Is Zero Dark Thirty Morally Corrupt?

Now let’s hear from the theologians. Samuel Freedman notices how the movie has set up a rather narrow debate:

By the first argument, the film is flawed because it does not follow the historical record. By the second, the film is flawed because torture does not work. What neither argument takes up, but what some theologians have been wrestling with throughout the “global war against terror,” is what a civilized society should think about torture even if it does work.

My italics. I have never argued that torture can never work in extracting truth. I have always argued that even though it may do so, that truth is always riddled with lies and things people will say just to stop the severe suffering they are being forced to endure by other human beings. It can and is routinely used by the powerful to frame the powerless; it makes a mockery of any sort of due process; it corrupts and destroys the soul of the torturer as much as it does the soul of the tortured, which is designed to be broken. I do trust the professional interrogators who almost unanimously back up Ali Soufan’s argument in the NYT – the torture is far, far less effective than traditional, ethical interrogation in gaining critical intelligence, and was completely unnecessary after 9/11, employed by terrified, panicked men with minimal moral reflection – and retroactively justified by an assault on the rule of law and the integrity of the English language.

And let us be clear: the example deployed to justify it by advocates such as Charles Krauthammer – the ticking time bomb scenario – has still not occurred since 9/11. Even once. The reality of America’s torture program was legitimized by a hypothetical that was a fantasy.

But for me, as for many, torture is an absolute evil – i.e. morally unjustifiable under any circumstances – for the reasons this evangelical statement on the matter elucidates:

“When torture is employed by a state, that act communicates to the world and to one’s own people that human lives are not sacred, that they are not reflections of the Creator, that they are expendable, exploitable, and disposable, and that their intrinsic value can be overridden by utilitarian arguments that trump that value. These are claims that no one who confesses Christ as Lord can accept.”

“So do these harsh techniques work?” asked the president, who had once said that his favorite philosopher was Jesus. (I’m relying on the Woodward account.)

I recommend Dubya ask Jesus whether that question isn’t itself proof of how thoroughly he – and all the Christians involved in torturing other human beings –  lost their way so completely.