When Kathryn Bigelow failed to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director for her film Zero Dark Thirty, everyone knew that the Hollywood smear machine was responsible.
The film has been viciously attacked for its depiction of torture. Those who have wanted to replace the War on Terror with a War on Torture claim that her film condones torture. In their minds it allows viewers to believe that torture was an effective technique for extracting actionable intelligence from unwilling terrorists.
Leading the charge has been Andrew Sullivan. As is his habit, Sullivan vacillates between unhinged and squeamish.
He does not mince words and identifies his targets clearly:
On the one hand, torture wasn't "the key" to finding bin Laden. On the other, "ordinary Americans fought bravely and sometimes crossed moral lines". I don't think you can describe the main torturer in the movie as sometimes crossing moral lines. He was a brutal, sadistic torturer all the time. He never stopped until he was exhausted and broken by the human souls and bodies he broke. But Bigelow does repeat my own partial defense of the film. Artists do not have to produce clarity; their murkiness can be itself an invitation for more involvement in the subject, not less. It also removes any doubt from any rational viewer that the US tortured prisoners - in violation of the Geneva Conventions, domestic law and American values. President Bush lied directly about this and repeatedly.
Of course, others, better informed than Sullivan, believe that torture did help the effort to find bin Laden.
In one of his standard rhetorical ploys Sullivan asserts opinion to be fact and then lards it over with moral outrage. He is telling you that if you disagree with him you are beyond the human pale.
And, note how cleverly Sullivan slips in some compassion for the poor human souls who were tortured.
Why would he want to humanize genocidal maniacs? Does he not recognize that we have no moral obligation to feel compassion for monsters?
Think of it: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was directly responsible for the destruction of the better part of lower Manhattan. He has the blood of thousands of Americans on his hands. He cut off Daniel Pearl’s head with a knife because Daniel Pearl was a Jew.
For my part, I do not care what they did to him.
Anyone who does care is looking at the world through a very clouded moral lens.
Those who are fighting the War on Torture insist that torture had nothing to do with finding Osama bin Laden because they know, to an absolute certainty, that torture never works.
Writing in the New York Review of Books Steve Coll offers a more nuanced position. Even if torture does work—and he, like Sullivan knows that it never works—it is immoral and we shouldn’t do it, no matter the consequences:
Even if torture worked, it could never be justified because it is immoral. Yet state-sanctioned, formally organized forms of torture recur even in developed democracies because some public leaders have been willing to attach their prestige to an argument that in circumstances of national emergency, torture may be necessary because it will extract timely intelligence relevant to public safety when more humane methods of interrogation will not.
There is no empirical evidence to support this argument. Among other things, no responsible social scientist would condone peer-reviewed experiments to compare torture’s results to those from less coercive questioning.
Saying that torture never works is as stupid as saying that it always works. A rational mind would allow for the fact that torture might in some circumstances produce good intelligence. It might in some circumstances produce bad intelligence.
When Coll suggests that a warring nation should never do anything immoral, he is forgetting that we vaporized two Japanese cities and incinerated a German city during World War II.
War is not for the squeamish. Wars are not won by occupying the moral high ground. And they are not fought effectively by people whose want to show off their superior capacity for empathy by feeling Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s pain.
Those who have smeared Kathryn Bigelow don’t much care about Kathryn Bigelow. They are fighting a larger propaganda campaign whose purpose is to control of the war-on-terror narrative.
If you take over the narrative you are one step closer to taking over peoples’ minds. In a democracy the more control you can exercise over the public opinion the more you will be able to direct policy.
Here the intentions are clear: in place of the War on Terror the radical left wants us to fight a War on Torture. Instead of fighting the Islamist threat Americans should aim their fire at Republicans, especially the war criminals who were part of the Bush administration.
Attack the Bush administration; feel compassion for its victims. That is the party line.
Don't you know: Islamist terrorism is really our fault. Anyone who has studied at the Jeremiah Wright School of International Affairs knows that we brought 9/11 on ourselves. In the immortal words of Pastor Wright: our chickens came home to roost.