Should Oscar Go to pro-Nazi film "Triumph of the Will"?

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

 What about D.W, Griffith's  Birth of a Nation, cinematically brilliant and oh yeah, pro- Ku Klux Klan? What about Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, cinematically brilliant and  oh yeah, pro-Nazi  -- is it just another movie, let alone should it be up for an Oscar?

Zero Dark Thirty is pro-torture. It begins with a brutally graphic  description of the use of torture by the US, 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 the location of 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 misleading information to the "Zero Dark Thirty" film makers 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 ten 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 US 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.  

I am proud to say that a few weeks after the revelation by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh of the use of torture by the US at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, I made a TV tape along with an American Imam, the retired president of a leading Protestant seminary, and a Catholic nun denouncing the use of torture as a sin.  

 I am proud to say that The Shalom Center presented Sy Hersh with our Prophetic Vision award.

I am proud to say that when Rabbis for Human Rights/ North America  was newborn, when I was a founding member of its steering committee,  and when it originally saw itself as only a fund-raising funnel for RHR in Israel, I urged that we take up the use of torture by the US as a human-rights issue right here – and RHR/ NA did so.

I am proud that The Shalom Center was a founding member of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

While I would certainly have opposed any governmental attempt to prohibit its publication, 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.

Remember Triumph of the Will.

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

Rabbis for Human Rights / North America

 National Religious Campaign Against Torture

 Center for Justice & Accountability






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