Zero Dark Thirty Torture Controversy: Senators Slam "Grossly Inaccurate" Depiction

Diane Feinstein of California and Carl Levin of Michigan join John McCain in protesting the film's scenes indicating torture was essential to locating Osama bin Laden

By Natalie Finn Dec 20, 2012 1:51 AMTags
Zero Dark ThirtyCourtesy: Jonathan Olley/Columbia Pictures

Zero Dark Thirty continues to impress and annoy.

Sen. John McCain, who, saying it made him sick, slammed the film on the Senate floor yesterday for its suggestion that torturing enemy combatants proved instrumental in the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, is not alone.

Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin joined McCain today in informing Sony Pictures chairman Michael Lynton of their "deep disappointment" with the film, calling it "grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information" that led to bin Laden's location. They also ask Lynton if the filmmakers' wouldn't consider "correcting the impression" that Zero Dark Thirty gives.

"We understand that the film is fiction, but it opens with the words 'based on first-hand accounts of actual events' and there has been significant media coverage of the CIA's cooperation with the screenwriters," the trio, who also called themselves fans of Sony's movies, wrote in a letter to Lynton that was obtained by E! News.

Feinstein is chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, of which both Levin and McCain (who has written and spoken at length about being tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam) are former members, and Levin currently chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

The senators went on to tick off several perceived inaccuracies based on previously declassified information: They state that the CIA did not first learn about the existence of a bin Laden courier through "coercive interrogation techniques"; information supporting the operation was obtained from a "wide variety of intelligence sources and methods"; and that the CIA detainee who did provide key information about the courier did so prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation.

"We are fans of many of your movies, and we understand the special role that movies play in our lives, but the fundamental problem is that people who see Zero Dark Thirty will believe that the events it portrays are facts," wrote McCain, Feinstein and Levin.

"The film therefore has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manner. 

"Recent public opinion polls suggest that a narrow majority of Americans believe that torture can be justified as an effective form of intelligence gathering. This is false. We know that cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners is an unreliable and highly ineffective means of gathering intelligence...

"It remains a stain on our national conscience. We cannot afford to go back to these dark times, and with the release of Zero Dark Thirty, the filmmakers and your production studio are perpetuating the myth that torture is effective. You have a social and moral obligation to get the facts right."

Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have called the idea that their film glorifies torture "preposterous."

"Everything we did has been misinterpreted and continues to be," Boal told The Wrap on the afternoon of the film's L.A. premiere.