How Torture Misled the US into an Illegal War: What Zero Dark Thirty Really Leaves Out

An important problem with the narrative line of “Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow’s film about the Central Intelligence Agency’s quest for Usama Bin Laden, is not just that it comes across as pro-torture but that it ignores the elephant in the room: Bad intelligence elicited by torture almost derailed that quest to put down al-Qaeda by diverting most resources to Iraq.

“Zero Dark Thirty” stands in a long line of Hollywood-Washington collaborations that essentially do the work of propaganda. The lineage includes Michael Curtiz’s 1942 “Casablanca” with Humphrey Bogart, which was produced under the Office of War Information’s guidelines; the director assigned it the government-prescribed theme of “III B (United Nations — Conquered Nations) Drama,” as Tanfer Emin Tunc argues.

The film is misleading precisely because it does what the Bush administration did not do. It stays with Afghanistan, Pakistan and al-Qaeda. At one point a CIA official complains that there are no other working groups concentrating on al-Qaeda, that it is just the handful of field officers around the table. But he does not say that the Bush administration ran off to Iraq and closed down the Bin Laden desk at the CIA. Nor do any of the characters admit that bad intelligence, including that gathered by torture, helped send the United States off on the Great Iraq Wild Goose Chase.

I care about this issue in part for reasons of my own biography. As a Baby Boomer who was against the Vietnam War, I had never had much to do with the US government until the September 11 attacks. Had I not been on the doorstep of 50 when they took place, I might well have enlisted. I felt 9/11 profoundly, to my very soul, and was depressed about it for years. I wanted to do what I could to understand al-Qaeda and help destroy it. When RAND and other providers of speakers in Washington asked me to come out and talk to analysts from various government agencies, I was pleased to do it. At the time, Arabists and Islam experts in the US were not so numerous, and pernicious self-proclaimed experts had proliferated. There was a lot of Islamophobia around, and most Americans who did not know the Middle East first hand did not realize that al-Qaeda was a tiny fringe, not representative of Islam.

I don’t know if all those talks I gave in DC to inter-agency audiences were ever useful in fighting al-Qaeda, but I certainly hope so, and I was proud to do my bit in presenting an informed and analytical approach to fighting the phenomenon. I was trying to model for them social analysis as academics understand it. I was also honored to address people who were doing their best to confront a major security challenge.

But because I saw the Iraq War as a distraction from the fight against al-Qaeda, and was vocal about critiquing its prosecution, the Bush White House decided that it did not want me consulting in DC and tried to have me blackballed. The Bushies were fine with a phalanx of quacks and phony experts descending on the capital to charge millions for their crazed schemes. But having someone come to town who knew whereof he spoke was intolerable. In the end, the White House asked the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA to find dirt on me and try to destroy my reputation.

Bush and Cheney exploited al-Qaeda and the threat of terrorism to erode civil liberties at home and to reshape Iraq and its oil riches abroad. But they weren’t that interested in actually finding Bin Laden or rolling up al-Qaeda. Someone like myself, who could see that Iraq was a massive train wreck and that it actually prolonged al-Qaeda’s significance, was most inconvenient in 2005 and 2006.

So, I mind the the narrative of “Zero Dark Thirty” for personal reasons. It leaves out a key obstacle to the quest it recounts. Some of what is wrong with the film may derive from its beginnings, as a story about how the quest for Bin Laden failed. That premise had to be changed after May 2, 2011, of course. But a film that began with an exploration of failure should have highlighted the Iraq distraction and the bad intel from torture all the more.

I made this point when al-Qaeda operative Ibn Shaykh al-Libi died in a Qaddafi prison in 2009:

The best refutation of Dick Cheney’s insistence that torture was necessary and useful in dealing with threats from al-Qaeda just died in a Libyan prison. See also Andy Worthington.

Al-Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was captured trying to escape from Afghanistan in late 2001. He was sent to Egypt to be tortured, and under duress alleged that Saddam Hussein was training al-Qaeda agents in chemical weapons techniques. It was a total crock, and alleged solely to escape further pain. Al-Libi disavowed the allegation when he was returned to CIA custody. But Cheney and Condi Rice ran with the single-source, torture-induced assertion and it was inserted by Scooter Libby in Colin Powell’s infamous speech to the United Nations.

If torture can mislead you into launching a war that results in hundreds of thousands of deaths, then it should be avoided, quite apart from the fact that it is illegal and that the United States is signatory to binding treaties specifying its illegality. (It is coming out that Bush-Cheney’s own CIA Inspector-General expressed the view that the Bush-era torture was medically unsound, did not produce the desired results, and contravened the UN Convention against torture.

Here is what Condi Rice told the Lehrer News Hour in 2002, based on the torture-induced statements of the late al-Libi:

‘ “We clearly know that there were in the past and have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of Al Qaeda going back for actually quite a long time,” Rice said. “We know too that several of the [Al Qaeda] detainees, in particular some high-ranking detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to Al Qaeda in chemical weapons development.” ‘

In my book, Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East, I note that Gen. Bonaparte forbade the use of torture by French military interrogators in Cairo, on the grounds that it produced too much misinformation. Napoleon was not exactly squeamish. And even he would have been ashamed of the crew we had in Washington before last January.

End/ (Not Continued)

Critics such as Glenn Greenwald argued that the film assumes that torture yielded key intelligence, especially the identity of Bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti. Most intelligence officials say that the al-Kuwaiti lead did not come from waterboarding or other torture techniques,

In the end, I’m not entirely sure that the film shows torture succeeding for the CIA. In fact, al-Kuwaiti’s identity is confirmed by other techniques in the film. In one instance a man (“Ammar”) who was tortured to no effect is tricked into believing that he had already given up operational information. This kind of technique is called in intelligence work ‘false flag tradecraft,’ i.e. fooling an informant by feeding him or her a set of false premises. In part, this success comes from a rapport the man made with “Maya,” the relentless woman field officer. Again, in real life interrogations, such rapport and such false flag techniques are always more successful than torture.

In another scene, a Pakistani man who is interrogated begins by saying that he had been tortured in the past by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, and is willing to cooperate to avoid further mistreatment at American hands. I suppose that exchange serves as a suggestion that torture works in the long run, but what he gives the Americans is this case freely given.

The screenplay does, nevertheless, have a fascination with torture, and implies at several points its utility, as Karen Greenberg showed in these pages last week. Thus, when al-Kuwaiti’s true identity is established, a field officer complains that it can no longer be double-checked with detainees because President Obama had closed down the torture program. This odd complaint assumes that detainees who had protected his identity despite years of abuse and brutalization would have fingered al-Kuwaiti if only waterboarded a few times more.

That torture was ineffective in tracing Bin Laden was confirmed by Senator John McCain.

McCain wrote in 2011,

“I asked CIA Director Leon Panetta for the facts, and he told me the following: The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. The first mention of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — the nickname of the al-Qaeda courier who ultimately led us to bin Laden — as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country, who we believe was not tortured. None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed’s real name, his whereabouts or an accurate description of his role in al-Qaeda. In fact, the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced false and misleading information. He specifically told his interrogators that Abu Ahmed had moved to Peshawar, got married and ceased his role as an al-Qaeda facilitator — none of which was true. According to the staff of the Senate intelligence committee, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee — information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in al-Qaeda and his true relationship to bin Laden — was obtained through standard, noncoercive means.”

McCain was tortured while a POW in Vietnam and is among the few prominent American politicians to stand forthrightly against what George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did in committing the US to war crimes. He is a critic of the film, and I think his view of this matter should be taken extremely seriously.

I did not like “Zero Dark Thirty” as a film. I found it emotionally thin, grim and relentless. It failed to establish an emotional connection to any of the characters, or to flesh them out as characters. The violence is deployed for the purposes of surprise rather than suspense, so that its dramatic effect is limited. It is episodic (we know that the Islamabad Marriott was blown up; shouldn’t the film present a theory as to why?) Any suspense is further blunted by our lack of connection to the protagonist. Whereas in “Argo,” my heart was in my mouth when the embassy employees were in danger, I just couldn’t summon that kind of interest in Jessica Chastain’s “Maya.” The characters remain undeveloped because this film is plot driven, but also because it is primarily didactic, intended to send a message. Unfortunately, instead of glorifying the genuine heroes who have mostly rolled up al-Qaeda (an evil organization that wants to kill your children), it covers many of them with the shame of war crimes.

37 Responses

  1. My wife and I have decided, even though we are avid movie buffs and usually attempt to view movies we disagree with, we will not contribute to the financial gain of this film. Our small protest against the Bush/Cheney/ Rumsfeld/ Rice legacy of torture.

  2. I hope your lawsuit against Bush administration officials is proceeding. I recall that you were blackballed from a Yale job.

    I just accepted that the film was mostly fiction, and was able to enjoy it on that level. But I cannot forgive Bigelow and Boal for their suggestion that Obama was a lying hypocrite on torture.

  3. I am surprised that you were surprised by the 9/11 attacks, though I know a lot of Americans were.

    On Sept 1, 2001, I sent a letter to 16 US Senators and Congressmen, including then Sen Biden, stating that Americans were potentially endangered because of the violence taking place in the Middle East, particularly the violence against the Palestinians by Israel during the Second Intifada, which had begun a year earlier, would eventually spill over to Americans whom, I argued, were the ultimate facilitators of that violence.

    For whatever reasons, possible because the Congress was out of session on Sept 1, the letter was ignored.

    I have since learned that, despite their pretenses, Congressmen never read these letters but suffle them off to aids who then send out form letters on what ever subject the entreaties are about.

    • It’s worse than you think, sir.

      It seems (despite serious efforts to obscure the facts and time line) parts of the field forces of our pre-Homeland Securitization Big Agencies were pretty well apprised that there were A-Rabs in the USofA who were doing stuff like learning to fly (but not to land, so much) airplanes. And that these significant bits of “intelligence” were shunted aside because they did not fit with institutional priorities and preferences or were in danger of crossing jurisdictional lines between competing agencies that are all supposed to be about the business of “securing us,” and which still, not surprisingly, even having been brought nominally under one umbrella, compete and game each other and do all the inventive crap that humans are so capable of when there’s power, prestige and money to fight over. And if you can believe it, even SEX!

      For what it’s worth, before the 9-11 attack, there were several blockbuster thriller novels written with the use of airliners as missiles to attack targets including the World Trade Center. And after the attacks, our Really Smart Security Experts convened a bunch of these writers to give them ideas about what the next kind of asymmetric attacks by them Durty Terraists might look like. Since they are so instutitionally short on invention and prognostication (though not prevarication) on their own.

      The best part about the world as it is now is that now that Threat Perception permeates everything, all our thinking (except about stuff like global warming, which is just opportunity knocking), so the Security State finally has its Forever-War, give-us-all-the-wealth justification nailed down permanently.

      Yeah, it’s a dangerous place, our planet, and only goin’ to get more-so, thanks to the synergistic effects of that way of thinking, and acting, facilitated by our collective inventiveness in developing new kinds of lethal weapons and technologies, in the absence of any inspiration or doctrine or strategy about how to just, you know, LIVE, and let live…

    • You seem to flatter yourself that you alone had the prescience to predict the September 11 terrorist attacks by pointing to a letter you sent to Senators and Congressmen about Americans endangered because of violence in the Near East, and you suggest that by ignoring your letter, these legislators missed a cue. The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were not precipitated by violence in the Middle East, nor specifically by the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Osama bin Laden did not even mention the Palestinians when he began to publicly justify the attacks. His reasons were to hit the “Far Enemy” of Islam, and his eventual goal was a return to a purer form of Islam, as he understood it, and a return of the Caliphate.

      Many American Senators, and Congressmen, as well as Administration officials in the State Department, the Defense Department, the intelligence community, and other entities were very much aware that violence in the Near East could represent a danger to American citizens and interests. That was nothing new. But to suggest that your letter represented a revelation that would have alerted them, had it not been ignored, is to grant it a level of importance it does not deserve.

      • I also can’t help but notice that, for all of bin Laden’s talk about how deeply and profoundly he cares about the Israel-Palestine conflict, al Qaeda has never launched attacks against Israel.

        Sometimes, political leaders trying to win the support of a broader public feign concern over an issue that they know that public cares about. It’s best not to take politicians at the word, but to look at their actual records to figure out their intent and belief system.

        • “….al-Qaeda has never launched attacks against Israel.”

          This is debatable.

          The October 7, 2004 Sinai hotel bombings killed 12 Israelis and were believed by most observers to be the work of an al-Qaeda affiliate organization, although the Egyptian government, who feared stirring the spectre of al-Qaeda influence within its borders, announced that they believed Bedouins were responsible.

          Al-Qaeda was also credited with the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Mauritania’s capital, Nouakchott, in February of 2008.

        • Mark,

          The absence of attacks alleged to be from al Qaeda since 2004 strongly suggests that that attack was not conducted by them. Their m.o. is to keep hitting the same target. “Connected with” is a vague phrase, and while I have no doubt that there are Palestinian factions that have good relations with AQ, that’s quite a bit different from AQ itself conducting operations or being in the country.

          As for the Mauriania embassy attack, remember that the Pakistani militants who conducted the Mumbai attack went after a Jewish community center – yet that was clearly an attack on India.

          We’ve seen what it looks like when al Qaeda goes after a country, and it’s not two ambiguous operations in a decade, without statements taking credit.

      • Whether I flatter myself or not,the fact is that American/Isreli promoted violence in the Middle Easst bares a direct connection to the 9/11 attacks.

        This is what Osama bin Laden had to say about the motivation for the attack on 9/11. I copied this quote from Wikipedia, but I have seen it previously reported on BBC News as well as other sources. Bin Laden was referring to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in which 20,000 Lebanese people were killed and approximately 2000 defenseless unarmed Palestinian refugees were slaughtered by the Christian Phalange while Ariel Sharon watched with binoculars from a nearby building and the Israeli army secured the perimeter of the camps and lit up the night sky with flares to facilitate the slaughter. President Carter was told by Israeli officials with whom he had known at Camp David that Israel had been given a green light for that invasion by the Reagan Administration.

        “God knows it did not cross our minds to attack the Towers, but after the situation became unbearable—and we witnessed the injustice and tyranny of the American-Israeli alliance against our people in Palestine and Lebanon—I thought about it. And the events that affected me directly were that of 1982 and the events that followed—when America allowed the Israelis to invade Lebanon, helped by the U.S. Sixth Fleet. As I watched the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me punish the unjust the same way: to destroy towers in America so it could taste some of what we are tasting and to stop killing our children and women.”
        — Osama bin Laden, 2004[7]

        • Osama bin Laden had also stated that the U.S. Armed Forces presence inside Saudi Arabia was the triggering event for al-Qaeda’s attack on 9/11 and this has been pointed out by Ron Paul in his quest to curtail America’s role as the international policeman.

          The U.S. did eventually transfer its Arabian Peninsula military HQ to Qatar after 9/11 – however bin Laden could attribute the cause of 9/11 to anything he wants after the fact and I doubt if his self-serving statements have any credibility as to the actual internal decision-making history of al-Qaeda.

        • The fact is, Osama bin Laden did not even mention the Palestinians when he began to publicly justify the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Years later, in an attempt to gain support, he brought in other reasons, including the Palestinians. But that was an effort to gain support in the Muslim World. His impetus for the attacks was to hit the “Far Enemy” of Islam, and he made that clear from the beginning.

        • that’s just not true. UBL obsessed about Palestinians and Jerusalem from the start. Haven’t you even been reading this blog? It has a search engine.

        • “This is what Osama bin Laden had to say about the motivation for the attack on 9/11.”

          That’s nice. What did George Bush have to say about the motivation for the attack on Iraq? Shall we take him at his word, too?

          Again, it’s best to look at actions, not words, when trying to understand political leaders. Bin Laden hated the Saudi government, and carried out no end of attacks against the Saudi government and royal family. He said he hated the United States, and carried out numerous attacks on the United States. He said he hated Israel, and…attacked New York?

      • Absolutely true.

        There is very little Palestinian presence within al-Qaeda, perhaps because they have very little geographic connectedness to Israel to undertake significant terrorist activity against it like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

        Although the Anti-Defamation League has correctly pointed out that al-Qaeda’s leaders have made many public statements that were anti-Israel in nature.

      • The Palestine/Israeli conflict, Joe from Lowell, is not an isolated series of events in the Arab world. Most of the Arab world recognizes Israel as an European colony and an alien implant imposed on the Arab people against their will which invites all the world’s Jews to migrate to Israel as it expands it borders into Arab lands while regularly initiating destructive wars against its neighbors while holding the indigenous Palestinian people in bondage as it usurps thier resources.

        • Thank you, Mr. Martin, but I understand all of that already. That is exactly why it would make sense for a Middle Eastern political movement which is seeking to increase its support and influence in the Arab world to put out anti-Israel rhetoric and cast its actions as part of the fight against Israel, even if Israel is not actually very important in their thinking – because, as you way, “Most of the Arab world…” feels as you describe, and tapping into that feeling is a way to appeal to them.

  4. Zero Dark Thirty – ‘I found it emotionally thin, grim and relentless. It failed to establish an emotional connection to any of the characters, or to flesh them out as characters.’

    Well, yes – but I saw the movie expecting to dislike it (Hurt Locker was childish rubbish) but came away more neutral. It was everything you said – but I found myself wondering whether this just reflected the psychic world that the (CIA) characters lived in and were chosen to be suited for.

    It seemed to have the germ of an interesting movie – the emotional thinness and one dimensional thinking of that milieu. The corruption and banality of evil to coin a phrase.

    But I’m not sure that this was meant. It was though far less jingoistic than I expected.

    • What you suspect about the intelligence milieu I think you would find is not that far off. As in the military, from which many are drawn, black/white thinking goes far to keep them motivated and to make their work palatable. When you read Michael Scheuer’s books or hear him speak, for example, there is this Boy Scout foundation beneath what is a sophisticated and nuanced worldview.

      Its a bit of a paradoxical, and I cannot help but think it must account for a lot of cognitive dissonance amongst the smarter people in that community. At a certain level every manager/leader reconciles reality with the BS they must spread/tolerate to keep the tribe together, but its got to be more of challenge in their case.

    • “…banality of evil to coin a phrase.”

      I’m afraid you did not coin that phrase. Neither have you given credit to the one who did. Hannah Arendt coined the phrase by incorporating it into the title of her 1963 work, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.”

      • Bill

        Apologies – it’s a Britishism (less global than I thought) that means the opposite, ie. that I did not ‘coin the phrase’ and am outsourcing my phraseology to a better wordsmith.

    • Prof. Cole’s description there reminded by of the film “A Perfect Storm.” That, too, was an attempt to reverse-engineer actual human experience from a dry, factual, event-driven narrative.

      • Re “The Perfect Storm,” other possible parallels: The protagonist chose to lead his ship and crew into a very possibly terminal situation out of a combination of pride, habit and greed. Or so the reportage on the incident, so mawkishly portrayed in the movie and in different ways in the book, would lead one to believe.

        Too bad that none of the people who enlisted for this Forever War fiasco can even dream about filing a lawsuit, say, to recover some of what they lost by the dishonest failure of “the government” to accurately forecast the various pieces of the outcome. Not after the result reported in this other tale: link to

  5. Professor, just a couple of bullets, and more apologies to you that the Nation I actually did that “enlisting” thing for, back in 1966, inter alia in fear of “dominoes falling” all over the place, found it possible to create and support and facilitate the crap that was applied to you, personally, as a result of your trying (as it usually is the case, in vain) to inform and enlighten the Imperial cadres on the real nature of the Outer World they expect to dominate, is so stupidly able to maintain such high levels of cognitive dissonance between what we collectively pretend to be in our myths (until we maybe experience a Cheney Awakening), and what we really are, day to declining day:

    1. The purpose of torture is torture. The rest is just verbiage.

    2. How many of the functionaries and institutional structures, all those tiny and larger moving parts full of humans with all their inherent flaws augmented by doses of unaccountable power and money, that led to your personal troubles with the Security State (not to mention what’s been done and is happening to so many others even now), are still in place, still gathering self-justifying and accreting momentum, and still “guiding” that thing called so archly, so knowingly (and so mindlessly) “policy”?

  6. What really jumps out at me about those omissions is that they would have made the plot more interesting. KSM throwing the torturers off the courier’s scent while he was being tortured, and then the decision to look at that courier again when the new administration came into power – that’s one of the most interesting details of the entire story. Similarly, when the OLC memos came out, one detail that emerged was that the CIA interrogators, who had been using legitimate methods, reported that a detainee was cooperating, but because he wasn’t providing any intelligence linking bin Laden to Iraqi WMDs, Dick Cheney ordered him to be tortured, and he stopped cooperating. Again, that’s a very interesting plot twist!

    Ditto with the transfer of resources and attention to Iraq. As you say, they already have the unit complaining that they’ve been denied resources. That’s an important piece of information, that helps to establish the environment under which they are working. Why not flesh it out?

    If these details had been left out for aesthetic reasons, I could understand that, but in reality, those details would have made it a better movie. They would have made the plot more interesting and the characters more impressive. It’s difficult to believe, then, that the decision to excise them was anything but political.

  7. “I found it emotionally thin, grim and relentless. It failed to establish an emotional connection to any of the characters, or to flesh them out as characters. The violence is deployed for the purposes of surprise rather than suspense, so that its dramatic effect is limited.”

    Haven’t seen this film, but I would say that description fits her other film, “Hurt Locker” very well.

  8. As stated above, the real purpose of torture is torture.

    A few years after 911, when this issue came out, I was at a public discussion/debate on the issue, and was struck by the crying pain, vulnerability, and sheer psychological NEED with which people argued to somehow strike back.

    When you have an invisible, slippery enemy who has gotten the better of you, and you cannot see them, much less an effective way of payback/retribution, you MUST have something. And I felt that from those people in their bones.

    You cannot say that, at some level, this is not a legitimate need that has to be reconciled in some way, at least by the finesse of wiser leaders. The real problem with torture is that, in practice, on the net it is stupid and counterproductive.

    • When you have an invisible, slippery enemy who has gotten the better of you, and you cannot see them, much less an effective way of payback/retribution, you MUST have something. And I felt that from those people in their bones.

      You cannot say that, at some level, this is not a legitimate need that has to be reconciled in some way, at least by the finesse of wiser leaders. The real problem with torture is that, in practice, on the net it is stupid and counterproductive.

      I wonder how that observation applies to the hundreds of millions of people who got hammered and continue to suffer the pains and horrors of the, what do we call it, “Financial Crisis?” A pretty clearly intentional sapping of the Big Economy by people who, like the bin Ladins and suchlike, have slip-slided away into penalty-free obscurity,

      For a while there, some of us were visualizing lampposts on Wall Street festooned with corpses in what the rich folk call “bespoke suits,” stripped of their egos and Patek Phillipe wrist chronometers… but then like good old plow horses and meat animals, we just went back to work trying to fix all the broken stuff, while the Financialists kept writing derivative “contracts” there in the Casino of Personal Immunity.

  9. ‘Bad intelligence elicited by torture almost derailed that quest to put down al-Qaeda by diverting most resources to Iraq.’ Very interesting point, something not made by other commentators.Thank you again.

  10. If the people in Hollywood wanted to do a story regarding the CIA and the war against terrorism, they should have adapted the screenplay from “Uncompromised”, a book from true story about a Lebanese-American Druze from Dearborn, Michigan, Nada Prouty, who became a covert operations officer in the Central Intelligence Agency and achieved significant acccomplishments in Lebanon and Iraq. Her story was related on 60 Minutes.

    The FBI suspected her of downloading CIA records regarding Hezbollah and using them to aid that organization. She was indicted by a federal grand jury in Detroit and pled to lesser charges, including immigration fraud, from when she initially entered the U.S. as a young woman and attempted to obtain U.S. citizenship. She claimed to enter the plea agreement to avoid the expense of a criminal defense and she received no prison time. There was no direct evidence she gave any classified information to anyone. The CIA itself opposed her criminal prosecution. She left the CIA and lost her American citizenship.

    U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn at her sentencing stated that he felt certain counsel in the Office of U.S. Attorney had been motivated to bring the case to advance their careers.

    Prouty had been involved leading interrogations of Arab prisoners and had achieved positive results without elaborate torture.

  11. I think you’re taking the wrong tack on this issue. You can claim that the movie is aesthetically unsatisfying, but the audience in the theater where I watched it were spell bound; and, for what it’s worth, I myself thought it was an outstanding piece of film making.

    The problem isn’t that the movie is somehow a bad movie, but the ancient problem about the moral responsibility of the artist. Creativity is sometimes immoral.

    In the case of this particular film, however, I think the issue is more complicated. As I saw the movie, the director seemed to be determined to leave the issue of torture ambiguous. Now it may be that a reasonable person should have expected that normal audiences would not find it ambiguous but see it as a defense of torture in the same way that Hollywood revenge flicks are received as defenses of vigilantism. If so, the question becomes is Begelow responsible for the reception of her work as well as for its intention?

  12. Having a background in international relations and having been in military intelligence for a while, I knew almost immediately that the Bush campaign to invade Iraq was a load of crap. After his Cincinatti speech in October, 2002 when he first made the case for war, I told someone the next day that I had never heard a president give a speech so out of touch with reality. If anything, Professor Cole understates the stupidity, mendacity, and venality of the Bush administration and the ineffectiveness and immorality of torture. Space and time limits all I could say about this, but history is replete with the futility and inhumanity of torture. It is a crime under US law, a war crime, and a crime against humanity. Anything which does not condemn it, IMHO, loses all credibility and is worthless as a piece of opinion or argument.

  13. ” ….{i}n the end the White House asked the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA to find dirt on me and destroy my reputation.”

    Nothing new here.

    The case of Abdeen Jabara, a University of Michigan alumnus and former director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, was fought in the U.S. District Court in Detroit for over a decade by the ACLU. He was an outspoken critic of foreign assistance to Israel based on its poor human rights record and served as defense counsel for Sirhan Sirhan during his trial and appeal. The published opinions of those ACLU-led proceedings disclose surveillance by the FBI, National Security Agency and CIA dating back to 1967. The government eventually settled the ACLU litigation and Jabara was never prosecuted for anything.

    A generation later, Tim Attallah, a Palestinian-American attorney associated with Michigan’s largest law firm and well-connected in Democratic Party political circles was indicted in Detroit by the FBI in a sensational case for obstruction of justice and drug possession. Turns out the “obstruction” was advising a criminal detainee not to answer a detective’s interrogation and the “drug possession” was an uncorroborated allegation of an informant that Attallah was seen with a Viagra tablet. Attallah was acquitted after a bench trial in federal court. Attallah was once featured in an Israeli newspaper article as an influential pro-Arab political figure in Metro Detroit along with Congressmen John Dingell and John Conyers.

    Speak out against U.S foreign policy and the internal machinations of the U.S. government begin looking for ways to discredit the messenger.

  14. Having rationalized the need to actually go out and see the movie, I’d like to nominate ZDT for the first Leni Riefenstahl Award, a refresher link provided below for her precedent:

    link to

    Cannot say this sort of thing isn’t what we often get from movies that by nature tend to be comic-book versions of any substantial story. But there is a political dimension to this particular tale, and I wonder how much Bigelow may have been trying to steer into it with an agenda….or whether she was managed. May as well have been one as the other.

    At best, the end result was her effectively being co-opted. IMO this was a well-produced movie that will serve to reinforce a certain perspective, and develop/propagate a certain reality (regardless of the facts), and I think she deserves a prize.

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