14
Dec

The moral choices on interrogations

By David Ignatius

Mark Boal, screenwriter of the new movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” says he wanted to tell a story that conveyed the moral complexities of the hunt to kill Osama bin Laden. The debate already churning around the film shows that he and director Kathryn Bigelow succeeded in that, and much else.

The movie tells the story of the relentless pursuit of bin Laden, seen through a character called “Maya,” who is based on one of the real-life CIA targeters who tracked down the al-Qaeda leader. It was Maya’s good sense to focus on the courier “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti,” who finally led the targeters to their prey.

But it’s a muted victory. In the haunting last scene of the film, Maya is seen sitting in a C-130 cargo plane at Bagram air base after she has identified bin Laden’s body. One of the crew asks her where she wants to go. She doesn’t know what to answer, and this frames the uncertainty of America itself: What did we accomplish in killing bin Laden? At what cost? Where do we go next?

The debate about the film centers on what role torture played in pinpointing al-Kuwaiti and then bin Laden himself. The film suggests that without “enhanced interrogation techniques” (the Orwellian euphemism), Maya might not have made the match. The movie doesn’t “advocate” torture — which it shows in horrifyingly believable detail — but it does demonstrate how evidence gleaned from it led to bin Laden’s door. Could Maya have gotten there some other way? The film doesn’t speculate.

Some critics contend that the film is wrong because, first, torture is ineffective and, second, bin Laden could have been found through other tactics. But I fear this argument softens the moral dilemma and overlooks part of the factual record. I asked intelligence officials to clarify some of the details, and they responded with information that may help audiences evaluate “Zero Dark Thirty” when it opens Dec. 19. Read more…

As published in www.washingtonpost.com on December 12, 2012.

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