Hardball | December 11, 2012
>>> of the most anticipated movies of the holiday season is " zero dark thirty " the story 69 manhunt for osama bin laden . critics have praised it but it's not without controversy. the film shows brutal scenes of torture against an al qaeda detainee. many who have seen it say torture provided the groundwork for capturing and killing osama bin laden . as a moral statement, zero dark thirty is pord borderline fascistic. katherine big lowe said the movie was honest in its depiction of torture.
>> i think the film doesn't have an agenda. i think it shows the story of the greatest manhunt in history and that's part of the history.
>> but how honest is that history in the film? many experts say the film gets its facts wrong about the central role torture played. david eddel steen joins us as does frank bruney. thank you. it's an honor to have both of you on. daifd, let me ask you about the movie. is it an honest portrayal of what happened as best you know?
>> i think it's a very neutral portray portrayal. i don't know the specifics. i didn't talk to any of the cia people involved. what i have heard is that the screenwriter kind of drank the kool-aid and fell in love with his cia sources and are taking their point of view. peter bergen in his book "manhunt" and also in a recent article implies that there was absolutely no link between so-called extreme interrogation and information that led to the courier who ultimately brought them to bin laden .
>> for those having seen the film, do you believe it makes the case that torture was essential in killing bin laden ?
>> can i answer that in a vigorously wishy washy way?
>> i guess you will.
>> because i think that kathryn bigelow , if you look at her last film, the hurt locker" it gain with a quote from chris hedges to the effect that war is a drug, an addiction, and kathryn bigelow is kind of an amoral filmmaker. she portrayed a woman who is basically addicted to revenge, who is on a kind of counter jihad. big low takes her point of view and shoots the torture scenes in a neutral way, they are ugly, disturbing and at the same time given what the film is about, they don't exactly make us want to go out and sign a petition against torture. they are sort of portrayed as ugly but necessary, and i think that's the central question. was it necessary? we know it's ugly. was it necessary?
>> so, frank, same two questions to you. is the movie accurate and does it justify means as a justification because 69 ends. because you get the bad guy it's okay to torture somebody along the way.
>> i don't think the movie makes the case. i don't think it wads into capturing obama -- i mean captured osama is worth torture but it does suggest very, very strongly without the torture we would never have been able to raid that compound, we would never have gotten there. this is a movie i think it's important to note the makers of it have said we took a very journalistic approach. they have raised the bar on its accuracy in a way that doesn't happen for other movies. so the fact they imply so strongly, maybe even more than ip ply, that torture was essential to killing osama bin laden and there are a lot of questions among experts about whether that's so, i think that's a big issue to be discussed.
>> well, let me go back to david . i have seen about three movies that might be considered fashistic. i'm not saying they're bad. one was the chase. i definitely think that had that element, straw dogs , of course, history of violence . the good guys get to be the violent people. that narrows it down without getting too ideological about it. is that one of the movies that people like me would like?
>> it's not as extreme as the tv series "24." but there is in the american action cinema and particularly this idea that means justify ends, and that it's just a given that in order effectively to fight criminals or evil doers that the heroes have to descend to the same moral level, and i think bigelow who is a male oriented filmmaker does buy into this myth. well, the question is, is it a myth? is it a valid archetype? what is it. i think we have to debate that.
>> can we defeat terrorism by playing by gentlemenly rules to use the same kind of reference point?
>> you're asking a film critic ? you're really asking a film krit snik.
>> you guys make moral judgments all the time.
>> actually, i don't know the answer to that, but i do know if you look at our fiction -- our so-called dramatic or narrative cinema, that is ringingly endorsed in the same way that, you know, the death penalty and vengeance is sanctified in our cinema. if you look at a documentary like alex gid ni's great oscar winning film " taxi to the dark side " you have a lot of fbi people, not cia , arguing that extreme interrogation doesn't work. that it makes people psychotic. that friendly interrogation, in fact, does a lot more to getting information. i don't think friendly interrogation, frankly, is quite as sinemetic.
>> did torture play an essential role in the hunt for bin laden . dianne feinstein says unequivocally no. she spent three years looking at millions of pages of evidence. earlier she wrote, cia did not first learn about the existence of osama bin laden courier for detines subjected to subjective interrogation techniques. instead, the cia learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the cia detention and internation program. that's after her statement and one of the fbi interrogators who was successful in getting information from al qaeda detainees using noncoercive means has strongly criticized the cia 's use of torture saying it didn't work. listen to what he says on " 60 minutes " about what happened after a cia interrogator showed up to take over the questioning of one of the detainees he had been dealing with. let's watch.
>> supposedly he's an expert in the field. so i asked him, do you know anything about islamic fundamentalism ? he said no. have you ever interrogated anybody? no. he basically said no, he knows human nature .
>> and how does he react to this?
>> he basically stopped cooperating.
>> the information dried up?
>> yes, totally.
>> frank, is that true? that he stopped talking after they start getting rough with him?
>> i don't know enough about the particular case. i can't answer that.
>> let me ask you generally about this. how is this going to coming out? frank, you're a general columnist. i read you a couple times a week. how is this going to play with most people, liberals and everyone, when they watch a movie which has this tough approach to getting an evil person. how are we going to react to it?
>> i think some liberals will be pretty upset because i think most people will walk out of this movie with the impression that torture was a vital part of getting osama bin laden in the end, and the history of this, the experts about this, that's not what they say. there's debate about this and there's a strong belief among many of the most trustworthy experts that torture is not necessary in these sorts of interrogations and to get this sort of information, and so i think a lot of liberals -- i don't want to even do this in liberals and conservatives. i think a lot of people who have moral qualms about torture and don't want to accept it toob easily as a necessary technique are going to feel a bit uneasy this movie. that's not say it's not a terrific movie as a movie, movie is a little bit different and higher because the makers have said they took a journalistic approach.
>> chris, let me say one more thing about the film. in its defense torture only occupies about the first 30 minutes . i know for many people that's quite enough, and there is an enormous amount of detective work involved in actually finding the location of the courier. the other thing is that the movie -- it kind of fudges. i have so say they kind of fudge the actual revelation. they torture the guy, it doesn't work, and then they trick him into saying that he said something that he didn't say and then he spills everything in a very calm and casual way. so --
>> but, david , didn't you have the sense that was a product of him having been broke snn.
>> absolutely. certainly.
>> i always tell people, i have been watching movies for years with stars i don't like and i like them in the mo offy. so i think it's one more thing we have to use our discernment when we watch. thank you very much frank and david .
>> thank you.
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