When the film "Zero Dark Thirty" came out, it generated a great deal of controversy. It chronicles the pursuit and ultimate death of one of the most infamous terrorists in history, Osama bin Laden.
A lot of people had problems with the way that the film depicted both torture and the actual history behind these events. Some even characterized the movie as "unadulterated torture porn."
Others were concerned that the film seems to suggest that torture helped provide information that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, which is far from what happened in reality. Not everyone is of this opinion, but "Zero Dark Thirty" certainly struck a nerve with a number of people.
After seeing it for the first time, Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone wrote, "There's no way to watch Zero Dark Thirty without seeing it as a movie about how torture helped us catch Osama bin Laden."
Concurrently, film director Michael Moore contended, "Zero Dark Thirty is a disturbing, fantastically-made movie. It will make you hate torture. And it will make you happy you voted for a man who stopped all that barbarity."
The movie, which came out in 2012, featured scenes in which terrorists were subjected to everything from loud music, to sleep deprivation, to sexual abuse, to waterboarding (simulated drowning), among other "interrogation" techniques.
Many of the scenes were quite disturbing. What the movie revealed more than anything, however, is that torture is a complicated and contentious issue.
When "Zero Dark Thirty" was released, the public was largely aware that the United States had engaged in torture in the pursuit of terrorists.
For a long time, members of the government referred to these tactics as "enhanced interrogation techniques." Recently, President Obama was more blunt in characterizing these practices explicitly as "torture."
Yesterday, however, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the CIA's use of enhanced interrogation techniques in the wake of 9/11.
It revealed that the interrogation techniques were much worse than anything we previously thought or saw in "Zero Dark Thirty."
Not to mention, much of what was said publicly about torture was completely and utterly false.
The CIA Lied... The US Didn't Prevent A Single Terrorist Attack Through Torture
Torture is illegal by US and international law. Yet, the CIA and other government officials have continued to claim that enhanced interrogation techniques were necessary to fight a unique enemy.
They argued that torture helped provide information that ultimately prevented terrorist attacks.
Following the release of "Zero Dark Thirty," top CIA officials, including the former director of the CIA, Gen. Michael Hayden, signified that they were generally satisfied with the narrative of the film. Some were concerned that the movie might have failed to note "why torture was effective."
Yet, the report released yesterday has revealed that the CIA repeatedly lied about the success of interrogation techniques in obtaining vital intelligence.
In other words, torturing alleged terrorist suspects never prevented a terrorist attack. Not to mention, the report also revealed that torture did not in any way help the CIA obtain intelligence that helped the US find and kill Osama bin Laden.
Indeed, the CIA lied to the White House and Congress by claiming that intelligence gathered through enhanced interrogation techniques led to success in counterterrorism operations.
What's more, the CIA also deliberately leaked classified information to journalists in the hopes of exaggerating the effectiveness of torture and altering public opinion in its favor.
The CIA not only misled Congress and the White House about the efficacy of its interrogation practices, but was also dishonest about the actual methods employed.
Torture Methods Were Much Worse And More Extensive Than We Thought
When "Zero Dark Thirty" was released, CIA officials argued that the torture scenes it portrayed were much longer than what happens in real life. Yet, with the release of this report, we now know that this was a lie.
As the report notes, the "CIA applied its so-called enhanced interrogation techniques in near non-stop fashion for days or weeks at a time."
The torture scenes depicted in "Zero Dark Thirty" didn't even begin to capture many of the more abhorrent techniques employed by the CIA.
The newly released report reveals that the CIA used rectal feeding on detainees without any documentation suggesting medical necessity.
Mock burials, insects and Russian roulette were also employed during interrogations, among other torture techniques.
Correspondingly, as Igor Volsky notes for Think Progress:
Even though the CIA had told the Department of Justice that water-boarding did not physically harm detainees, the report concludes that it induces “convulsions and vomiting.” During one session, Saudi Arabian al Qaeda-linked Saudi citizen Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open full mouth.”
What's more, the report revealed that the CIA refused to take disciplinary action against an officer who tortured a detainee to death. Not to mention, the report also shows that the CIA tortured at least 26 innocent people, including its own informants by mistake.
These are only a portion of the many startling revelations from this historic, but disconcerting report.
The debate that "Zero Dark Thirty" stirred almost two years ago was important and warranted. Yet, it's also sad that a developed and democratic country like the United States even has to have a conversation surrounding the efficacy of torture.
The film revealed America's confusion surrounding a painful event, 9/11, and our often less-than-admirable response to it. The report released yesterday further highlights how lost this country became in the midst of anger and grief over a national tragedy.
Torture is not a viable or moral way for any nation to obtain information. It's not only illegal, it's also immoral. An individual being subjected to torture will tell you almost anything to acquire relief from the pain. This doesn't mean the information is reliable.
Hopefully, the release of this report will help bring closure to a dark era in American history. At the same time, it's important that the United States remains cognizant of the standards it must uphold in international relations.
As the most powerful country in the world, it has a duty to set a moral example for other nations.
In spite of the fact that Osama bin Laden is dead, the War on Terror lives on and terrorism is still a palpable threat. There may be times when the actions of these extremists give us cause to want to harm them in the same, if not worse, ways.
It's important that we don't stoop to their level, however.