Zero Dark Thirty Has Given a Boost to the “Torture Works!” Crowd

That’s not actually true, as real interrogators who are not actors keep pointing out. But moviemakers, in certain circumstances, love to say it does anyway when they want their heroes to look at gritty, badass, and willing to cut moral corners for the Greater Good. And the Thing that Used to be Conservatism *loves* torture. *Loves* it. Celebrated it for years. Wrapped it in euphemism, upheld it with endless sophistries. Never admitted it was wrong. Perpetually appealed to fantasies like “24” as justification for their “realistic” love of torture. Cheers for it consistently at every Presidential debate while booing candidates who cite.s the Golden Rule.

Anyway, back in the world of Catholic teaching, torture remains what the Church says, gravely and intrinsically immoral. It’s also–as grave evil tends to to be–stupid, counter-productive, and a Faustian Bargain that steals your soul and gives *nothing* in return. But even if it did work (as, for instance, murder often “works”) it is still evil. Here are some good people working to extirpate this latest popular evil:

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  • Mike Walsh

    I used to be pretty adamant about torture: it is dubious at best. But lately, given that Obama’s whimsical drone-bombing campaign has cost the lives of many more children (not counting the post-pubescent, whom the administration counts as terrorists) than died at Sandy Hook, I’m having second thoughts. The drone-bombing campaign is much, much worse. Obama has taken other options off the table.

    • Mark Shea

      Drone bombing is the bastard child of the Bush era consequentialism that gave us torture. Each president keeps ratcheting up the disregard for human rights and common sense.

      • “joe”

        that post: two thumbs up
        ps, i’m glad to see the Coalition for Clarity site active again

      • Mike Walsh

        You think Obama’s capricious drone-bombing campaign is Bush’s fault? And you think torture of prisoners by US personnel began under his administration? Or that consequentialist thinking on the part of US presidents is new? Or –oh, never mind.

        • Mark Shea

          No. I think Obama’s drone bombing campaign is his fault. I merely think the consequentialism embraced and promoted by the Rubber Hose Right for eight years–a consequentialism they adopted from the abortion-adoring Left–laid the groundwork for the consequentlism of Obama’s self-granted 007. I can see you are really broken up about consequentialism. And yes, I know torture happened before Bush gave it the blessing of law, just as Presidentially ordered murders did before Obama give it the blessing of law. But the blessing of law matters. However, I can see why it’s so much more important to you that an obscure blogger should object to this than that the President grants himself the draconian power to torture and murder. Keep those priorities straight!

          • Mike Walsh

            First it was Bush, now its the “Rubber Hose Right” (?) that made Obama do it? Consequentialism didn’t commence yesterday –or even eight years ago– and it is only one of many evils the country faces. And, FWIW you don’t know a damned thing about me, or my priorities, and it ill becomes you to make such assertions. I had more respect for you than that.

            • Mark Shea

              I repeat. Nobody “made Obama do it”.

  • I think it’s a stretch to say Zero Dark Thirty says torture works. Torture is portrayed as incredibly brutal and dehumanizing, and the victim never gives any information during a torture session. The only information he gives is afterwards when the torturers take him out of the cell and give him a nice meal (and lie to him that he already helped them.) The heroes certainly cut many moral corners in the film, but the film seriously asks whether or not they should have.
    People certainly will interpret Zero Dark Thirty to be pro-torture, but I would say those that do are really blinded by partisanship.

    • Mark Shea

      Whether the filmmaker intends to send the message, the fact remains that the Rubber Hose Right, which has never remotely come close to acknowledging that it’s deep commitment to torture is both evil and stupid, has seized on the film as “proof” that they were right. They did the same thing right after Osama was killed, attempting to take credit from Obama by saying, “It was our courageous policy of enhanced interrogation that found him.” That claim was bullshit, of course. But then the Rubber Hose Right has said nothing about bullshit about torture for the past decade.

      • I agree. I just think the Reactionary Right jumping onto this film as condoning torture is one more example of them slipping into insanity.

  • David B.

    I think it’s unfair if you’re suggesting that Bigelow is among those who “in certain circumstances, love to say [torture works] when they want their heroes to look at gritty, badass, and willing to cut moral corners for the Greater Good.”

    In interviews, she has condemned its use. The film portrays evil that occurred. That some approve its occurrence is on them, not the filmmakers.

  • Stu

    First, I agree with the overall premise of torture being both wrong and ineffective. That is, you get information that simply isn’t of value. The example of Hans Scharff and his methods of interrogation show a much better approach.
    But saying all of that, I think we sometimes run the risk of now seeing any prisoner treatment as “torture” when it isn’t. Case in point is the photo used in the video of the detainees (orange jumpsuits) isolated in a holding area. Just because you are a capture “combatant,” that doesn’t make you docile or unable to plot action. In fact, US Service members are bound to resist and look for escaped (under the guidance of the Senior Ranking Officer present) in such situations. Our enemies certainly will do the same. So in the case of the picture from the video, what we are seeing are detainees most likely arriving to the detention facility and kept in condition where they cannot communicate with each other nor get a feel for their surroundings. You certainly can’t leave people like that for extended periods, but for the safety of the guards, such measure are needed given the detainees are still the enemy, still capable of taking action and most certainly looking for opportunities to do so.
    Now after they are locked up, taking some measures to keep them mentally off balance or mislead about how things are being run are also in order but certainly nothing along the lines of Abu Gharib or waterboarding or anything like that. At that point, you work on creating a rapport.