As a lawyer for prisoners in Guantanamo, Bagram and other U.S. sites, I find both the film "Zero Dark Thirty" as well as the controversy it has ignited misguided.

This is not only because the film leaves viewers with the false impression that torture led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

And it is not only because the film and the national conversation it has sparked about whether torture "worked" mostly forget that both torture and extrajudicial executions are anathema to civilized society, irrespective of their possible efficacy or expediency.

The film and the ensuing debate are also objectionable because they treat torture at secret CIA prisons as though it were a thing of the past, masking the reality of an enduring illegal practice.

The first third of "Zero Dark Thirty" is unadulterated torture porn, a display of medieval cruelty at various CIA and affiliated prisons. Strappado, drowning, sexual abuse, beatings, stress positions, loud music, stuffing people into boxes, sleep deprivation, but also -- and this is not acknowledged enough as torture -- threats to send prisoners to countries where they would face further abuse (in the film, Israel).

My clients at Guantanamo and Bagram survived such savagery at the hands of their American captors. I can attest that its traces on their bodies and minds are real and lasting. But the film cares not an ounce for those consequences, lingering instead on the torturers' feelings about their crimes.

While President Obama limited interrogation techniques to those listed in the Army Field Manual, that document was modified in 2006 to permit stress positions, sleep deprivation, and isolation -- methods amounting to torture that are depicted in "Zero Dark Thirty." And only long-term CIA detention facilities were prohibited in 2009, leaving "short-term" secret prisons in operation. The notion that the CIA no longer tortures prisoners, then, can only result from real or feigned ignorance.

Equally intact is the U.S. government's continuing reliance on proxy detention, where foreign regimes do the dirty work of imprisoning, interrogating and often abusing prisoners without process, at the behest (and sometimes with the participation) of U.S. agents.

The final act of "Zero Dark Thirty" depicts the Abbottabad raid that got bin Laden and it is the closest this cinephile ever wants to come to a snuff movie. The film, though, does get this part right: The raid was a "kill operation," an ordered execution, despite the administration's tepid protestations that U.S. commandos were prepared to capture the unarmed bin Laden if only he had known to surrender in precisely the right way.

However, far from highlighting the sad truth that there has been no real accountability for these past and ongoing crimes, "Zero Dark Thirty" lionizes those who ordered and implemented torture and other offenses. It also validates the obscene debate over whether torture "works." In this respect, the filmmakers are complicit in reinforcing the impunity shielding the culprits.

Some would call that propaganda, and many of the film's admirers as well as its critics have fallen for it.

Ramzi Kassem is a professor at the City University of New York School of Law. With his students, Kassem represents prisoners of various nationalities presently or formerly held at American facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, at so-called black sites and at other detention sites worldwide. He can be reached at

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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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