Zero Dark Thirty, Katheryn Bigelow’s controversial film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, opened on Friday, January 4 in the Bay Area to fervent demonstrations challenging its misleading depiction of torture. Glen Greenwald summarizes the criticism levied at the film by film critics and protesters alike:
[The film] immediately goes from its exploitative start – harrowing audio tapes of 9/11 victims crying for help – into CIA torture sessions of Muslim terrorists that take up a good portion of the film’s first forty-five minutes. The key evidence – the identity of bin Laden’s courier – is revealed only after a detainee is brutally and repeatedly abused…. There is zero doubt, as so many reviewers have said, that the standard viewer will get the message loud and clear: we found and killed bin Laden because we tortured The Terrorists.
Or, as Frank Bruni of The New York Times, puts it, “no waterboarding, no bin Laden.”
Zero Dark Thirty presents itself as historically accurate, opening with the line that it is “based on first-hand accounts of actual events.” But the idea that torture led us to bin Laden has, as Jane Mayer writes for the New Yorker, been “debunked, repeatedly, by reliable sources with access to the facts.” We’re talking top senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee, including Diane Feinstein (D-CA), John McCain (R-AZ), and Carl Levin (D-MI). And a movie that promotes itself as true, encourages viewers to see torture as a “necessary evil,” and then “juices them up” on adrenaline generated by…physical confrontations,” as one critic writes, is disturbingly cavalier with the real facts.