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New film may reignite torture question

by Dave Ficere

It’s been more than 18 months since the daring raid in Pakistan that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. While numerous books have been written about the operation, a film opening next week may rekindle the debate over the role torture played in the events that led up to the May 2, 2011 mission.

The movie Zero Dark Thirty opens nationwide on January 11 after a limited release last month in a few select markets. The film is billed as the compelling true-life account of the decade-long manhunt for the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The movie is already receiving accolades for its realistic and riveting story about the search for the al-Qaeda terror chief responsible for the deaths of more than 3,000 Americans.

In developing the script, director Kathryn Bigelow and scriptwriter Mark Boal were granted unprecedented access to national security officials at the Pentagon, CIA and White House as they recorded hundreds of hours of interviews. The same duo were responsible for “The Hurt Locker,” the Iraq war drama that swept the Oscars in 2009.

1134604 - Zero Dark ThirtyWhile Zero Dark Thirty is getting rave reviews from those who have seen it, the film is already reigniting the debate over so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” (such as water boarding) and whether such tactics were really helpful in bringing down the world’s most infamous terrorist.

Former presidential candidate John McCain is one of three United States Senators to openly criticize the film’s depiction of torture as being critical to gathering information that led to the raid on bin Laden’s Pakistani compound. The Arizona Republican joined Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin in expressing their concerns to Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton. In their letter, the trio charged Zero Dark Thirty with being “grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the (bin Laden) capture.”

Feinstein, in her role as chairwoman of the U.S. Senate intelligence committee, insists that a classified 6,000-page three-year investigation concluded that enhanced interrogation techniques didn’t play “a significant role” in helping the CIA find bin Laden. That viewpoint was echoed by Ali Soufan, an FBI agent credited with being among the first American operatives to elicit valuable information from senior al-Qaeda detainees. He has publicly said CIA water boarding didn’t produce any additional or useful intelligence in the hunt for bin Laden.

National security expert Peter Bergen, who served as an unpaid adviser to Zero Dark Thirty, says the film, “distorts the story” in a way that could give the misleading picture that coercive interrogation techniques used by the CIA on al-Qaeda detainees – such as water boarding, physical abuse and sleep deprivation – were essential to finding bin Laden.”

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What is the MORAL answer? How far can we go in the name of freedom?

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