Torture is at the heart of ZDT, a film in which torture and death are simply real, whether right or wrong. What makes ZDT so terrifying is its belief that its world is ours. The sounds of 9/11 are only the first of many historical images or sounds included in the film, which intersperses the actual stuff of history throughout its fictional world. There's the scene of four CIA operatives, who have done the hard work of torture for their country, pausing to hear candidate Barack Obama opine in a televised interview that the USA must not torture in order to regain its "moral stature." The operatives listen without comment. They seem to regard Obama's sentiment with unspoken dread--these characters are real, their directives are real, and Obama, a million miles away, is only an image on TV.
ZDT commits to empathizing with its (American) characters without necessarily condoning their beliefs. In this way the movie has succeeded as art: its made us understand characters who do things we might find reprehensible. Lolita comes to mind as a point of comparison, or Dexter. I'll admit to having read little about the controversy surrounding ZDT and its depiction of torture. I'd venture, however, that ZDT's empathy is what makes the movie so difficult to take. It is neither for nor against torture, but it's certainly for humanizing torturers. A torturer is not only a torturer in ZDT, but a person first. And, perhaps most difficult, torturers are Americans, just like us.