December 21st, 2012
08:13 PM ET

CIA challenges accuracy of 'Zero Dark Thirty'

By Pam Benson

The CIA joined on Friday the chorus of those challenging the accuracy of a new movie on the Osama bin Laden raid that suggests that harsh interrogation techniques used on suspected terrorists helped the agency find the man considered behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

In an unusual move, the acting director of the CIA , Michael Morell, issued a statement to employees on Friday that emphasized that "Zero Dark Thirty" is not a historically accurate film.

Of particular concern are the harrowing scenes at the beginning of the movie that depict a suspected terrorist being interrogated at a secret CIA prison overseas with waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. The suggestion in the movie is that those coercive techniques aided in identifying the courier who eventually led to the compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was living.

Senators condemn interrogation scenes in 'Zero Dark Thirty'
December 19th, 2012
09:50 PM ET

Senators condemn interrogation scenes in 'Zero Dark Thirty'

By Pam Benson

Three U.S. senators say the new film about the Osama bin Laden raid is "grossly inaccurate and misleading" in how it depicts CIA interrogations as torture and have called on the studio distributing "Zero Dark Thirty" to publicly state the movie is not based on fact.

In a bipartisan letter to Sony Pictures Entertainment on Wednesday, Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin and Republican Sen. John McCain said they were deeply disappointed in the film.

"Zero Dark Thirty is factually inaccurate, and we believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather part of the films fictional narrative," the senators wrote.

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Filed under: 9/11 • McCain • Osama bin Laden
'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'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.

December 11th, 2012
09:29 PM ET

Osama bin Laden movie puts CIA analyst in spotlight

Controversy surrounds a CIA analyst that was crucial to the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. CNN's Barbara Starr reports on how some are calling her head strong and combative.

Panetta: America beating al Qaeda but hasn't won yet
November 20th, 2012
09:48 PM ET

Panetta: America beating al Qaeda but hasn't won yet

By Larry Shaughnessy

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spelled out the future battle against al Qaeda, praising what has been done so far but warning much more work remains.

Speaking about the September 11 attacks in a speech at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank, Panetta said, "We will do everything possible to ensure that such an attack never happens again. That means counterterrorism will continue as a key mission for our military and intelligence professionals as long as violent extremists pose a direct threat to the United States."

He said efforts against the core al Qaeda group have been largely successful. "Al Qaeda's leadership ranks have been decimated. This includes the loss of four of al Qaeda's five top leaders in the last 2½ years alone - Osama bin Laden, Shaikh Saeed al-Masri, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman and Abu Yahya al-Libi."


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Filed under: 10 years of war • Abu Yahya al-Libi • Afghanistan • Al Qaeda • Benghazi • Diplomacy • drones • Libya • Mali • Nigeria • Osama bin Laden • Pakistan • Panetta • Secretary of Defense • Somalia • Special Operations Forces • Yemen
October 16th, 2012
10:50 AM ET

Driver for Osama bin Laden has conviction reversed

By Carol Cratty

A federal appeals court Tuesday tossed out the conviction of a driver for Osama bin Laden, dealing a blow to the U.S. military commissions system.

Salim Hamdan was convicted in 2008 of providing material support for terrorism. In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the conviction.

The court noted that Hamdan was found guilty based on conduct that took place from 1996 to 2001, but the charge of material support for terrorism only came into effect with the passage of the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

"Because we read the Military Commissions Act not to retroactively punish new crimes, and because material support for terrorism was not a pre-existing war crime," the court wrote, "Hamdan's conviction for material support for terrorism cannot stand." FULL POST

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Filed under: Legal • Osama bin Laden • Terrorism
Navy Seals: A battle for the conscience
Active duty Navy SEALS at February premiere of "Act of Valor"
September 6th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Navy Seals: A battle for the conscience

By Barbara Starr

(CNN) - Deep inside the military's special operations forces there is a crisis of conscience unfolding. The publication of "No Easy Day," a former Navy SEAL's account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, is forcing many to rethink a fundamental point of military honor. How much should America's commandos talk about what they do?

It's a debate that goes beyond disclosure of classified information, which is a crime. The discussion now centers on honor, ethics and cultural values inside the ranks.

"This is a battle for the conscience of the SEALs," a recently retired senior SEAL told me.

He served for decades in operational positions in the force, and has never told me any of the details of his missions. For years he did what every SEAL has done: Go on raids, find targets and, if necessary, kill them. It's what the nation asks of them.

Buzz ramps up over SEAL's bin Laden book

The question now: Is the SEAL community taking that Tom Clancy superman image and turning it into celebrity? "Was No Easy Day" indeed that last straw?


Pentagon: SEAL's book has classified info, didn't follow protocol
"No Easy Day" written by a former US Navy SEAL details the raid on the Osama bin Laden compound
September 4th, 2012
04:15 PM ET

Pentagon: SEAL's book has classified info, didn't follow protocol

By Barbara Starr

A Pentagon official said Tuesday that a former Navy SEAL who helped kill Osama bin Laden included classified material in his new book and did not follow protocol for pre-publication review.

On the same day the much-anticipated memoir hit book shelves, CNN obtained a copy of message written by the SEALs' commander to members of his unit.

In it, Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, head of the Naval Special Warfare Command, said he was "disappointed, embarrassed and concerned" that troops are now openly speaking and writing about their secret work.

Pre-orders put the book at No. 1 on Amazon's bestseller list for two weeks.

But the Pentagon was not as as eager to see the release of "No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden."


Excerpts from SEAL's book about Osama bin Laden killing
August 30th, 2012
05:37 PM ET

Excerpts from SEAL's book about Osama bin Laden killing

Larry Shaughnessy

The new book by former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette, published under the pseudonym Mark Owen, has some eye-opening, sometimes amusing details about the mission that killed Osama bin Laden.

"No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden" goes step by step through the SEAL team's training and practicing for the attack, the assault itself and the aftermath.

One might find it odd that in the midst of one of the most important Special Operations missions ever, most of these elite warriors weren't exactly pumped up on the flight to bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

"I think most of the guys on the helicopter actually caught some much-needed sleep on the ride in. ... All the hype was gone and it was just another night at work for us."


August 28th, 2012
11:33 PM ET

E-mails show White House support for bin Laden movie

By Pam Benson, CNN Senior National Security Producer

Newly released e-mails show the Obama administration was eager to help the makers of an upcoming documentary on the dramatic raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden - and the e-mails are likely to once again raise questions about whether the filmmakers had special access.

The records from the CIA and Defense Department were made public Tuesday by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said the e-mails indicate the Obama administration "played fast and loose with national security information to help Hollywood filmmakers," and that there was no doubt the "White House was intensely interested in this film that was set to portray President Obama as 'gutsy'" - a reference to one of the e-mails that said the raid "was a gutsy decision" by the president.

The e-mails indicate filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, screenwriter Mark Boal and other members of their team were given special access to senior administration officials just weeks after the May 1, 2011, raid as they researched their movie entitled "Zero Dark Thirty," originally scheduled to come out in October but now delayed until after the presidential election.


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Filed under: CIA • Osama bin Laden • White House
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