Context and a Movie: Zero Dark Thirty

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mark Danner, frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and author of Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror, and A.O. Scott, New York Times chief film critic, discuss the film, the controversial torture scenes, and the experience of watching a film based on the recent past.


Mark Danner and A.O. Scott

Comments [21]

Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

I hope osama bin ladens head is on a shelf in New Haven.

Jan. 18 2013 02:44 PM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

LOL ... love reading the self-righteous bloviating here.
You couldn't make up such supercilious lefty posturing.

Keep it up, kids (...and, yes, that GED is still achievable.)

Jan. 18 2013 12:55 PM

"Whatever happened on ZD30, we can be sure of one thing. The CIA PR team must be delighted, particularly those who were supporters of the EIT "Program." As former CIA director Michael Hayden noted, 'I was happy the film was in the hands of such talent.'"

~Alex Gibney

Jan. 18 2013 12:39 PM

"Kathryn Bigelow must have been delighted when she discovered a female CIA agent was at the heart of the hunt for bin Laden. But compare Maya's infallibility in the film with the case of another female CIA agent -- a redhead like Jessica Chastain -- who was such a fan of waterboarding that she asked to "sit in" on the slow motion drowning of KSM. (As Jane Mayer notes in her book, "The Dark Side," she was rebuffed by a superior who told her that waterboarding is not a spectator sport.) She supervised the kidnapping and torture of a man named Khaled el-Masri in the CIA's "Salt Pit," a black site in Afghanistan. Despite a valid German passport, the agent insisted on his continued torment and incarceration (despite the protests of Condelezza Rice) until it was finally revealed that the agent had mixed him up with another man named al-Masri. (Whoops, we tortured a man over a spelling mistake!) Without apology, he was then dropped on a lonely road in Albania to try to pick up the pieces of his life. Just this month, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg declared his treatment at the hands of the CIA to have been torture -- the first time this has happened. Where did we see this kind of cruel incompetence treated in ZD30?"

~Alex Gibney

Jan. 18 2013 12:32 PM

"ZB30 also withholds how much damage was done by the false information obtained by waterboarding. Ibn al-Sheik al Libi was being interrogated successfully by the FBI when an impatient Bush Administration demanded that the CIA take over. The CIA wrapped him in duct tape and packed him in a wooden box to be shipped to Cairo where he was waterboarded. As a result he offered up information linking al Qaeda with Saddam Hussein which was used by Colin Powell when he gave his famous speech before the UN. Partially as a result, we invaded Iraq. Later on, the CIA admitted that al-Libi had given false information. But by then we already had "boots on the ground" in Iraq."

~Alex Gibney

Jan. 18 2013 12:30 PM

Kathryn Bigelow is a pathetic hollywood poseur.

Jan. 18 2013 12:25 PM


TOTALLY agree.

Jan. 18 2013 12:23 PM

"Absent any other kind of interrogation, viewers of this film must conclude that beating the hell out of people is the only way to get answers. As one detainee says in the film, "I have no wish to be tortured again. Ask me a question and I will answer it." Sounds like torture works, right? But as we know from the Senate and former CIA Director Leon Panetta, who wrote McCain in May 2011, that EITs did not play any more than an incidental role in the discovery of UBL."

~Alex Gibney

Jan. 18 2013 12:22 PM

Saw the film 2 weeks ago. Was bored, did not see a link between the sanitized 'torture' and the capture of UBL.. Was shocked that almost no american agents, especially the main female one, knew zero Arabic. It also felt like the whole film promoted chick power.

Jan. 18 2013 11:58 AM
Bobby G from East Village

What are the chances that Mark Boal was being played by his CIA sources in order to justify their actions ( i.e. torture.)?

Jan. 18 2013 11:56 AM

The United States government hanged Japanese soldiers for waterboarding US prisoners of war in World War II. It is clearly against our laws. I'm glad this is being discussed again. Those responsible should be punished.

Jan. 18 2013 11:56 AM
John A

There was a nice episode in S.1 of "Criminal Minds" where the Patinkin character outwits a terrorist just by careful and informed interrogation. That will forever trump all the seasons of "24" for me.

Jan. 18 2013 11:56 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

Speaking as someone who does NOT live on the upper west side and cannot hope to ever afford tp, I deplore the idea of the US government engaging in torture

Jan. 18 2013 11:55 AM
john from office

Folks its a movie! About the killing of a prick, not a moral story of how evil America and torture is. I know, it should have been a "balanced" movie 6 hours long.

Jan. 18 2013 11:54 AM
Q from croton on hudson

Thought it was a great movie. I am surprised about the torture controversy. We authorized these enhanced techniques and then we didn't. The only way we get a smattering of what was done on our behalf is from this movie since the CIA destroyed the tapes of some of these interrogations. Why isn't anyone concerned about that rather than the depiction in the movie? Thought the minutiae of tracking the courier was great. Having done surveillances myself I really appreciated the difficulty of tracking the courier.

Jan. 18 2013 11:53 AM
antonio from baySide

Didn't Bob Bear say it was a farce?

Then again we are a public that has accepted farces...
911 intelligence failures...Iraq war I and II, Iran-Contrta, Vietnam.

Americans hate to do any heavy lifting in terms of learning the truth about the world.

Jan. 18 2013 11:51 AM


...AND, it just DOESN'T work.

Even John McCain will tell you that!

Jan. 18 2013 11:51 AM
john from office

I enjoyed the torture parts of the movie, those "suspects" got what they deserved. Sorry, just expressing what the average American thinks, not the thinking of the upper west side of NYC.

Jan. 18 2013 11:49 AM

Matt Taibbi and Alex Gibney sum it up best.

Any moral issue aside, this film is a colossal SNOOZE. COLOSSAL.

Jan. 18 2013 11:49 AM
B.A. from Th Bronx

Just wondering what these guys think about the influence of the myths, fiction and folklore of torture, as described in books like "None of Us Were Like This Before"...

Jan. 18 2013 11:48 AM

Hollywood should rethink supporting this type of violence porn.
Consumers need to think about their role in the culture of death.

Jan. 18 2013 10:47 AM

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