'Zero Dark Thirty' puts U.S. interrogation back in the spotlight
Osama bin Laden
December 13th, 2012
01:53 PM ET

'Zero Dark Thirty' puts U.S. interrogation back in the spotlight

By Pam Benson

A suspected terrorist is held down by his CIA captives at a black site, one of the secret overseas prisons run by the CIA. Cloth covers his entire face as a bucket of water is poured over it.

It's the harrowing first scene from "Zero Dark Thirty," the soon-to-be-released movie about how the CIA found Osama bin Laden. The scene depicts waterboarding, the controversial harsh interrogation technique that simulates drowning, and it suggests that waterboarding and other coercive techniques aided in identifying the courier who eventually led to bin Laden.

While only a limited number of people have seen the movie so far at prerelease screenings, its first 45 minutes have reignited the debate over whether the U.S. government engaged in torture.

The scenes are bound to have a bigger effect on moviegoers than the less dramatic sleuthing depicted in the film, said Peter Bergen, a CNN national security analyst.

"These visceral scenes are, of course, far more dramatic than the scene where a CIA analyst says she has dug up some information in an old file that will prove to be a key to finding bin Laden," he wrote in an op-ed in CNN.com's Opinion section this week.

It's not just in a movie. By coincidence, the debate is also front and center as the Senate Intelligence Committee prepares to vote Thursday on whether to approve a report its nearly four-year investigation of the CIA's interrogation and detention program. Committee staff looked at more than 6 million pages of mostly CIA documents in compiling the 6,000-page report.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, the committee chairwoman, said the study is the most definitive review of the program, which was authorized by the Bush administration after the September 11 terrorist attacks but discontinued by President Obama when he took office in 2009.

The CIA, with help from the military and foreign partners, captured suspected terrorists and detained those considered of high value at secret prisons scattered around the world.

The agency was authorized to use what were called enhanced interrogation techniques on people it thought had critical information that could prevent attacks. Those methods included waterboarding, stress positions, exposure to low temperatures and slaps.

The committee report is classified, and a public version is not expected for several months. But earlier this year, Feinstein responded to claims in a book by a former senior CIA official that the harsh interrogation techniques used on detainees were not only effective, they helped find bin Laden.

On April 30, in a joint statement with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, Feinstein referred to the ongoing intelligence committee review and stated: "CIA did not learn about the existence of the UBL (Osama bin Laden) courier from detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques. ... Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program."

The new Senate report looks at all detainees held by the CIA and the interrogation techniques used against them - both the harsh ones and the more traditional ones outlined in the Army Field Manual.

But Republicans on the committee are likely to vote against the report. They withdrew participation from the study in 2009 after the Obama administration's Justice Department launched an investigation into whether CIA personnel engaged in illegal activities.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the committee, criticized how the report was done.

"The draft report contains a number of significant errors and omissions about the history and utility of CIA's detention program," he said in a statement to CNN. "This is not surprising, given that the review was conducted without interviewing any of the people involved. As with other major studies like this, the report needs to go to the intelligence community for fact checking before members are asked to cast a vote, so they will know whether the contents are accurate. I do not understand why any member would vote for this report before that step is taken."

A Senate aide familiar with the report acknowledged it is based on the review of documents, but added that the documents included memorandums and transcripts of interviews as well as transcripts of hearings the committee held while it was overseeing the program.

Once approved by the committee, the report will be sent to the CIA and other relevant parties for comment so that they can weigh in before the release of a declassified version.

Civil liberties groups are pressing the committee to put out a public version of the report as soon as possible. In a conference call with reporters organized by Human Rights First, retired Gen. David Irvine said the report could help set the record straight.

"We're confident that the findings will show that all of the waterboarding and all of the brutality and everything else that trashed the Geneva Conventions produced nothing but a national tragedy," he said.

"Zero Dark Thirty" was also very much on the minds of the conference call participants. "I'm quite worried about the potential impact of this film on the public's perception or understanding that torture as a technique has been effective," said Curt Goering, the executive director of the Center for Victims of Torture.

The filmmakers said the intent was to show a broad set of spy techniques.

"How did we find this very, very sharp needle in a very large haystack? I think that's what's revelatory about the lead-up to that, you know. I mean, nobody knows. And that's what the film does," director Kathryn Bigelow told CNN.

The movie "puts you in the audience on the ground with those people, with the targeters and the ground branch operators, looking for this man; and finally finding a courier, and going through marketplaces in Pakistan; and you know, like, various: using electronic surveillance and tracking phone calls to track this man to the Potohar (area of Pakistan), and the Potohar to the compound."

CNN's Larry Shaughnessy contributed to this report.

soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Alex279

    Come on, this is just a movie.

    Perhaps CIA used some more advanced enhanced interrogation techniques to soften the toughest terrorists, but decided not to share it with the screenwriters. After all, it is classified, right? So the screenwriters filled the void with waterboarding. What is the problem with this?

    December 31, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  2. Fairy Koelling

    But wanna remark that you have a very nice web site, I love the layout it really stands out.

    December 29, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Reply
  3. Pathogen4

    I don't care what they do to make them talk. They sure won't spill their guts with raised voices and going to bed with no supper. Slowly feed their arms and legs into a specially modified garbage disposal if that's what it takes.

    December 28, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  4. Skorpio

    The CIA interrogation techniques should be inspired by the fear and obedience any Muslim cleric draws from their people. These Islamic rats have the power to transform any person into an irrational beast capable of committing the worse atrocities without experiencing any remorse or guilt and to use the masses as weapons to dominate the majority of Muslim societies.

    December 15, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Reply
  5. Paul

    I do not think torture is going to bother a Muslim. Torture is an average thing in the Muslim world. They torture animals for every meal they eat - they slowly bleed the animal to death while reading Koran.
    What is really going to get Muslims riled up about this movie is the fact that a smart western woman outwitted the dumb Islamic terrorist called Osama, who they truly worshiped. Uh-oh!!

    December 14, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Reply
  6. Mister Jones

    While we debate whether or not water-boarding is ethical, can we also debate throwing acid in women's faces and crashing airplanes into buildings? ... I'll wait.

    December 13, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Reply
    • Alex279

      This one is very easy to answer: two wrongs does not make it right. If you go as low as your enemy, this basically negates your cause and imperative.

      December 31, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  7. Mick

    One thing is clear as day: Nothing the interrogators did could have been worse than what bin Laden did to others. Not even close. The Islamic jihadist got what he was asking for. Get over it.

    December 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  8. Leon

    Nobody wants to know how sausage is made. They got the POS, mass murderer bin Laden. Didn't they? At the end of the day, that's what counts.

    December 13, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Reply
    • Amit-Atlanta-USA

      Gee Leon, you sound like another dimmwitted Tea Partier. Besides, none of us even know whether they even murdered the true Ossama bin Laden or not. He did, for a number of years, suffer from nephritis and could just as easily have died ten years earlier.

      December 13, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Reply
      • Paul

        Everyone knows Osama is dead. Sounds like you are in denial.

        December 14, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  9. George Patton

    This whole thing stinks to High Heaven. Torture is always wrong, no matter who uses it or to what purpose. Furthermore, to make a movie to glorify the brutal murder of one man is truly repulsive regardless of how much he is loathed by the American public. The right-wing politicians in Washington are only using this to further their own careers!!!

    December 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  10. Hahahahaha

    Towel Heads IS what Towel Heads DO!!!!!!!!! Hahahahahahahaha

    December 13, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  11. Jamshed Baloch (NaaPakiAssTanI)

    I am not one to mince words. The common denominator to all the bad things happening in the region is my own country PAKISTAN! Yes, folks...PAKISTAN ! Look at all the countries surrounding that are reeling in TERROR because of this country when it itself is reeling under extremism and poverty and intolerance...... Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan, Nepal, and now Myanmar. The mother of all trouble makers ... yes folks, hold on to your chairs !!! is PAKISTAN !!! IT IS NOT COINCIDENCE !! IT IS BY DESIGN and ITS CULT RELIGION BELEIVER CITIZENS !!! Pakistan cannot stop meddling in the affairs of these fledgling nations...financing terrorists...inciting communal violence, fanning religious intolerance. This already has started backfiring at this filthy nation so let this country explode by itself. It is already an inferno that will be uncontrollable. The conditions are ripe for this to happen as Pakistanis all about terrorism that is threatening its survival in its current geo-political form.
    Split Pakistan into three parts, give Balochistan to the Baloch’s the tribal and ungoverned part to Afghanistan and give other half to India. This will make it governable and manageable and this will generate tremendous economic demand for western nations, be democratically more efficient and easy to manage,

    December 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Reply
    • Faiz Ahmed (PIG POOP Lover NaaPakiAssTanI)

      Sir, I salute you for telling out and accepting the truth. I wish there would have been more peoples like you in Pakistan. But no, most of the inc**t and inbred people there are still busy in those medieval practices and raising hatred and terrorism for the rest of the world.
      US should help us in getting rid of our miserable lives and blow the nukes over this filthy nation....Aameen....Suameen.

      December 13, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Reply
      • Ehsanul Haq

        You put it very beautifully together. Pakistan is a terrorist nation and deserves to be blown apart.

        December 13, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
      • Sam D Silva

        Sir ji, hats off to you.

        December 13, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
      • Star-Spangled Bullsh!t

        Mmmmmmmm!!!.........................smell the hate.

        December 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm |

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