(Updated 12/11) Boycott Zero Dark Thirty: Torture by "People like us" is Torture

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By Benjamin G. Davis, Associate Professor of Law, University of Toledo College of Law

 (update 12/11 – warisacrime.org has started a boycott campaign that can be seen at their website – here is their redone photo taken from a screenshot of Zero Dark Thirty))

We justify torture by invoking a state of emergency in which torture is the only means to reach the information necessary to respond to the emergency. Let us give “them” (it’s us too, isn’t it?) this excuse, or reason. The ticking bomb, etc. If we clear this off the table, then we are left with the fact we torture(d) detainees for such extensive periods of time the emergency rationale lost all meaning. So we must have been torturing for some other reason. I am concerned about this other reason. I once posted here an excerpt from Foucault in which he discusses the deeper reasons the state tortures, and I think he gets it about right, as an exercise of its sovereign power over and on the bodies of the enemy; a kind of exercise of the sovereign sentence. [“The soul is the prison of the body.”] I do not recall “us” justifying our torture simpliciter of the detainees, and I wonder if it is possible to plumb the mind of the (i.e., “our”) state in this regard.  Prof. John Lunstroth

People like us


Zero Dark Thirty Trailer:http://www.sonypictures.com/previews/movies/zerodarkthirty/clips/5343/

Official site: http://www.zerodarkthirty-movie.com/site/

The picture spans from 2003 until May 1st, 2011 as it follows Maya (Chastain) as she feverishly pursues a singular lead involving a possibly important Al-Qaeda messenger who she believes is close enough to Bin Laden to warrant absolute attention.  Through her we get a look at how the CIA went to work in the aftermath of 9/11 (the picture opens with an audio reminder of the attacks, arguably more for future generations than for us) and through her we see the years of weariness, false leads, dashed hopes, and seeming futility of it all.  We see plenty of ‘enhanced interrogations,’ many of them conducted by Dan (Jason Clarke) who initiates Maya into the field right from the start. The film seems to view torture as a necessary evil, although eagle-eyed viewers will note that it doesn’t elicit all that much of use.  Of note, the only time we see any major politician onscreen is when Barack Obama is shown on 60 Minutes stating that American does not torture to which Maya and Don and the others watching do all they can not to roll their eyes. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-mendelson/zero-dark-thirty-review-_b_2239385.html

Watching more apologia for torture this morning on Morning Joe as they discussed Zero Dark Thirty, I shook my head again at the relentlessness of the pro-torture crowd at trying to get us to acquiesce to this crime committed in our names as Americans.  The variations on the theme were remarkable to watch. 

As we await the decision of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence this week as to what extent it will release its report on the activities of the intelligence community over the past twelve years and on their use of torture, we see a subtle shift in the defense of torture.

Of course the “torture to get actionable intelligence” trope is still there, but there have been people like FBI interrogator Ali Soufian who have batted that down – people who were there and who were doing interrogations.  So now the shift is to think of the torture as payback – payback for 9/11.  Playing into the perverse American fascination with violence of which the pictures above demonstrate the deep roots,  “people like us” torturing others is to be seen as a revenge and retribution for us that we can justify as payback for 9/11.  This payback is not only righteous and in technicolor, but with a woman CIA operative at the center of this payback struggle we are to understand her as a trope for the sensitive side of us but that also gives a new meaning to the street phrase “payback is a bitch.”  Through this manipulation, we are then made to “own” this torture done in our name as justifiable violence.  Sullied, we are asked to acquiesce in our degradation.

Of course, like at a lynching, the voyeuristic aspect of this payback is to antiseptically in the safety of our movie theater with popcorn, soda, and ice cream participate in this state humiliation of another human’s body.  Like in a horror movie, we are to put fingers over our eyes and yet look through the fingers to see what is going on.  We are anesthetized to the violence for movie violence is a regular part of our action adventures.  Stylized violence has been noted before such as in Stanley Kubrick’s famous Clockwork Orange, but what is particularly perverse here is that we know from the Senate Armed Services Committee report that these violent acts are not just dreamed up in the heads of screenplay writers, but have been committed to people  in black sites, in torture chambers of Syria, Egypt, Mauretania, Morocco, and Thailand, and other places at the request of our government, and with the approval of the President on down in our Executive, with the acquiescence of our Legislative, and with a willingness of our Judiciary to shield from our eyes through widespread use of the state secrets doctrine.

It is not too much to ask of Americans that they reject torture and criminally prosecute the people who put in place that torture – even if they are telegenic and look like people like us – maybe even are our neighbors.  It is in the banalization of their crime against the human spirit that we see our true degradation.  That we go home, not troubled, kiss our cherubs as we tuck them in and go on with our  lives is the most damning part of this.

Boycott Zero Dark Thirty and apologia for torture.  Criminally prosecute those who tortured in our name.  There is no “pass” – even for people like us – on torture.