Jessica Chastain is a fine actress, one who gave a convincing portrayal in the film “Zero Dark Thirty” of a CIA agent seeking post-911 vengeance by locating and eliminating Osama bin Laden.
The problem is that Chastain may have been too convincing for many who believe the story is true.
The torture scenes — splashed across the big screen — are realistic-enough representations of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The outcomes, however, have no basis in reality.
The film purports that torture helped the U.S. find and take out bin Laden. Three former CIA agents — whose documentary on the subject, “Manhunt,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January — say that “Zero Dark Thirty” is entertaining, but flawed. Although the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan was “well done” by Hollywood, agents who participated in the actual operation say the interrogation scenes were “completely inaccurate.”
The facts support this claim. Former CIA director Leon Panetta has said that no detainee in CIA custody revealed the identity or whereabouts of the courier who, in the film, led Chastain’s character to bin Laden.
Additionally, chairs of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee announced last year that such interrogation techniques did not provide details that led to bin Laden.
Their statement further affirms that the information was obtained from a variety of intelligence sources, and that detainees the CIA believed could tell them bin Laden’s location didn’t, “even after significant use of the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques.”
Justice Department legal memorandums from 2005, released in 2008, reveal that the CIA used waterboarding 183 times against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
This information alone is troubling in several ways. First, the U.S. regarded waterboarding as torture when used against our troops in World War II, and we prosecuted our own soldiers for using waterboarding in Vietnam.
Second, any form of torture is illegal under American and international law, and was only pronounced “legal” in the Justice Department memos, which gave secret approval to use such torture.
Third, nothing in CIA intelligence records corroborates claims Khalid Sheik Mohammed provided valuable information about the courier. And, if waterboarding is so effective, why 183 times?
Finally — although this discussion is by no means finished — if torture is, or has ever been, successful in gaining actionable intelligence information, one could reason that information such as the Senate report would never see the light of day. Yet it has. I’m anti-terrorism but I’m also anti-torture. Even former vice-president Dick Cheney, a prominent figure in the post-911 approval of this torture, called it working through the “dark side.”
Obviously, movies must compress a timeline of events. However, director Kathryn Bigelow asserts that “Zero Dark Thirty” is a “reported film,” giving the impression that the basic facts are true, although they are not.
And if you wonder what we should do — or not do — if our communities, our neighborhoods, our families are credibly threatened, see another film called “Unthinkable.”
Torture is cruel, dehumanizing, and inhumane … and that’s just for the perpetrators themselves.
Andrea Doray is a writer and a board member for the international organization “Writing for Peace.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.