Osama bin Laden may be dead, but the controversy over his pursuit has never been more alive.
Protests are springing up against the film “Zero Dark Thirty,” which opened in 25 cities on Friday, including Emeryville. Demonstrators outside a theater there warned that it inaccurately depicts torture as a helpful tool in hunting down the Al Qaeda leader.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein has waded into the controversy as well, demanding that the CIA account for the way it influenced the film.
Here’s how Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, who has been engaged in an online debate over the film, describes his main objections:
It immediately goes from its emotionally exploitative start – harrowing audio tapes of 9/11 victims crying for help – into CIA torture sessions of Muslim terrorists that take up a good portion of the film’s first forty-five minutes. The key evidence – the identity of bin Laden’s courier – is revealed only after a detainee is brutally and repeatedly abused.
According to Feinstein’s media release, it just didn’t happen that way:
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s recently-adopted Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program concluded that the CIA did not first learn about the existence of the bin Laden courier from CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques and that the CIA detainee who provided the most accurate information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.
Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Senate Armed Service Committee Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) are asking the CIA to to document how the agency communicated with the filmmakers and its own employees about the film.
In Emeryville Friday afternoon, a man dressed in an orange jumpsuit and a black hood over his head was chained to a sign reading”‘Don’t Buy CIA Lies!” Meanwhile half a dozen people handed out fliers.
“When you see it, realize that it’s full of lies.” protester Mary Ann Thomas told KQED’s Andrew Stelzer.
But on his way in to see the film, Nathan Jongewaard said he wasn’t concerned. “I think that audiences are intelligent enough to understand that a Hollywood movie is not gonna depict an absolute truth.”
The controversy is particularly lively because the filmmakers have made unusual claims about its authenticity. In an interview with The New Yorker magazine, director Kathryn Bigelow, who was born in San Carlos and graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute, said she was striving for realism. “What we were attempting is almost a journalistic approach to film,” she reportedly said. The film opens with the words “based on first-hand accounts of actual events.”
When The New Yorker writer challenged her about the information leading to the courier, however, Bigelow said, “It’s a movie, not a documentary.”
In this video, two actors from the film, Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke, argue that the film does not depict torture as helpful in the bin Laden hunt, notably because the captive discloses the courier’s identity during a meal rather than while being tortured:
Some critics agree, including Andrew Sullivan writing in the Daily Beast:
…the movie is not an apology for torture, as so many have said, and as I have worried about. It is an exposure of torture. It removes any doubt that war criminals ran this country for seven years and remain at large, while they scapegoated the grunts at Abu Ghraib who were, yes, merely following their superior’s own orders.
So why include the torture at all? The breakthroughs to finding bin Laden in the movie come from traditional interrogation and intelligence. I think it reveals the core truth behind Cheney’s armchair warrior mindset. The torture was not for intelligence (and it provided nothing reliable as well as countless leads that were dead ends). It was for revenge.