Monday, June 20, 2005

Mr. Cheney's Netflix Queue

The Siren learned recently that Amnesty International is a liberal organization.

Startling information, since reports such as this one, and this one, and this one, had me believing Amnesty didn't have much in the way of political bias. But if our vice president, various members of Congress, the Wall Street Journal opinion columnists and the Free Republic chat boards wish to concede concern for human rights solely to the liberal side of the aisle, then I say, "Sure thing, Daddy-O." You take on protecting zygotes, medical prognoses for brain-dead Floridians and stamping out blow jobs, and we'll take over the Anti-Torture Beat. The Siren considers this fair trade.

Still, recent remarks by some prominent Republicans have me thinking that, perhaps, these gentlemen's notions about torture are in need of some refinement.

Over here, we have Vice President Dick Cheney remarking, "Guantanamo's been operated, I think, in a very sane and sound fashion by the U.S. military. ... I think these people have been well treated, treated humanely and decently." And over there is GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, saying "The inmates in Guantanamo have never eaten better, they have never been treated better, and they have never been more comfortable in their lives than in this situation, and the idea that somehow we are torturing people in Guantanamo is absolutely not true, unless you consider having to eat chicken three times a week, real torture."

Our government hasn't really disputed that it uses certain interrogation techniques at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Those include sleep deprivation, loud music and temperature extremes. What people like Mr. Cheney question is whether that constitutes torture, or just enthusiastic questioning of really, really bad guys. It all depends on how you look at it, we are told.

Well then. If art does anything, it makes us look at things in all kinds of different ways. And in that spirit, the Siren would like to nominate these films for inclusion in Mr. Cheney's Netflix queue. He can invite Mr. Hunter over for chicken and pita while he watches.

Stalag 17 (1953) has a lengthy scene in which Don Taylor, as Lieutenant James Dunbar, is being interrogated by Nazi commandant Otto Preminger. Please, before you scroll to the comments section and start Durbin-izing me, understand that I am not comparing the U.S. to the Nazis. I am pointing out only that this movie illustrates the effect of sleep deprivation. Taylor's character is reduced to a state where his desire for sleep is hunger, thirst, illness; he can barely stand, he hardly knows his own name. It doesn't involve electrodes, but it's still brutal. For many people, the scene is even more difficult to watch than the one where William Holden is beaten almost to death by his fellow prisoners of war.

Next up, The Rack (1956), with Paul Newman as an American POW from the Korean War. Newman returns home in disgrace, having betrayed his fellow soldiers for, as the character puts it, a filthy blanket and a few hours' uninterrupted sleep. You see, the Koreans put him in an ice-cold cell and then kept waking him up. (He was beaten and his menu is lousy, too, it must be admitted, but by the character's own account it wasn't the lack of fresh fruit that made him crack, it was the lack of sleep.)

No interrogation movie marathon can ignore The Manchurian Candidate (1962), in which sleep deprivation and temperature control are just two of the techniques used to reduce the POWs to automatons. Hell, maybe Dick should even rent One, Two, Three (1961) and see Horst Buchholz ready to sign a bogus confession because the nefarious East Germans made him listen to "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" too many times in a row. It's ridiculous, but at the same time you do wonder how many times you'd have to hear that song before you rang for the Red Cross inspectors.

For the finale: The Battle of Algiers (1965). Scenes in this one would probably strike most normal human beings as torture. Maybe not Ann Coulter, but she's a special case. I read that Pentagon officials watched this one before starting the present unpleasantness in Iraq, eager to get some tips on how to run a war in an Arab country. This was rather like hearing that French army recruiters were looking at All Quiet on the Western Front on the eve of World War II for pointers on how to appeal to the nation's youth. Did the Defense guys really watch the full two hours of French forces torturing, interrogating, cracking down, going house-to-house and throwing their full military might at Algiers? I do hate to post spoilers, but I think Pontecorvo's film should be screened again for Mr. Cheney and the Pentagon, with special attention to the part near the end.

That would be the part where the French lose.


Diane said...

Just want to underline, underline, and underline "Battle of Algiers," a brilliant film on war and guerilla combat. This one sounds like it needs to go through several viewings if this is what the Pentagon came up with after seeing it once.

Another one I'd recommend with a big IF is "Black Hawk Down." Despite the racist undertones, it's an unflinching depiction of how urban warfare is a losing battle. I would hope that the Pentagon would glean from it a more measured outlook, but I surmise the ending, with its patriotic overtones (for the soldier, mind you, not the institutions), will only end up encouraging them.

The Siren said...

I know, can you believe they saw this one and decided to do EVERYTHING the French did?? Like the big lesson they learned was, "Don't Be French." Everything else was lost on them.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I have never seen Battle of Algiers, but from what I have gleaned of our administration, the incident is not surprising...

Anonymous said...

Maybe they stole some ideas from Ipcress, where young Caine is nearly driven out of his mind.