In response to:

'Disturbing' & 'Misleading' from the February 7, 2013 issue

To the Editors:

The film Zero Dark Thirty’s omission of an FBI critique of torture suggests that the writer and director chose not to question the morality, utility, and legality of enhanced interrogation perhaps because they themselves saw no reason to and assumed that moviegoers would agree [Steve Coll, “‘Disturbing’ & ‘Misleading,’” NYR, February 7]. Their film is an unapologetic police procedural of the Dirty Harry school in which CIA operatives torture an Arab who might lead them to Osama bin Laden. To raise moral objections would violate the genre.

The film’s heroine, a young CIA agent, grimly oversees this mayhem despite the objections of her superiors that such primitive tactics are wasting their time and hers. True to the ageless formula, she is vindicated when bin Laden is located thanks to her efforts and killed. Because these clichés are clothed in recent events of great public interest the film has aroused much public controversy, especially over the use of torture. Was waterboarding torture or something less and did it lead to the discovery of bin Laden?

A more important question, however, has not been posed. Will Zero Dark Thirty become a powerful recruiting tool to enrage and seduce generations of potential jihadists who will notice that brutal Americans torturing a helpless and defenseless Muslim were not criminally exceeding their mandate but following Washington’s orders? The heroine’s bureaucratic superiors were objecting not to the morality of torturing a helpless Arab but to its unproductive expense. Militant mullahs will welcome this gift from the great satan, a self-inflicted wound brilliantly filmed by Hollywood for worldwide distribution.

Jason Epstein
New York City