Green Zone and Torture

Regular readers know that I usually pass on writing about politically themed movies. I’m the same in real life; political discussions usually shut me down, simply because I feel I have nothing to say, and on the rare occasions that I do I often wind up regretting it.

I don’t quite regret taking on Paul Greengrass’s new Matt Damon thriller Green Zone, although it turned out to be such a tough review in an even tougher week that I almost do. All things considered, I’m reasonably pleased with how the piece came out, though I’m sure if I were a savvier political thinker it would be a better review.

Now, though, as it goes live, I suddenly wish I had given some space to an angle I missed. I won’t go back and rework it, but I wish to add a coda here.

Green Zone depicts heroic American troops, but also troops engaged in heinous acts including torture of prisoners. In one scene Damon witnesses a prisoner being throttled by a Special Forces officer in an Abu Ghraib-esque military prison; later the bloodied victim dies of his injuries.

Scenes like this provoke outrage in viewers of all types, not just at the plot level, but with respect to real-world implications. Some viewers direct their outrage at media elites whom they consider to be tarnishing America’s image abroad, fomenting anti-American sentiment, even placing American soldiers at increased risk. For others, it is the actual abuse of prisoners—and those who excuse and even defend it—that is responsible for these effects.

Greengrass and Damon made a movie in which American forces are shown doing heinous things. Meanwhile, not only have such heinous things actually happened, with approval from the chain of command, people like Marc Thiessen and Dick Cheney continue to shill said heinous things as consonant with American values and even the Catholic faith—in the process misleading not a few Catholics, among others.

Torture is sometimes necessary, they say, or else, it’s not really torture, anyway. After all, we do it to our own troops. Besides, it works—it saves lives. What is “torture,” anyway? And so on. Meanwhile, torture opponents are painted as terrorist-hugging wackos who want to Mirandize the 9/11 hijackers, and even victims of torture are ridiculed by odious T-shirt slogans like “Club Gitmo” and “I’d Rather Be Waterboarding.”

This subject is off my usual beat, so I’ll put it this way. Green Zone, as I see it, is a wrongheaded movie in many respects. And I daresay Greengrass and Damon each hold wrongheaded views on a number of subjects. In this one crucial respect, though, it’s the views of people like Thiessen and Cheney, not Greengrass and Damon, that deserve our outrage.

Or rather, since this post isn’t about the filmmakers, or the movie, or even the military, but the torture apologists, I wish to associate myself here, not with Greengrass and Damon, but with the anti-torture advocacy of Mark Shea, Tom Kreitzberg, Zippy Catholic and the Coalition For Clarity crowd.

With hat tips to the above:

  • NO, “the prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstances’”.
  • YES, waterboarding prisoners is torture—and NO, what we do to our own troops isn’t remotely the same (the previous link also is must reading on this).
  • YES, torture does lasting damage—and no, it seems it isn’t very effective.
  • NO, it seems Theissen doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to interrogation—and certainly not when it comes to Catholic moral theology.