Interrogation: Abuses

A Different Take on Zero Dark Thirty

By Steve Vladeck
Wednesday, January 30, 2013, 3:38 PM

Ritika already posted about AEI's panel yesterday on Zero Dark Thirty, along with a link to the video of the proceedings. Given the composition of the panel, one can hardly be surprised by overall tenor of the AEI conversation (which is well summarized in this Slate story). Separating "fact" from "fiction," indeed.

At the same time, lest that be this blog's last word on the subject (and if you haven't already, you really ought to read our colleague Alan Rozenshtein's thoughtful and nuanced review from December), I thought I'd also flag Steve Coll's reflection on the movie in the New York Review of Books--which, if nothing else, captures my own feelings better than anything else that I've seen (and provides a more apt response to the AEI panelists than I ever could hope to write myself). As Coll concludes,

Defenders of torture in the United States . . . argue by issuing a flawed syllogism: the CIA tortured al-Qaeda suspects; those suspects provided information that helped to protect the public; therefore, torture was justified and even essential. In his recent statement to agency employees about Zero Dark Thirty, acting CIA director Morrell gave this argument implicit support when he said that the ongoing debate over the CIA’s treatment of al-Qaeda suspects after 2002 “never will be definitively resolved.”

That is a timid tautology; it is also evidence of a much wider political failure. As with discourse about climate change policy, the persistence of on-the-one-hand, on-the-other forms of argument about the value of officially sanctioned torture represents a victory for those who would justify such abuse. Zero Dark Thirty has performed no public service by enlarging the acceptability of that form of debate.

If nothing else, perhaps AEI should have invited Coll to join yesterday's panel?