3 Things You Should Know About “Zero Dark Thirty” and Torture

Still from Zero Dark Thirty.

After seeing the new film Zero Dark Thirty, I think there are three things everyone should know:

1) Zero Dark Thirty is not a documentary. The film’s screenwriter, Mark Boal, said: “It’s a movie. It’s not a documentary… My standard is not a journalistic standard of ‘Is this a word-for-word quote?’ I’m not asking to be held to that standard and I’m certainly not representing my film as that. The standard is more, ‘Is this more or less in the ballpark?’”

2) Torture did not help find Osama bin Laden. This is established by the public record and verified by people who have access to classified information. For example, yesterday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) sent this letter to the head of Sony Entertainment with citations pointing out that torture and other abuses did not help find Osama bin Laden.

3) The most important point is this: torture is immoral, always unlawful, and never permitted. Torture and ill-treatment are unequivocally prohibited under the U.S. Constitution and under international law. No derogation or exceptional circumstances can be invoked as justification for torture or ill-treatment. Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) put it this way:

“The issue isn’t ‘Does torture work or not.’ The issue is ‘Is torture right, or is torture wrong?’ And the answer to that is torture is wrong.”

The question now: What can be done to ensure that torture and other ill-treatment are never again used by or on behalf of the U.S. government?

>Help tell the truth about torture. Hand out this Fact Sheet: Torture & Osama bin Laden at screenings of Zero Dark Thirty.

>Call Senator Feinstein’s office at 202.224.3841 and urge her to do everything in her power to ensure that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s new report on CIA torture is declassified and made public with as few redactions as possible. Public release of the report would be a step toward countering pro-torture voices and helping ensure that torture and other abuses are never again committed.

>Join the January 11 Day of Action Against Guantanamo. The prison is the United States’ global symbol of human rights violations ranging from torture to indefinite detention to unfair trials, and it remains open. Sign up at www.amnestyusa.org/jan11.

At the end of Zero Dark Thirty, the CIA analyst is asked “Where do you want to go?”

We should each ask ourselves that same question. Do we want the United States to continue to violate human rights with impunity in the name of a never-ending and vaguely defined “global war”—detention without charge, unlawful killings with drones, extreme solitary confinement and unfair trials—for the rest of our lives and the rest of our children’s lives?

Or will we say “enough” and embrace security with human rights and the rule of law?

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32 thoughts on “3 Things You Should Know About “Zero Dark Thirty” and Torture

  1. Thanks for making these points. I agree, the 3rd point is the most important. Torture is wrong, period. It belongs to the age of barbarism. The US, and all nations and people, must take the step of bravery required to refrain from ever using it as a tool. Once torture is brought forth as an acceptable means, everyone is reduced to the same level of fear and animalism. At that point, "anything goes" …and "humanity" is lost.

  2. Will this film instigate more suicide bombings? What is the responsibility of the artist, the filmmaker? Many viewers will wrongly and unfortunately assume that this is a wholly accurate film. Do films about violence perpetuate yet more tragic, unnecessary violence? Viewing the film "Les Miserables" will do more to alleviate the suffering and violence hurled against the poor and the dispossessed than yet another violent Hollywood film created and motivated to make money rather than world peace.

    • So you propose… what? denying the right to have freedom of expression to filmmakers because of the fact that they earn money from their work?

      • I agree Santiago. Many would like to see the rights of terrorists defended even at the cost of the rights of law abiding citizens. Some people need to take a step back and remind themselves what makes our country so great. It's not the fact that we are relatively rich here. That's changing fast. But if we continue to stand up for our freedoms we will continue to be a great country even when our economy is in the dump.

  3. I haven't seen the film yet, but if anyone actually believes that bin Laden was found without torture is an ostrich with his (or her) head in the sand. Get real.

  4. What about death penalties? Islamic Republic of Iran is going to kill 2 political inprisoned brothers named Zaniar and Loghman Moradi soon. Do Amnesty will save them? It is not just a film, it is reality. Please try to make it posiible to save the prisoners. Thanks!

    • AI produces reports on most of the world's countries, and this includes Iran, most countries in the Middle East and most countries in the West as well. Having a piece about HR issues in the US, doesn't means there's anyone sleeping over Iranian issues. This insistence that HR NGOs focus only on Muslim, Middle Eastern or non-Western countries in general, bespeaks a fear that Western countries be perceived as less than perfect themselves, and hostility to those who point that out. For a people who constantly denounce Iran as autocratic, many Westerners sure do not react well to criticism of their own countries.

  5. I thought this film was just rubbish, pseudo realism , the people who did the torturing are replaced by (probably better looking) actors ,
    and we swallow violence dressed up as drama ,again.
    History written by the victors ?
    A very cynical use of the latest cinematic tecniques .In my opinion.

  6. "torture is immoral, always
    unlawful…." that is why its permitted in Guantanamo bay under American laws. so stfu Amnesty.

  7. drones are great to kill terrorists or would you rather have a full scale invasion of pakistan a nuclear country. Torture is not banned by the constitution only torture on U.S. soil thats why torture is done on foreign soil. These people kill thousands in the worst ways possible they deserve it so stop protecting them.

  8. Terrorists > Human Rights? Where were the human rights when they took down the twins? Where were the Human Rights when this dude shot all the children in school? > this system will never work. when ppl want smthn they will always get it. Doesn't matter how. There will be always someone who will do anythin to achieve the goal! If its a Terrorist or Nut-bag, or CIA operative. period. nothing will change this. nobody. bloody apocalypse maybe that kills all humans. no rights. just nature! hah. so keep calm and carry on ppl. waste of time. governments and the other side will always do what they need to do. don't matter wrong or right. just the goal.

  9. I know Bin Laden was wanted for crimes against humanity and was a dictator but I ask this..when they did capture him, torture him then kill him, parade his body around and film this all for the world to see..was that ok???
    How can we ask for compassion, acceptance, freedom of speech and thought, and basic human rights from others when we can't achieve that ourselves

    • Bin Laden wasn't a dictator, he was the head of a terrorist organization. And when he was killed, he was killed on sight, not captured, tortured, or paraded around and filmed for everyone to see; hence why no one has seen it. At least have a basic knowledge of what you're commenting on if you want to contribute

  10. I am sorry, but torture is a reality whether you want to beleive it or not. Barbaric as it is–it is used by ALL countries in the world. Get over it people–you can't stop what will never cease. The prisoners at Git Mo –are there for a reason. They wanted to KILL us–and you are crying over us torturing them? WOW!

    • When you say that all countries use torture, with "ALL" in capital letters, I assume you include, for example, San Marino, or Andorra. Do you seriously think that there are tortures in Andorra?, because if you do not think that way, you should not write "all" in capital letters when referring to the countries that use torture. Not all of us live in the same country and, not all countries are the same. (Excuse my poor and redundant English)

      • I'm willing to bet that if any country thought there was a chance that 911 would happen on their soil, they would be willing to torture to prevent it.

    • Tams,

      How do you know ANYTHING about the people locked up in Guantanamo? I know… Let's have Iran or North Korea or the Taliban send a platoon down to your house and abduct you while you take out the garbage. You want to kill them, after all. How do they know this? Because they abducted you, threw you into prison and tortured you, and therefore can now say "It's because Tams wants to kill us." Same dimwit logic.

  11. Good article, but some ill-informed and offensive comments. Many of the prisoners at GitMo are/were there for no good reason at all. Bush/Cheney wanted to be seen as the big bully boys, and plenty of people were prepared to sell them plausible victims – witness the farcical and belated attempts to actually put them on trial and produce hard evidence. Those tortured include well documented cases of completely innocent people, notably the German, Khaled El-Masri (it isn't a crime to have an arabic name, btw). To a large extent the "purpose" of the torture became (just as in medieval times) the extraction of confessions, so as to "justify" the methods used in the first place. Guess what – this makes YOU the BAD guys.

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  13. Actually, the film made a lot of points about how torture can be used to extract useful information. I was surprised when I saw the movie because I had expected it to highlight Obama and give him a lot of credit for finding Osama but I was pleasantly surprised to see just how politically impartial it remained through and through. It was nice to see the movie presented as it was, without any liberal or conservative bias, as all movies should be.

  14. I believe the movie tries to show what happened……It's fairly certain that torture took place so it's shown……It takes no sides because we,the viewer,are suppose to decide for ourselves……Just a side note but Jessica Chastain did not get the Ocar she completely deserved to win, for best actress,Jennifer Lawrence did for Silver Linings Playbook….As much as I loved her in it I can't help but feel Zero Dark Thirty was shut down by politcal forces…

  15. It's an unpleasant fact of life. Say there is a horrible event that's gonna happen and cost multiple lives and we are just suppose to ask, "give me names dates and places?" and they say, "No." Then what? Call it a day? Wtf ever….unfortunately honesty isn't paramount with this kind of radical element obviously they will not be forth coming with thier information. That leaves your government with little alternatives. Now on the same note ….when their is an attack….people demand that those responsible be held accountable….!!! What would you be willing to do to save lives? Would you compromise your ethics? Would you stand by and watch it unfold? What would you do?

    • It's one of those conundrums in life, isn't it? I am a strong believer in human rights and abhor violence of any kind, but even I (somewhat hesitantly) agree that at times it may be necessary due to the horrendous actions of some people in this world, in order to save innocent lives. I hope I never have to endure the personal torture of being the one who has to decide what is a genuine necessity.
      For me an issue arises when the ones authorising the torture are genuinely wrong (and the person being tortured is in fact innocent), or when it is not a genuinely necessary action – for example, if they are evil themselves and do it to serve their own corrupt or illegal purposes – but they do it because they can get away with it.

  16. wat can u really do any way, no one can stop it, it always being done right under our very nose but we don't even know it. people will NEVER STOP USING TORTURE NEVER. only a nation can put a stop to it. if u want it to end work together.

  17. FEAR is a POWERFUL EMOTION that can be influenced, manipulated, and produce PERCEPTIONS, ATTITUDES, and ACTIONS that are not based on TRUTH or REALITY.