Sundance Event Shining Spotlight on Bush Torture Record
On Saturday, Robert Redford and Ellen Barkin joined director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Fair Game) and an all-star cast at Sundance Film Festival to perform “Reckoning With Torture: Memos and Testimonies From the ‘War on Terror.'” The event, presented by the American Civil Liberties Union, PEN American Center and Sundance, featured readings of formerly secret government documents. The production was filmed for a documentary Liman is directing to raise awareness of the scope and human cost of the United States’ post-9/11 torture program.
Redford and Barkin joined actor America Ferrera; writers Sandra Cisneros, Annie Proulx, Marilynne Robinson, Esmeralda Santiago, George Saunders and Naomi Wolf; documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney; former interrogation insiders Jack Rice and Matthew Alexander; and other surprise guests to perform the readings. The texts are drawn largely from over 150,000 pages of formerly classified government documents obtained by the ACLU in a lawsuit that the New York Times has called “among the most successful in the history of public disclosure”; they include secret legal memos that sought to justify torture, e-mails written by FBI agents who witnessed torture at Guantánamo, interrogation logs, transcripts of military tribunal proceedings and moving statements and affidavits by U.S servicemen and women who objected to the abusive interrogations.
Interspersed between readings, former Guantánamo detainees delivered haunting video testimonials, and acclaimed artist Jenny Holzer’s imagery incorporating the documents themselves provided a powerful visual backdrop for the readings.
“It’s a privilege to work with the ACLU and PEN American Center on this important project,” said Liman. “As the documents we are presenting make clear, there is no longer any doubt that the United States repeatedly and systematically violated longstanding prohibitions on torture. We’re at a pivotal moment in history, and my hope is that America will choose a path toward restoring this nation as a defender of human rights. If everyone gets involved in calling for accountability for torture, that is what will happen.”
The ACLU and PEN have been staging “Reckoning With Torture” events around the country for the past two years. Today’s event marked the start of production of a feature length documentary, which Liman is directing and which will incorporate footage from Sundance and upcoming “Reckoning” readings in other U.S. and international cities.
“It is an extraordinary privilege for us to have the support of Robert Redford, Ellen Barkin and the rest of these amazing artists and readers in our advocacy for accountability,” said Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU. “Their involvement will help us press the case for a comprehensive investigation into the treatment of prisoners in US custody. It’s time for the Obama administration to fully confront the legacy of the last administration’s torture program.”
“Something extraordinary happens when ordinary people stand up in public and read the words of these formerly secret government documents,” said PEN American Center Freedom to Write and International Programs Director Larry Siems. “With the help of some of PEN American Center’s most distinguished members and an incredible group of artists from the film community, America can collectively confront the abuses of the past and stop them from happening again in the future.”