My Own Private Guantanamo

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“A Civilized Lunch”

January 10, 2013

You might have heard that there’s a debate about whether Zero Dark Thirty presents torture as a crucial tool in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Within the first 20 minutes of the film, we see a detainee named Ammar subjected to brutal torture (or as the CIA & the filmmakers have called it “enhanced interrogation”), including being chained to the ceiling by his wrists, waterboarded, sexually humiliated and confined in a small box. During these scenes, Ammar doesn’t break and doesn’t give up any useful intelligence.

What happens next is the subject of some debate. Ammar is hauled out of his cell and given a meal by his torturers. While he eats hummus, they try a rapport-based interrogation. It is during this scene that Ammar divulges the name of the Al Qaeda courier, which will eventually lead our heroes to bin Laden.

Zero Dark Thirty’s many defenders have cited this scene as proof that the film doesn’t promote torture. Mark Boal, the film’s screenwriter calls the scene “a civilized lunch.” Michael Moore takes this claim a step further, asserting that the “lunch” scene takes place after torture has been abandoned by the CIA. His tweet implies that they simply bring the prisoner lunch and he cheerfully offers up the information.

Moore and Boal are both conveniently eliding the most important moment in the scene. Ammar only gives up the name after an interrogator threatens to “hang (him) back up to the ceiling,” thereby subjecting him to further torture.

Watch the brief clip above to decide for yourself. Is this a civilized lunch?

  • Respectforpeople

    Pretty clear in that scene that more torture is in store if he doesn’t give up a name.

  • http://mattcornell.org/blog/2013/01/zero-dark-thirty-is-the-feel-goodfeel-bad-movie-of-the-year/ My Own Private Guantanamo

    [...] to show that there is no glory. The torture scenes are grueling and unpleasant. Make no mistake, torture works. But, like everything else in the story, it’s presented as grimly necessary. The upshot is [...]

  • http://mattcornell.org/blog/2013/03/the-torturer-as-feminist-from-abu-ghraib-to-zero-dark-thirty/ My Own Private Guantanamo

    [...] scenes depict Maya’s emergence as Dan’s equal. Zero Dark Thirty’s pivotal interrogation scene—the one that controversially suggests torture was critical to locating bin Laden—is the result [...]

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