The line between “torture” and “enhanced interrogation” was unclear in the film although the American Ph.D. does say that now that there's been a regime change he and Maya (the woman who breaks the enemy combatants and discovers their secrets) will have have to cool it, or they will end up in the photos on the front pages, and lose their careers. The one terrorist they put through whatever it was seemed to emerge from the sessions without being irreparably broken. He ate food and seemed to possess his marbles at the end. Of course this was an actor. In the film itself it was said that none of these enemy combatants would ever be released. All would be slain, in other words. What really happened?
John McCain of course also went through torture and still seems to have all his marbles. But McCain’s body was ruined. His jowls are a mess, and he can’t lift his arms. Documenting a process that we weren’t privy to is difficult because there’s no way to verify what happened. Taking the CIA’s word for it that there was no torture should also be taken with a grain of salt. It isn’t as if that outfit has never lied and always tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Staging this torture session won’t necessarily lead to more torture but arguably to less as citizens become familiar with what went on, and can visualize it. Some argue that this wasn’t waterboarding the way it actually went down. My least favorite torture was being closed up in the tiny box. That would give you cramps and claustrophobic sensations. December 17, 2012 New Yorker Talk of the Town says, “The film includes wrenching scenes of a terrrorist suspect being waterboarded and subjected to other forms of torture by C.I.A. operatives; the suspect eventually surrenders information that helps to lead to Bin Laden. Bigelow maintains that everything in the film is based on first-hand accounts…” (27). Should we be able to see what is on the front lines or not? Should we be ostriches? The use of torture is arguable. On the one hand the other side are not soldiers of any country governed by or signatory to the combat conventions signed at Geneva. Does this mean anything goes? It's hard to know. In the battle of Algiers the French tortured suspects and ultimately won a military victory. However, they lost the propaganda war. And they tortured and released a few French citizens, who went on to write of their ordeals. The power of the pen ultimately freed Algeria. Could this happen with the suspects we will eventually release from Guantanamo? It was the former prisoners of the Soviet Union (Solzhenitsyn, for example) who ultimately brought down the Evil Empire. Have we also become an Evil Empire in the process of fighting the evils foisted on us by the beheaders and child-killers of Al Qaeda?
Kathryn Bigelow said that “what we were attempting is almost a journalistic approach to film” (26).
This post is basically a response to Steven Shaviro's post. (You can find his blog through my links. The guy is a genius, but he is also a Marxist. I wanted to argue against the proceduralism viewpoint on his blog, and also to argue FOR the western way of war as NOT being merely procedural. Any form of law enforcement in the west has a great deal of individual initiative. There are procedures, but it's going outside the box that we see in series such as NUMB3RS, going back to Sherlock Holmes.) The breakthrough moment for Maya is somewhat against procedure. She has a sudden intuition of the absence of information which treats the negative areas as positives, which throws open the puzzle of OBL’s courier’s whereabouts. It's the information the captives ARE NOT giving up that leads her to the conclusion that OBL's courier is alive. Maya has understood certain things: you can't run a terrorist organization from a cave. You need to be on the grid. To do this, you need a courier. Having narrowed down what it was she needed to find, she proceeded to find it.
To me the film is about the triumph of the intuition in the analytical process, and about the freedom of individuals to pursue this analytical process, which is why we’re going to beat Al Qaeda who blindly follow leaders into the maelstrom. It’s the same reason the early Greeks beat the Persians (Victor Davis Hanson posits that the individual’s freedom in the west will always triumph over the potentate’s dictatorial proceduralism in which the agents of the potentate unthinkingly carry out directives from which they are unable to err). Hanson writes in Carnage and Culture (Anchor Books, 2001), "The peculiar way Greeks killed grew out of consensual government, equality among the middling classes, civilian audit of military affairs, and politics apart from religion, freedom and individualism, and rationalism" (4). Socrates, a philosopher, fought in the battles against Sparta, alongside other Greeks. Xenophon, his student, went on to write powerful testimonials of the wars that followed. What appears to be the case is how individuals, and procedures are followed, but not followed blindly. It is always innovation within a tradition that produces the edge.
Say what you will, but Maya stood up to a whole wall of bureaucrats many times over. Hers is not merely a triumph of procedure. It's far more. Find any low-ranking personage in an Al Qaeda cell, much less a woman, who has been given the freedom to do over ten years what Maya did. OBL was a clever man. But can he stand up to an entire civilization of clever people, and live? He won the first round on the basis of a sneak attack which threw two airplanes of unarmed citizens into buildings. But a war is the equivalent of fifteen rounds. And you're not hitting children any longer in the back of the head. You're dealing with an army that is wide awake, and ready to hit you back. What’s probably scandalous to Marxists with this film is the triumph of the individual’s ability to capitalize on the freedom of information within her milieu to arrive at a correct perception. This is what goes wrong not only in the militias of Stalin and Ceausescu (who ultimately betray their masters in a crisis), but also in the countries of western potentates (we are beginning to see a massive exodus of Islamic women from Islamic countries -- women such as Ayaan Ali Hirsi, who constitute the beginning of this exodus, and the commencement of their Solzhenitsyns -- from absolute silence, to a condition that resembles a fledgling form of freedom. This film represents the triumph of the bourgeoisie and individual capitalism and the freedom accorded to women represented by Bigelow, who seized on a capital project, and completed it, and is now thriving on the controversy it has created that endows the film with visitors. To silence it would be tantamount to silencing the invisible hand of capitalism itself, even as that hand may appear to slap terrorists around. (We really do have to watch that, as we need to reach into the Islamic heart and mind and offer not only the women, but the men as well, something. This something has to somehow reach back into Islamic theology and show them resources there that allow them on their own terms to escape into the multiplicity of democracy. Will this work? We've been fighting these wars a long while -- and it's not clear if they will.) This film ZERO DARK THIRTY is about the process of thought and how individuals from the west carry that out against individuals from the east. And why we so far are winning. To win, the Islamic society will have to allow for individual creativity and the recommencement of scientific inquiry -- abandoned in the 12th century when the claims of Averroes to a kind of two-kingdoms' thought -- were censored, and he was killed: "Averroes's commentaries came into the Christian world appearing to claim that there were two kinds of opposing truths, philosophical truth (i.e. Aristotelean) and religious truth, yet also claiming that the contexts of the philosophical and theological discourse were so distinct that both truths could be accepted at the same time" (Looking at Philosophy, Palmers, Sixth Edition, p. 129). This "doctrine of double truth" might allow for a lifting of the censorship of the mullahs and allow individual thought to appear throughout the Islamic world, but on its own terms.
It appears that our edge at this point has something to do with Augustine's initial notion of "Two Kingdoms" and his ideas of "Just" "War" which were previously thought to be incompatible. St. Thomas Aquinas' acceptance of this double doctrine appears to come through Averroes, and our continuing edge has to do with Luther's further elaborations of this discrepancy, and even something to do with Jefferson's letter to the Baptists in which he announced "the separation of church and state." The capacity for independent inquiry, inquiry independent of the dicates of Islam, will make the Islamic nations that much more formidable as enemies. On the other hand, it may permit our civilizations to begin to be one civilization, or at least allow us to live together in the 21st century. While this giant metaphysical problem is working its way out, we will have to continue to take out the problematic individuals such as OBL as they attempt to shut our civilization down with terror. And we will continue to be able to do it, but it's only going to get harder, as one day soon, one of them is going to get one of our atomic weapons. We have to delay that as long as possible, while working on the other problems of East-West relations, and opening up the two-kingdom's idea within Islam (and within the remains of the Marxist one-kingdom juggernaut) so that we can get some perspective into these communities darkened by Cyclopsean monotony.