Controversy over the U.S. use of torture erupted again with the release of Zero Dark Thirty, the movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. President Barack Obama has now added fuel to this fire by nominating John Brennan, his chief counterterrorism adviser, to be CIA director.
Brennan was deputy CIA director when the agency was engaged in rendition and torture. He was, as reported by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, a supporter of enhanced interrogation techniques and in 2005 described the rendition program as “absolutely vital” ‑ though he has since condemned waterboarding.
Zero Dark Thirty opens with the words “based on firsthand accounts of actual events,” then quickly moves into a lengthy, horrific torture sequence. After a detailed dramatization of the hunt, the movie ends with Americans killing bin Laden ‑ leading many viewers to believe that torture was crucial to the successful outcome.
Although widely praised by critics, the film gives the wrong impression about the value of enhanced interrogation. The Senate Intelligence Committee has completed a 6,000-page report, based on a three-year investigation and 6 million pages of CIA records, that flatly declares that “enhanced interrogation techniques” played no role in the bin Laden killing and are of no value. That report remains classified.
Yet the film was quickly attacked by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) “because it’s wrong” about the efficacy of torture. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Forces Committee, and McCain in January announced that they would jointly investigate the CIA’s communication with the filmmakers.