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Torture and Truth: A Review of "The Report"

by Herb Geraghty

With its star studded cast that includes the talents of Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Michael C. Hall, and Jon Hamm, The Report serves as a decent introduction to the United States’ recent history of torture within the War on Terror. The film follows the real-life story of Dan Jones (Driver), the Senate staffer tasked by Dianne Feinstein with leading an investigation into the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program. While Driver’s performance is excellent, the choice to center a white non-Muslim American in a film documenting U.S.-sponsored violence against predominately Arab Muslim men should not be overlooked as it unfortunately results a story that highlights the bureaucracy and red tape behind the delay of the release of the report over the actual human beings whose lives

were taken or changed forever by these policies.

Additionally, most of the scenes that do feature Muslims engage in graphic depictions of their abuse with little to no attempt to rehumanize the victims of this blatant dehumanization. There is certainly a case to be made that U.S. citizens should be shown the violence that was inflicted in our names; however, I am not confident that the benefits outweigh the harms of showing this type of content. Consider the perspective of Dr. Maha Hilal, an expert on institutionalized Islamophobia; in her article, Watching The Report through Muslim eyes, she writes:

“Even with the purpose of showing the brutality of the CIA’s torture methods, the consequence is that those who were tortured are stripped of any agency again. For me, viewing these scenes was not just uncomfortable, it was traumatizing. They were a reminder of the humiliation, degradation, and abuse that have been sanctioned toward Muslims post-9/11 and of the fact that proof is still needed to substantiate the facts of their torture.” (1)

One important thing that the film does accomplish is a scorching rebuttal to the common myth that the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were an effective tool for getting information. In particular, The Report brings attention to the Panetta Review, the formally classified internal CIA document that outlined the reality that practices such as waterboarding detainees were providing no useful information that helped save lives. Of course, ineffectuality is only a secondary reason to oppose inflicting extreme psychical and psychological trauma on human beings; however, it is still worthwhile to assert the truth that torture simply doesn’t work, especially considering how it is often glamorized in mainstream media as a useful tool for gathering life-saving counter-terrorism intelligence (see Zero Dark Thirty, 24, and Homeland for particularly egregious examples of this

dangerous and inaccurate trope).

Overall, The Report is worth watching, especially if you are unfamiliar with its subject matter. However, I urge viewers to consider how in both obvious and subtle ways the film contributes to the dehumanization of Muslims within the context of War on Terror. I also caution viewers to reject the idea that this movie documents a particular moment in American history that we have reckoned with or moved past as a nation. Especially because there are still survivors of CIA torture being detained in places like Guantanamo Bay, including men who have never been charged or convicted of a crime, the public must remain vigilant and committed to preventing this kind of horrific violence from continuing on our watch.

(1) Hilal, Maha. “Watching The Report through Muslim Eyes.” Vox. Vox, November 22, 2019.


This article originally appeared in Volume 8 Issue 1 of Life Matters Journal. Click here to read the magazine for free online.

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Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.

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