(Mint Press) – For its unflinching portrayal of military procedure and for its ethics-questioning defense of the use of torture, the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” has been equally lauded and panned. However, as the event behind the movie — the killing of Osama bin Laden — happened less than two years ago, a fundamental and significant question lingers in the air: How did the filmmakers get access to information that is classified and probably will remain classified for the foreseeable future?
The film — which, to its credit, makes it perfectly clear that “enhanced interrogation techniques” are a form of torture — made the controversial argument that such actions were justified in ascertaining the location of Osama bin Laden. It is in this depiction that most criticism of the film is focused.
Michael Morell, acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), wrote to agency employees in December: “The film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding bin Laden. That impression is false … And, importantly, whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) co-authored a letter to the head of Sony Pictures, Michael Lynton, in condemnation of the film: “We believe the film is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of Osama bin Laden. We understand that the film is fiction, but it opens with the words ‘based on first-hand accounts of actual events’ and there has been significant media coverage of CIA’s cooperation with the screenwriters.”
On Dec. 19, 2012, the three senators asked Acting Director Morell for clarification regarding the information the CIA gave to the “Zero Dark Thirty” filmmakers and comments made relating to the use of “coercive interrogation techniques” on CIA-held detainees. The senators felt that the information the filmmakers presented were both incorrect and inadequate to the government’s official line.
As stated in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, the United States learned bin Laden’s location BEFORE any “coercive interrogation technique” began.
In response to Morell’s memo to his employees in which he stated that “Some [intelligence related to bin Laden’s location] came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well,” the senators sent a second letter for clarification and for any intelligence gathered in such a way.
After such a buildup, many Washington observers expected a true debate on “enhanced interrogation techniques” in Congress. Tuesday, however, Sen. Feinstein — in an article published in Variety — stated that she sees “no need to request further information” from the CIA and that the inquiry into “Zero Dark Thirty” was not an investigation.
“We have simply asked questions of the intelligence community pertinent to our oversight responsibilities,” she said.
This is despite not having received the CIA’s response yet.
The dangers of coming down on the wrong side of the facts
Three months ago, “Zero Dark Thirty” was poised to be the big winner at the Academy Awards. Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay, it was thought to be a lock for all three categories.
Last Sunday, the movie won one Oscar. It shared it with “Skyfall” for Sound Editing.
Critics from both parties heaped scorn on the movie. Besides placing undue attention on “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the Republicans claimed that the timing of the movie was beneficial to President Obama’s re-election prospects and that the movie may hit too close to the truth in regard to protected secrets.
Relatives of a flight attendant — Betty Ann Ong, who died in the 9/11 terror attacks — criticized the use of a recording of her last words on a telephone call placed before her plane struck the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Her brother, Harry Ong, called the film “just outrageous.”
Mary Fetchet criticized the filmmakers for using the voicemail that her son, Bradley Fetchet, left on her phone while he was on the 89th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower. “My first thought was, ‘Isn’t anything sacred anymore?’ … “I used it in situations where I wanted to convey Brad’s story. None of those situations were used for commercial endeavors.”
All of this criticism affected the Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences, an organization with a notably liberal but controversy-shy membership. Signs of ill winds to come came when Kathryn Bigelow — the only woman to ever win the Best Director Oscar – -was shunned from the Best Director nomination for this year. Of the directors of Best Picture nominees, she was one of four to not be nominated and the only one of these four to have won an Oscar previously.
Rotten Tomatoes’ editor-in-chief Matt Atchity told Dawn.com, “Controversial movies suffer with Academy voters. I think ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ will have a tough time winning Best Picture because I think the Academy is going to go with less controversial choices.”
In light of the now-universal panning of the movie’s factual foundation, it now appears that the senators choose not to “beat a dead horse.”
Unfortunately, in other cases in which the government is investigating how classified information was disclosed, the government is not so lenient. For example, the Guardian reported that the United States government is preparing to call a “John Doe” — possibly, one of the 22 Navy SEALs that was involved in the Abbottabad raid against Osama bin Laden — to discuss discovered digital material revealed to contain WikiLeaks disclosures for the military’s charge of “aiding the enemy” against Private First Class Bradley Manning.
“Aiding the enemy” is a capital offense, as defined by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The military has indicated it is not seeking the death penalty.
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