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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

"Zero Dark Thirty" and Depictions of Torture

Nickie Phillips

Katherine Bigelow’s film Zero Dark Thirty has generally received rave reviews and is likely to be among the 2013 Oscar contenders. However, the film has received criticism for its depiction of torture as a useful, primary tactic in finding Bin Laden.

In fact, even the acting director of the C.I.A. finds the depictions problematic:

“Zero Dark Thirty,” Mr. Morell said it “creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Laden. That impression is false.”

Three U.S. Senators have also gone on record in opposition to the depiction of torture in the film, requesting a "disclaimer" from the filmmakers.

In a letter to studio chief Michael Lynton, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain(R-Ariz.) wrote that the movie, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, improperly establishes a connection between "enhanced interrogations" and key intelligence.

Alex Gibney, director of the documentary Taxi To The Dark Side, calls the film a "stylistic masterwork" yet “fundamentally reckless” for its portrayal of torture. For his take on the responsibility of the filmmakers to portray the truth about the efficacy of torture, go here.

For Alicia Cohn's article in The Hill, go here.

Go here for the On the Media podcast episode featuring Peter Bergen, journalist and national security analyst, discussing the film."

Go here for the Guardian article: "The truth about Zero Dark Thirty: This torture fantasy degrades us all."

For a more nuanced interpretation, see Andrew O'Hehir's article in Salon:

I do want to suggest, however, that the hot debate about Bigelow’s likely Oscar nominee opens up all kinds of other overlapping questions of fact and interpretation – and also about the uses and limitations of art, and the powerful responses it provokes – that do not yield clear answers.