‘Zero Dark’ shows need for torture
The subject of torture is one of the implicit questions posed by the critically acclaimed film “Zero Dark Thirty.” If the sequence of events portrayed in the film is to be believed, it is clear the “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed by the United States in its struggle to protect citizens from terrorism are justified.
Shortly after the movie begins, the subject of torture rears its head. A detainee named Ammar, played hauntingly by Reda Kateb, is being held in Pakistan by the CIA at a so-called “black site” where U.S. interrogators are using every trick in the book to extract intelligence that will hopefully lead to high-level Al Qaeda operatives — up to and including 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.
The main interrogator, Dan, played by the menacing Jason Clarke, repeatedly tells Ammar, “When you lie to me, I hurt you.”
Dan is not lying. He makes good on his promise by employing the infamous techniques Americans have so often heard about in the news: waterboarding, stress positions and humiliation. Although difficult to watch, the torture scenes have an air of authenticity and give the viewer a small window into the world of espionage that usually remains below the average American’s radar.
Before long, Dan is joined in his interrogations by new CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain). At first she is visibly shaken by the methods being used at the black sites. Yet, it is soon discovered Maya’s apparent reluctance will be subordinated to the job she has come to do. During an especially graphic torture scene, Ammar is left alone with Maya, whereupon Ammar begs the CIA agent for mercy. Maya coldly responds, “You can help yourself by being truthful.”
At length, Maya becomes a seasoned veteran in the world of tradecraft — her sole mission being to capture bin Laden. During this part of the movie, Chastain shows her range as an actor. Chastain brings an intensity to the role that convincingly depicts the ambivalence that is what the real Maya likely felt. Her skill in playing Maya is Oscar-worthy.
Later in the film, Maya is aided in her mission by Ammar who, after prolonged interrogation, unwittingly reveals a key piece of intelligence. He tells Maya and Dan of a contact, named Abu Ahmed, who functions as a courier to bin Laden.
With this knowledge in hand, Maya sets out with an almost religious zeal to find Ahmed, who many in the intelligence community believe is nonexistent. Undeterred, Maya tracks Ahmed, along the way gathering corroborative evidence from other tortured detainees, who, under interrogation, confirm Maya’s suspicions.
In accordance with real-life events, ultimately Maya closes in on Ahmed. On May 2, 2011, a team of U.S. Navy SEALs — under orders from President Barack Obama — raid a compound in Abbottabad Pakistan. The raid results in the death of bin Laden.
Given the reality of these events, it is hard to dispute the significance torture played in finding bin Laden. Moreover, these facts show enhanced interrogation should be a viable tool in the fight against terror. Who among us who saw the Twin Towers fall can argue otherwise?
Watching Ammar being tortured was highly unpleasant, and that is just seeing it in a movie in the comfort and security of a theater. As Americans, we rightly recoil at such scenes of brutality. We consider ourselves, and are for the most part, a compassionate nation. Nevertheless, when confronted with the insanity of terrorism, it becomes vital to remember we are also a nation of citizens with the just expectation of security. This security can only be purchased at a cost and this cost can be messy.
Thomas Jefferson said the “price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” Although ugly and unfortunate, torture should be an option that shows our vigilance in securing our liberty.
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