say Brennan was among agency officials who were uncomfortable with the use of physically coercive tactics, despite the legal opinions that supported their use. He expressed concern, according to these officials, that if details of the program became public, it would be CIA officers who would face criticism, rather than the politicians and lawyers who approved them.

    “If John says he expressed reservations about some techniques, I believe him because he’s an honest guy,” said John McLaughlin, who was deputy CIA director at the time.

    “Mr. Brennan had significant concerns and personal objections to many elements of the EIT (enhanced interrogation techniques) program while it was under way,” a senior administration official said in response to Reuters’ inquiries. “He voiced those objections privately with colleagues at the agency.”

    The question of whether and to what extent Brennan raised objections will be a focus of his confirmation hearing for Republican and Democratic senators alike.

    “I have many questions and concerns about his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, especially what role he played in the so-called enhanced interrogation programs while serving at the CIA during the last administration,” Senator John McCain, who was tortured during captivity in North Vietnam, said recently.


    Under the CIA program, which largely ended before Obama took office, captured militants were detained and interrogated in a network of secret CIA prisons. Sometimes, they were delivered to foreign governments through an extralegal process called “extraordinary rendition.”

    Three high-ranking al Qaeda leaders, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, were waterboarded.

    Because he was a regular recipient of operational traffic related to the interrogation and detention program, Brennan’s name appears in a secret draft of a 6,000-page Senate Intelligence Committee investigative report on the program, sources familiar with that report said. They added, however, that he was cited in passing, not as a significant supervisor or manager of the program.

    Brennan, who is now Obama’s White House counter-terrorism adviser, played no role in the program’s “creation, execution or oversight,” the senior Obama administration official said.

    “(Brennan) was on hundreds if not thousands of messages a day regarding many different issues but his primary responsibility was … helping manage the day-to-day running of the agency, to include support, logistics, IT, budget, personnel resources, facilities, IG (Inspector General) recommendations, and the like.”


    This is the second time that Obama has sought to nominate Brennan to head the spy agency, and the second time that questions have arisen about his involvement in enhanced interrogation tactics when he was a CIA official during the administration of former President George W. Bush.

    Brennan’s candidacy for the top CIA job was derailed over the issue when he was an early front-runner for it after Obama’s 2008 election victory.

    Brennan withdrew his name from consideration at that time and, in a letter to President-elect Obama, said he had been a “strong opponent” of Bush-era policies, including the Iraq war and coercive interrogation techniques.

    Brennan instead became Obama’s White House counter-terrorism adviser. Obama issued an executive order banning the techniques shortly after taking office.

    Barring unexpected revelations, most political handicappers believe Brennan will be confirmed as CIA director this time. (Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing By Warren Strobel and Christopher Wilson)

    Copyright 2013 Thomson Reuters.



    Torture, Lies and Hollywood


    Published: February 22, 2013

    I WATCHED “Zero Dark Thirty” not as a former F.B.I. special agent who spent a decade chasing, interrogating and prosecuting top members of Al Qaeda but as someone who enjoys Hollywood movies. As a movie, I enjoyed it. As history, it’s bunk.
    Enlarge This Image
    Associated Press

    An unidentified detainee standing on a box with a bag on his head and wires attached to him in late 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

    The film opens with the words “Based on Firsthand Accounts of Actual Events.” But the filmmakers immediately pass fiction off as history, when a character named Ammar is tortured and afterward, it’s implied, gives up information that leads to Osama bin Laden.

    Ammar is a composite character who bears a strong resemblance to a real-life terrorist, Ammar al-Baluchi. In both the film and real life he was a relative of Bin Laden’s lieutenant, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But the C.I.A. has repeatedly said that only three detainees were ever waterboarded. The real Mr. Baluchi was not among them, and he didn’t give up information that led to Bin Laden.

    In fact, torture led us away from Bin Laden. After Mr. Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times, he actually played down the importance of the courier who ultimately led us to Bin Laden. Numerous investigations, most recently a 6,300-page classified report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, have reached the same conclusion: enhanced interrogation didn’t work. Portraying torture as effective risks misleading the next generation of Americans that one of our government’s greatest successes came about because of the efficacy of torture. It’s a disservice both to our history and our national security.

    While filmmakers have the right to say what they want, government officials don’t have the right to covertly provide filmmakers with false information to promote their own interests. Providing selective information about a classified program means there is no free market of ideas, but a controlled market subject to manipulation. That’s an abuse of power.

    John O. Brennan, a former C.I.A. official and now President Obama’s nominee to head the agency, recently testified that the classified report raised “serious questions” about information he received when he was the agency’s deputy executive director. Mr. Brennan said publicly what many of us — who were in interrogation rooms when the program was devised — have been warning about for years: senior officials, right up to the president himself, were misled about the enhanced interrogation program.

    For instance, a 2005 Justice Department memo claimed that waterboarding led to the capture of the American-born Qaeda member Jose Padilla in 2003. Actually, he was arrested in 2002, months before waterboarding began, after an F.B.I. colleague and I got details about him from a terrorist named Abu Zubaydah. Because no one checked the dates, the canard about Mr. Padilla was repeated as truth.

    When agents heard senior officials citing information we knew was false, we were barred from speaking out. After President George W. Bush gave a speech containing falsehoods in 2006 — I believe his subordinates lied to him — I was told by one of my superiors: “This is still classified. Just because the president is talking about it doesn’t mean that we can.”

    Some of these memos, and reports pointing out their inaccuracies, have been declassified, but they are also heavily redacted. So are books on the subject, including my own.

    Meanwhile, promoters of torture get to hoodwink journalists, authors and Hollywood producers while selectively declassifying material and providing false information that fits their narrative.

    The creators of “Zero Dark Thirty” attempted to document the greatest global manhunt of our generation. But they did so without acknowledging that their “history” was based on dubious sources.

    The filmmakers took the “firsthand accounts” of a few current and former officials with an agenda and amplified their message worldwide — suggesting to Americans in cinemas around the country, and regimes overseas, that torture is effective and helped lead to Bin Laden. There is no suggestion in the movie that another narrative exists.

    Hollywood is primarily about entertainment. The moral responsibility for setting history straight, ensuring the public isn’t misled, and making sure mistakes aren’t repeated falls to Congress and the president. Yet the Senate report remains classified, and only those with security clearances, like Mr. Brennan, can read how the public was misled.

    It’s the duty of the president and Congress to responsibly declassify the report — and the other documents that advocates of torture don’t want released.

    That’s the only way to ensure that future generations won’t ever go down that dark and dangerous path again. As Senator John McCain has said, the Senate report “has the potential to set the record straight once and for all” and end “a stain on our country’s conscience.”

    Once that’s done, it won’t be long before another Hollywood movie comes along to tell the real story about how America killed Bin Laden.

    A former F.B.I. special agent who interrogated Qaeda detainees and the author of “The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda.”

  69. Oscar 2013: Hollywood’s CIA Celebration

    By Robert Scheer


    What was Michelle Obama thinking? If the card for “Zero Dark Thirty” had been lurking in that best picture envelope Sunday, the gushing first lady would have appeared to the 1 billion people watching to have endorsed the very torture policies that her husband has denounced, at least rhetorically, if not always in practice. Saved from that fate by the Academy’s selection of “Argo,” she tacitly condoned the CIA’s subterfuge in pretending that its covert rescue operation was a genuine film project.

    Not an insignificant matter, given the agency’s lengthy history of subverting cultural, journalistic and human rights organizations for its not always admirable purposes. It is not much of a stretch to extend that example to journalists as presumed foreign agents, and that is the charge most often used to kill them. Or human rights workers, religious missionaries, medical personnel or any of the thousands of nongovernment workers who are daily threatened as they go about their work in dangerous lands, advancing their do-gooder notions.

    This is the movie season to consider the CIA as a benign force, occasionally stumbling but in the end, driven by good intentions. The example of Iran, where the “Argo” caper is set, is instructive of the absurdity of that view. Iran for the past half century has been ravaged precisely by such CIA antics. To its credit, “Argo” acknowledges, in its opening minutes, that the U.S. government overthrew the last secular democratic leader of Iran and brought the despotic shah to power, and in his aftermath, the religious madness of the ayatollahs. But it is a point soon forgotten, as the film goes on to reveal an Iran populated by inhabitants so universally deranged that their dialogues in Farsi are not even worthy of subtitle translation. (continues…)

  70. The Zero Dark Thirty File

    Lifting The Government’s Shroud Over the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden

    National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 410
    Posted – January 17, 2013

    Edited by Nate Jones and Lauren Harper with Documents from Jeffrey T. Richelson and Barbara Elias

    For more information contact:
    Nate Jones, Freedom of Information Coordinator

  71. 25 years later, how ‘Top Gun’ made America love war

    By David Sirota,August 26, 2011


    Considering King’s previous silence on such issues, it’s not clear whether he’s standing on principle; more likely, he is trying to prevent a particular piece of propaganda from aiding a political opponent. Yet, even if inadvertent, King’s efforts make possible a broader look at how the U.S. government uses taxpayer resources to suffuse popular culture with militarism.

    If and when King holds hearings on the matter, we could finally get to the important questions: Why does the Pentagon treat public hardware as private property? Why does the government grant and deny access to that hardware based on a filmmaker’s willingness to let the Pentagon influence the script? And doesn’t such a practice violate the First Amendment’s prohibition against government abridging freedom of speech?

Comments are closed.