Film review: The Report (2019)

I saw this film yesterday that is based on real events and found it to be very gripping. It stars Adam Driver as Daniel Jones, a member of Senator Diane Feinstein’s staff, who was assigned by her to investigate reports of torture by the CIA. Despite the fact that the CIA refused to cooperate with him, over five years he and a small team painstakingly built up a dossier of all the illegal and immoral actions and war crimes that were committed under the justification of ‘keeping us safe’. They produced a comprehensive torture report that the CIA and the White House of Bush and Obama tried to avoid releasing.

It is a story of how the CIA engaged in the most atrocious acts of torture against people at various so-called ‘black sites’, doing unspeakable things to the people it captured in its efforts to obtain information from them, even though the methods used were known to not work. In this they were sold a bill of goods by two psychologists who milked the CIA to the tune of $80 million by promising them that the torture methods they proposed using would provide actionable intelligence that would enable them to foil future plots. (I wrote about the unconscionable behavior of the psychologists in several posts.)

As always, when anyone questioned the morality and ethics, let alone effectiveness, of the methods, the response was that magical reason that is used to justify pretty much anything, that if they did not do it and something bad happened, then they would be blamed for it. The fact that this reasoning can be used to justify any action at all seemed to not concern them. Bush’s legal advisor John Yoo is showing using convoluted readings of the statutes and international law to argue that pretty much anything (such as crushing the testicle’s of a suspect’s children) can be done to any prisoner as long as it stops short of causing death or organ failure.

Nausicaa Renner reviews the film for The Intercept

The existence of the public Senate report, albeit in its limited form, is something of a bureaucratic miracle. The CIA’s own investigation into the matter, the document produced for Panetta, was deep-sixed, and President Barack Obama made an explicit decision when he came into office not to pursue the investigation. He wanted to appear, as the movie notes, “post-partisan.” Without Jones’s relentless work, we might never have known the depths to which the CIA fell in the years after 9/11.

“The Report” is a useful reminder of the inhumanity and ineffectiveness of torture and of the key fact that no one was held accountable. The graphic reenactments of torture scenes with blaring music, nudity, and physical abuse are second only to the full-throated embrace by a CIA officer of everything from imposing “learned helplessness” to waterboarding.

The film exposes the shameful behavior of the CIA and the White House. It reminds you of how awful were the things they did. It will be Obama’s shameful legacy that he did nothing to punish the people who did this and indeed many of them got promoted. Gina Haspel, one of the architects of the program who even ordered the destruction of the incriminating tapes of the torture sessions is now the head of the CIA. That fact alone shows you how deep the rot goes. Is it any wonder that we find Donald Trump now pardoning military people who have committed war crimes, and firing cabinet members who tried to impose the most minimal punishments on the criminals? This is where things lead when people do not suffer any consequences for their actions.

I followed these events as they occurred and the film stays so close to the facts as I recalled them that I felt that I was almost watching a documentary.

Here’s the trailer.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    How and why did Senator Feinstein, generally known as a dedicated corporate and pro-imperialist Democrat, find the motivation to support a years-long effort to expose officially-sponsored horrors?

  2. Marja Erwin says

    I thought it was “*pain equivalent to* death or organ failure.”

    I’ve had a burst appendix, and standard police pain-compliance weapons far exceed the pain of a burst appendix. (Note that pain compliance does not require any orders to comply with, or exclude incapacitation.) I’m sure the enhanced interrogation can far exceed pain compliance weapons.

    So by their own standards, they are war criminals.

  3. wsierichs says

    I was not the least bit surprised by anything Obama did, although I had hoped he would prove me wrong. He made it clear in various ways in 2008 that he was nothing but a corporate-owned, right-wing Republican. I could not vote for him. I really really wish he had proved me wrong so I could vote for him in 2012. I picked up the “signals” from him because I had learned from the Clinton era and the Democrats’ groveling under Bush just what things to look for in a supposedly-Democratic candidate for office. Right now, the only potential D nominee who is certainly a Democrat is Bernie Sanders. Biden, Warren and Harris have already made it clear, by my reckoning, that they are Republicans. Most of the other candidates look suspiciously R, but I have not followed them enough to be certain. I’ll look closer if one of the “lower tier” supposed Democrats surges.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *