Jonah Goldberg

In the process, many critics fail to appreciate some of the film's nuance. For instance, many on the left and right tend to see the protagonist as a heroic character. But her single-minded focus on justice -- or revenge, depending on your perspective -- should more properly be seen as a cautionary tale. After bin Laden's death, Maya, the hero, suddenly has nothing to live for and no place to go.

But I'm not looking to write a movie review. The film is newsworthy because of how lawmakers have responded to it. A bipartisan group of legislators, led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is furious that the film "credits these detainees with providing critical lead information." Put bluntly, they believe that Panetta is lying when he says waterboarding provided anything useful. The senators have been badgering the CIA to explain how Bigelow could be so wrong. After all, as McCain often says, "Torture doesn't work."

This is something of a mantra from opponents of waterboarding. One activist lawyer, Jesselyn Radack, wrote on Daily Kos that the film is "revolting -- for its blatant propaganda, glorification of torture and false narrative that torture led to the demise of bin Laden." She wanted the following disclaimer: "Torture does not work and was of no value in finding Osama bin Laden."

Whether waterboarding is torture is probably the most emotionally fraught semantic argument of our lifetimes. Opponents sincerely believe it is torture. Even so, stipulating that it is torture does not suddenly mean that you must also concede it doesn't work. Many in the intelligence community will tell you that the interrogation program yielded crucial information, starting with Panetta, who ran the CIA when we found bin Laden.

Shouting "torture doesn't work" amounts to taking the easy way around the harder argument: that torture might work, but we shouldn't do it anyway, even when American lives are in danger. It's politically unpopular, particularly when waterboarding amounts to the most extreme form of torture.

But that's Panetta's position. He has said that waterboarding is torture and it's wrong. But he has also said that it yielded valuable information we might or might not have gotten some other way. Like it or not, at least Panetta's honest.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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