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How Jewish Wisdom Condemns Pro-Torture 'Zero Dark Thirty'

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The Motion Picture Academy has announced the candidates for Oscars. "Zero Dark Thirty" is on the list, having been touted as cinematically excellent.

"Zero Dark Thirty" is pro-torture. It begins with a brutally graphic depiction of the use of torture by the U.S., and claims -- a lie -- that its use was necessary to find the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.

The film claims not to be sheer fiction, but to be "based on first-hand accounts of actual events." Yet according to the Chairs of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Armed Services Committee, the film is lying when it suggests that torture resulted in information that led to finding Osama bin Laden.

The movie suggests that the CIA learned about the existence of the courier who led to the discovery of Osama bin Laden's compound as a result of torture and that the use of torture was the only way to get that information in a timely fashion. This is a lie.

According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, "The CIA did not first learn about the existence of the Usama Bin Laden courier from CIA detainees subject to coercive interrogation techniques. Nor did the CIA discover the courier's identity from detainees subjected to coercive techniques ... Instead the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program."

Last week, the Senate opened an investigation into whether some agents of the CIA provided false information to the "Zero Dark Thirty" filmmakers in an attempt to justify the use of torture. The CIA's Acting Director recently issued a statement to his employees acknowledging inaccuracies in the film.

Almost all leaders of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism view torture as a moral abomination. Jewish teachers point especially to the biblical assertion that all humanity is made in the Image of God, which means that to torture any human being is to put into unbearable agony God's Own Self.

The Talmud reports a powerful rabbinic interpretation of the "Image of God" passage in Torah: "When Caesar stamps his image on a coin, all the coins come out identical. When the Holy One Who is beyond all rulers stamps the Divine Image on a coin, all the 'coins' come out different, unique." This critique of "Caesar" embodies what we might call "politics" and "spirituality" in the same breath. It puts in one brilliant aphorism a critique of the Empire's desire to reduce all its subjects to uniformity, denying the sacred individuality of human beings.

Torture is the ultimate expression of this Imperial effort to crush the human/Divine soul. Just as Christians on Good Friday remember with grief the torture and death of Jesus on the Cross by the Roman Empire, Jews on every Yom Kippur recall the torture and death of 10 great rabbis by the same Roman Empire.

Indeed, Imperial urges to conquer and domineer despite resistance are the most likely reasons for the use of torture. Some American troops used torture, including water-boarding, against Filipino independence-activists in 1900; but public and governmental revulsion was so great that they were brought to trial. In the Iraq case, as shown by Seymour Hersh's break-through reports on the use of torture in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the U.S. government not only condoned but ordered the use of torture, and since then has refused to bring to trial those who ordered it.

"Zero Dark Thirty" takes this retroactive justification of torture even further. While I would certainly have opposed any governmental attempt to prohibit its release, it is shameful that "Zero Dark Thirty" was even considered for an Oscar -- an award, an honor, a celebration.

The American people should repudiate its claim to justify torture and refuse to let its alleged "cinematic excellence" justify its lies and its immorality.

For further information on the film and on the immorality of torture, please see these sources: