Tim Tan Huynh


  • 15 Dec 2014
  • Does the end justify the means? I don't really know.

Last week I rented Zero Dark Thirty because I wanted to see it on Blu-Ray. Then a day later, the CIA and its controversial interrogation techniques in the War on Terror made headlines again after an independent, government study was published.

I wanted to write an informed and insightful piece about the topic, but I was too lazy to find and read the Senate report in question. Putting aside the controversy over the legal definition, attributable efficacy, and moral justification of so-called enhanced interrogation, I don’t categorically oppose or support it. I know this view seems like a cop out, but I can’t ignore the merits of both sides of the debate.

For me, I would be intellectually lazy if I were totally for or totally against the calculated inducement of physical and/or psychological stress with the goal of possibly saving lives. The famous Machiavellian adage comes to mind.

Zero Dark Thirty depicts some shocking practices that have allegedly been used on real detainees. The turning point in the plot happens when a sleep-deprived detainee, Ammar, identifies a man whom the protagonist, Maya, believes is the trusted courier of Osama bin Laden. By this time, Ammar and other detainees who echo this information have presumably faced years of torture/interrogation.

Though Maya’s conclusion eventually proves to be correct, the torture leading up to this point has failed to produce usable information. The movie is (in)famous for its unflinching depiction of torture/interrogation, but ironically it’s a non-violent bluff and an overlooked file that arguably lead to the breakthrough, not forcing somebody to swallow water or stuffing him into a crate.

I wouldn’t mind being shackled and pantless in front of Jessica Chastain, though.