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Torture of Terrorist Suspects Harms the US

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on October 1, 2007

That proposition is argued (very cogently, I believe) by Denzel Washington’s character in the shockingly prescient 1998 movie The Siege. The show-stopping critique of torture from that movie is available on YouTube. (Link from Andrew Sullivan.)

I saw The Siege for the first time this past summer. Although the movie does not substantively comment on many important issues (such as how to deal with military officers who are Abu Ghraib-ly overzealous, negligent, or cruel in their treatment of prisoners), it does illustrate the dangers of giving up liberty to improve security. The movie also demonstrates that despite the apparent weaknesses of a “law enforcement” approach to counter-terrorism (relying mainly on the FBI, CIA, and local police to arrest suspects and give them criminal trials), such a method possesses many subtle advantages–particularly in PR and appearances–compared to using military prisons, closed tribunals, and missile strikes to kill, neutralize, or detain “enemy combatants”.

The acting in The Siege is also first-rate, with solid performances from Washington and Bruce Willis. Tony Shalhoub (aka Adrian Monk) dominates his scenes as a conflicted Arab-American FBI agent. Although the content is too dark and serious to justify the adjective “entertaining”, few big-budget Hollywood movies provide as much food for thought as The Siege. If you haven’t seen it, add it to your DVD wish list/Netflix queue.

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