Katherine Bigelow, Propaganda Tool

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 10 2014 @ 8:25pm

A reader writes:

Please take a minute if you haven’t already to watch the segment on the Daily Show last night where Jon Stewart asks Zero Dark Thirty director Katherine Bigelow about the Senate report on torture (she was scheduled to be on the show to promote her new documentary on the ivory trade and terrorism – the timing was a coincidence as far as I know).  When asked for her reaction to the revelation of the CIA’s lies and misrepresentations (particularly about whether the information gleaned from torture was of any use) her two word answer was: “It’s complicated.”

That’s it.

Nothing else from her.  No apology for the damage her movie did in conveying the idea to the average American that torture “works”.  No attempt to explain how she was deceived (of course it was public knowledge even then that the salient information came from un-tortured sources but many/most people don’t know or understand that), and no attempt at a defense by her either. And then no follow up from Jon Stewart. Just her “It’s complicated” and then on to something new (with new bad guys who aren’t us).

She was had. And she’s not strong enough to admit it. Her movie does show some of the milder torture the US inflicted on prisoners, and it has some worth for that. But its subtle attempt to say that it somehow played a role in getting bin Laden … well, we now know that is not true. Another scowls at Stewart:

I’ve never thought of Jon Stewart as a journalists. But you guys have often written about him in those terms. If Stewart is a journalist, he was David Gregory during the Bigelow segment.

Don’t be too rough on him. A reminder of the facts of the Senate report as it relates to bin Laden:

Did waterboarding and other coercive interrogation techniques that were used on al Qaeda detainees in CIA custody eventually lead to the Navy SEAL operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan early in the morning of May 2, 2011? The Senate Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday has a simple answer to that: Hell, no!

According to the Senate report, the critical pieces of information that led to discovering the identity of the bin Laden courier, Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, (Ahmed the Kuwaiti) whose activities eventually pointed the CIA to bin Laden’s hiding place in Pakistan, were provided by an al-Qaeda detainee before he was subjected to CIA coercive interrogation, and was based also upon information that was provided by detainees that were held in the custody of foreign governments. (The report is silent on the interesting question of whether any of these unnamed foreign governments obtained any of their information by using torture.)

Further critical information about the Kuwaiti was also provided by conventional intelligence techniques and was not elicited by the interrogations of any of the CIA detainees, according to the report.

Even worse for the CIA — which has consistently defended the supposed utility of the interrogation program, including in the hunt for bin Laden — a number of CIA prisoners who were subjected to coercive interrogations consistently provided misleading information designed to wave away CIA interrogators from the bin Laden courier who would eventually prove to be the key to finding al Qaeda’s leader.

Update from a reader with further media criticism:

I listened to “Morning Edition” this morning, very curious to hear their coverage on this important story. I was quite disappointed. First, they continued with the “enhanced interrogation” euphemism, refusing to call it torture. (She kept referring to it as “what some would call torture.”) But even more problematic was Renee Montagne’s interview with John Rizzo, former CIA General Counsel.

Their entire conversation centered on the specific practices that went beyond the authorized practices, with Rizzo emphasizing that when people exceeded the boundaries, they were reported (and punished). Montagne never asked him about the practices that were authorized, which is the much bigger problem at issue. Rizzo made it seem like there were two types of practices: (1) authorized practices that were effective (according to him); and (2) unauthorized, excessive practices. Montagne never asked him how or why practices like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and keeping prisoners in stress positions were actually permitted, given that they have been legally prohibited previously. Nor did she ask if some of the other practices that were revealed in the report, such as “anal feeding,” were permitted (or were considered excessive according to the CIA guidelines he was defending).

Whitewash doesn’t even begin to capture what a lame interview it was (as most of the comments on NPR’s website point out).