Archive for zero dark thirty

The One Where I Ramble About Battlestar Galactica And Torture

Posted in society with tags , , , on March 6, 2013 by cueball

I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right! – Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness in The Untouchables

Which side are we on?  We are on the side of demons, Chief. We’re evil men in the gardens of paradise, sent by the forces of death to spread devastation and destruction wherever we go. – Michael Hogan as Col. Saul Tigh in Battlestar Galactica

These are two of my favorite movie/television quotes.  They say a lot about the movie and show they are in and they say a lot about those characters.  Both men were simply using what they had to fight their fight the best way they could.  However, they were different.

Elliot Ness was righteous.  He may have done bad, but he knew he was on the side of the angels.  He was cleaning up Chicago and if he had to bend or break a few laws to put Capone in jail, he would.  He could sleep at night because he was at heart a good man defending the flag and apple pie against the evil mobsters and bootleggers.

Saul Tigh was not righteous.  He was doing a job no angel could do.  They were fighting on the losing side of a war and killed and maimed as many as possible to gain just a little traction.  He ordered people to kill innocents as well as themselves in suicide bombings to disrupt the Cylon Occupation.

I’ve had these two quotes in my head ever since seeing Zero Dark Thirty.  More specifically, I’ve been thinking about the torture of detainees and prisoners.  I have come to the conclusion that at least in this instance, we are the evil men in the gardens of paradise.  However, in this case those evil men were maybe not necessary, but understandable.  Those that were behind these evils should step up and say, “What we did was necessary, but not right.”  They should stop hiding behind the idea that because what they did, they did to protect this country it makes it all right or in some ways noble.  Just because you were trying to protect the country doesn’t make what you did legal or even noble.

I am not stupid.  Nor am I naive.  I understand that there are legal and diplomatic consequences to current and former government officials admitting to participation in torture.  Part of being an adult is admitting when you are wrong and accepting the consequences of your actions.

I don’t care about the souls of the men and women behind the torture program.  What I care about, is the country and the ideals they supposedly wanted to protect so much.  They did this in our name, which means we have done this thing.  We are all complicit.  We are the forces of death who sent in the evil men.  To pretend otherwise is to twist the soul and the intellect into inextricable knots and leads to nothing.

This all goes back to those two quotes.  Both men know what they have done and what they are doing and are comfortable with the consequences.  Ness believes he will be vindicated by history for defeating the evil man.  Tigh believes he will go to Hell whether his side wins or loses.

This is about our soul as a country.  You must confess your sins and ask God for forgiveness in order to save your soul.  That is not a get out of jail free card, there are consequences and there must be penance paid (especially if you are Catholic).

Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Tell Tale Heart” isn’t about a murder.  It is about the psychic consequences of hiding that murder.  It is about the toll hiding your evil takes upon your soul until it drives you mad.  This continued legal, intellectual, and psychic game of kind of admitting but not quite admitting what we did mixed with the rationalizations of many of the primary actors in this story has infected too much of our discourse about who we are in the post 9/11 world.  Unless and until we admit what we have done, this thing will continue to eat away at us and stain us in the world’s eyes as well as our own.

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Zero Dark Thirty

Posted in movies with tags , on January 21, 2013 by cueball

I finally saw Zero Dark Thirty today.  It is a brilliant work of art.  Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal told the story they wanted to tell and they told it vividly.  There were moments of pure surprise throughout the movie even if you knew what happened on the days spotlighted by the on screen description.  The final sequence, which is the raid on Usama Bin Laden’s house in Abbottabad, was one of the best action sequences you will ever see on film.  Oh yeah, every actor brought it.  From Jessica Chastain through the wonderful cameo by Mark Valley as the C-130 pilot taking Maya home each actor was at the top of their game.

The final scene with Maya on the plane is the “what’s next” moment.  If Ahab had killed Moby Dick and survived the encounter this is what it would have looked like.  Your whole life is wrapped up into this moment of triumph, but you don’t know what to do once you have won.

The movie became controversial mostly because that is what we do today.  Everything is political for a certain class of people in this country.  Every utterance by anyone in the public eye is parsed and dissected to find out the political meaning by both sides of the spectrum.  The reason this movie is controversial is torture.

Do I think this movie supports torture?  No.  Do I think this movie suggest that torture led to the capture of bin Laden? No.  The main argument against the people who think the movie is pro torture is when the torture scene occurs and how unflinching it is.

I remember September 11, 2001.  I remember how beautiful that day was.  I walked to work and remember thinking this is a perfect day, no clouds and no humidity and not a cloud in the sky.  I got in early and sat at my desk checking email and relaxing.  A coworker walked by and just asked as she headed to her office, “Did you hear about the plane crashing into the World Trade Center?”  I called up the washingtonpost.com and saw the image on the front page.  By the end of the day, I was in my apartment at 3 am watching the news when I finally broke down crying.

In that light, it makes since that the second scene of the movie, the scene that occurs after the haunting 911 calls from the World Trade Center played against a black screen, is of torture.  We were angry.  We were hurt.  We needed to strike back against anything and anyone we thought was responsible.  We were wounded animal striking wildly and violently at whatever we could touch.  We had to look into the abyss.  We had to walk through that valley.  If for no other reason than the psychic need for vengeance and to see that that blood lust would not be fruitful in the end.

To say torture got no useful evidence is probably wrong.  It probably did lead to some scraps of information, but nothing truly actionable.  In the movie, most of the information gained from torture led nowhere or worse led to people being killed.  The real work of the CIA analysts and operatives did not begin until after the torture stopped.

One of my favorite scenes is when George, Maya’s boss at the CIA, is in a meeting with the National Security Advisor.  George complains that he can’t get the proof he needs without the detainee and torture program.  The NSA looks at him and essentially tells him to be creative and do your job.

Those who oppose the movie on torture grounds are not frustrated with the movie as much as frustrated that no one in the US government tied to the detainee program that may have broken US and international law.  They will continue to be frustrated.  No president, whether he supports the use of torture or not, will make any decision that will tie his or his successors hands in the future.

So growing tired of yelling for the President of The United States to do something he is never going to do, they have turned their ire towards this movie.  I don’t think when Bigelow and Boal started writing this movie they had any intention of supporting or attacking torture.  I think they wanted to make a good movie about this particular moment in time.  They did that and that is how this movie should be judged.