Zero Dark Thirty's Losing Premise

by Chris Toensing | published February 6, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty is a movie the CIA wants you to see.

It tells a tale of the search for Osama bin Laden wherein the key lead comes from a man softened up by waterboarding, sleep deprivation, confinement in a coffin-like box and other forms of pain and humiliation. It shows CIA agents extracting subsequent clues by similar means or the threat thereof. It alludes to other evidence supplied by “the Paks” and “the Jords” that was also obtained from detainees under duress. It twice depicts CIA officials asking the higher-ups how they are to find bin Laden when, after Barack Obama’s election, “the detainee program” is taken away.

Bagram, Obama's Gitmo

by Lisa Hajjar
published in MER260

On President Barack Obama’s second day in office, one of the three executive orders he signed was a commitment to close the detention facility on the naval base at Guantánamo Bay as soon as possible but no later than one year thence. An inter-agency task force headed by White House counsel Greg Craig was established to come up with a plan. The new administration did not anticipate that this step would be controversial because, at the time, closing Guantánamo had bipartisan support, including from former President George W. Bush and Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain. Bagram, the main US-controlled prison in Afghanistan, on the other hand, was being expanded -- like the war in that country.


Interventions is a feature in Middle East Report Online offering critical reviews of important Middle East-related books, films and other cultural production. Click here for past Interventions articles.

Torture and the Future

by Lisa Hajjar | published May 2004

There is a popular belief that Western history constitutes a progressive move from more to less torture. Iron maidens and racks are now museum exhibits, crucifixions are sectarian iconography and scientific experimentation on twins is History Channel infotainment. This narrative of progress deftly blends ideas about “time,” “place” and “culture.” In the popular imagination, “civilized societies” (a.k.a. “us”) do not rely on torture, whereas those societies where torture is still common remain “uncivilized,” torture being both a proof and a problem of their enduring “backwardness.”

Israeli Interrogation Methods: A View from Jalameh

Interview with Bashar Tarabieh

by Beshara Doumani
published in MER201

In June 1996, Bashar Tarabieh, a resident of the US, visited his family in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. On August 19, three days before he was scheduled to return to the US, he was arrested at 2:15 am by Israeli security service and police agents. Charged with spying for Syria, burning down a local council building in 1993 and again in July 1996, Tarabieh was held in the interrogation section of Jalameh prison near Haifa. On August 26, through an agreement worked out among the judge, prosecutor and his lawyers, Lea Tsemel and Hassan Jabareen, Tarabieh was transferred to a hotel in Acre for 48 hours and then released. Since 1994, Tarabieh has worked as a consultant for Human Rights Watch which actively publicized and protested his arrest.

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Never-Never Land

On Khiam Prison in Southern Lebanon

by Aviv Lavie
published in MER203

Just north of Metula, there is a hill in Israel that offers a breathtaking view of the northern Galilee, the upper Jordan valley and southern Lebanon. Also within view from this hill, about ten kilometers north of Metula -- in what Israel calls its “security zone” and the Lebanese call territory occupied by Israel -- is a well-defended stone building known as Khiam prison, the largest interrogation and torture installation in Lebanon. While the South Lebanon Army (SLA) directly manages the installation, it is but a subcontractor, an unskilled worker who takes orders directly from the big boss -- the state of Israel.

An Open Letter to Abu Jerry

by Lea Tsemel
published in MER213

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Banning Torture Affirms America's Humanity

by Lisa Hajjar | published November 19, 2005

Torture, as President George W. Bush clearly knows, is against the law. The administration keeps reasserting this point because the US torture saga keeps deepening.

Under fire for the “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed in secret CIA jails and at Guantánamo Bay, Bush rejoined that the US faces an enemy “that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again. And so, you bet, we’ll aggressively pursue them, but we’ll do so under the law.” He hastened to add: “We do not torture.”

Israel's Military Court System Is the Model to Avoid

by Lisa Hajjar | published October 28, 2007

Should the United States, seeking to recalibrate the balance between security and liberty in the “war on terror,” emulate Israel in its treatment of Palestinian detainees?

That is the position that Guantanamo detainee lawyers Avi Stadler and John Chandler of Atlanta, and some others, have advocated. That people in U.S. custody could be held incommunicado for years without charges, and could be prosecuted or indefinitely detained on the basis of confessions extracted with torture is worse than a national disgrace. It is an assault on the foundations of the rule of law.

But Israel’s model for dealing with terrorism, while quite different from that of the U.S., is at least as shameful.

Grave Injustice

Maher Arar and Unaccountable America

by Lisa Hajjar | published June 24, 2010

On June 14, the Supreme Court buried the prospect of justice for Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian origin who was “extraordinarily rendered” by the United States (via Jordan) to Syria in 2002. Arar was suing the US officials who authorized his secret transfer, without charge, to a country infamous for torture. With the justices’ 22-word statement, the case of Arar v. Ashcroft exited the American legal system and entered the annals of American legal history under the category “grave injustice.” Alphabetically, Arar precedes Dred Scott v. Sanford, which upheld slavery, and Korematsu v. United States, which upheld the internment of Japanese Americans. In this case, however, the grave is literal: Arar spent ten months of his year in Syrian custody confined in what he describes as “an underground grave.”