Friday, December 21, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty — FAIL

That raises a key question: With so much evidence of so many failures -- practical, legal and moral -- of the CIA's "detainee program," why did Boal and Bigelow fail to include it in the film 
My theory -- and it is just a theory -- is that Boal and Bigelow were seduced by their sources. It's a common problem. When a writer or filmmaker gets extraordinary access, one is inclined to believe the person(s) granting the access. There is a significant constituency at the CIA which would like to defend its use of EITs in the War on Terror. This group is exemplified by Jose Rodriguez, the man who was responsible for destroying the videotapes of the CIA's interrogations -- which included waterboarding -- of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. There are many, including me, who believe that Rodriguez should have been prosecuted for destroying evidence of possible crimes. (The DOJ declined to prosecute him.) Instead, he is now promoting his book in which he claims that waterboarding worked.
Many have been won over by the views of Rodriguez and those like him who suggest that what the CIA did was tough, but necessary and smart. It was none of those things. Yet by immersing us only in the world of the CIA, Boal and Bigelow don't show us the perspective we need as viewers to see the lunacy of the CIA's "detainee program." If you want to reveal how tall a man is, you don't shoot him in limbo; you must show him in relation to others. Likewise, how can viewers of ZD30 judge the CIA's record if they can't see how others were shocked by its cruelty, cowardice and stupidity of EITs. In the film, long after the torture of "Ammar," an agent hands Maya a file folder with the real name of al-Kuwaiti. "If only I had this years ago," says Maya. Because Maya is the glamorous heroine of the film, we identify with her and wonder about the inefficiency of her colleagues. But where is the character who wonders if Maya had spent less time slapping detainees around and more time scanning actual evidence -- as the FBI did -- she might have got to bin Laden's courier much sooner.
I suspect that Boal and Bigelow's sources at the CIA shared some of the views of Rodriguez. Of course, without knowing who those sources are, it's impossible to say. What we do know, from correspondence that has been released, is that the CIA did grant extraordinary access to Boal and Bigelow.
While there is nothing wrong with access per se, what is concerning is the way that the CIA -- and other military agencies -- grant selective access. Sometimes that's because of the star status of the project. The letters show how much the agency loved Hurt Locker (one of the rare times I agree with the perspective of the CIA). Other times, it's because the agency is satisfied that the filmmakers have a vision that is "consistent" with that of the CIA. Whatever the reason, this will become a bigger and bigger concern for movies based on factual events (be they films with actors or documentaries). Why not give all American citizens to declassified information? 
Whatever happened on ZD30, we can be sure of one thing. The CIA PR team must be delighted, particularly those who were supporters of the EIT "Program." As former CIA director Michael Hayden noted, "I was happy the film was in the hands of such talent."
The Truth About Zero Dark Thirty: Director Alex Gibney on the dangerous myth perpetuated by the film.
Alex Gibney

War films tend to be propaganda films because they involved access. This is well known, and Boal and Bigelow have to know this. Therefore, I can only conclude that this is a propaganda piece.

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