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Thursday, January 3, 2013

On the CIA's Evolving Thoughts About ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

Moviegoers would be well advised to remember what one of the CIA’s most ardent defenders of torture, former clandestine services head José Rodriquez, admitted last April: That agency interrogators couldn’t get Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to give up Osama Bin Laden’s courier despite days of water-boarding and sleep deprivation.

The current CIA boss, acting director Michael Morell, has been talking out of both sides of his mouth on torture’s role in finding Bin Laden, denouncing Zero Dark Thirty’s strong implication that "enhanced interrogation techniques"led directly to Bin Laden's courier and thus to the al-Qaeda chief, but also saying that "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."

Three members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and John McCain, a former Navy pilot who was tortured by the North Vietnamese, are not amused. They’re now wondering exactly what Morell and other CIA officials really told filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, and are demanding an explanation.


They might go back and look at José Rodriguez’s appearance on “60 Minutes” last April. Appearing on the show to promote his memoir--and defend “enhanced interrogation techniques”--Rodriguez nevertheless admitted that al Qaeda’s operations chief KSM gave up just about everything after being tortured--except a roadmap to Bin Laden.


“There is a limit, there is a limit to what they will tell us,” Rodriguez conceded to Lesley Stahl.
“Now, here's what I heard,” Stahl said. “That Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told you the courier had retired and threw you off the scent for a while.”

Rodriguez: “That was the one secret he was going to take to the grave, and that was the protection of the Sheikh. He was not going to tell us.”

Maybe that’s what Feinstein and McCain, joined by Carl Levin, D-Mich, had in mind when they demanded another clarification from Morell.

“The CIA cannot be held accountable for how the Agency and its activities are portrayed in film,” they said in a statement Thursday, “but we are nonetheless concerned, given the CIA's cooperation with the filmmakers and the narrative's consistency with past public misstatements by former CIA officials, that the filmmakers could have been misled by information they were provided by the CIA.”

Now, moviegoers who believe in torture going into the theater will no doubt be bolstered by the film’s strong implication that water-boarding, etc, produced the critical dope leading to Bin Laden. But in an age where not just Hollywood, but cable news shows like Fox and MSNBC regularly blur the line between fantasy and reality, moviegoers who have doubts about torture may well emerge less adamant about it.

I mean, who you gonna believe--a couple senators or your lyin’ eyes?

In the end, ironically (as has been noted before), Bigelow and Boal may go down as the Leni Riefenstahl of their time.