Kathryn Bigelow, Torture Apologist?

Dec 10 2012 @ 12:16pm

When the director of the magnificent movie, The Hurt Locker, decided to make a movie about the raid on Abottabad, the Republican right got twitchy. Would this be an Obama hagiography just before the election? Isn't that what Hollywood's about?

It turns out the opposite is the case. Bigelow constructs a movie upon a grotesque lie:

The film includes wrenching scenes of a terrorist suspect being waterboarded and subjected to other forms of torture by C.I.A. operatives; the suspect eventually surrenders information that helps lead to bin Laden. Bigelow maintains that everything in the film is based on first-hand accounts, but the waterboarding scene, which is likely to stir up controversy, appears to have strayed from real life. According to several official sources, including Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the identity of bin Laden’s courier, whose trail led the C.I.A. to the hideout in Pakistan, was not discovered through waterboarding. "It’s a movie, not a documentary," Boal said. "We’re trying to make the point that waterboarding and other harsh tactics were part of the C.I.A. program." Still, Bigelow said, "the film doesn’t have an agenda, and it doesn’t judge. I wanted a boots-on-the-ground experience."

I have not seen the movie yet, so I have to rely on descriptions of its plot. But if it portrays torture as integral to the killing of Osama bin Laden, it is a lie. If Bigelow is calling torture "harsh tactics" she is complicit in its defense. And lies do have an agenda, whatever Bigelow says. They pretend that the law allows torture, they violate the historical record, and they make war crimes more likely in the future. Yes, it makes for a more thrilling ride if we start with a torture scene in a movie drama. But actual torture, authorized illegally by war criminals, is not fiction and is far too grave a matter to be exploited as a plot device. It is illegal because it is evil and because it provides unreliable and often false leads, not real ones. Bigelow cannot argue that her movie has no agenda, or duck behind the excuse that this is a "movie" and not a "documentary". If it lies to promote the efficacy of torture, it has a very real agenda. And that is a defense of barbarism as entertainment, and as the law of the land.