The American People React to Zero Dark Thirty
The movie Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, has renewed the discussion over enhanced interrogation techniques. Kathryn Bigelow, the director, and Mark Boal, the screenwriter, point out that "torture" by CIA officers was instrumental in getting the information needed to find bin Laden. American Thinker interviewed former high-ranking CIA officials who were at the Agency during those perilous times to get their opinions on the movie.
After seeing the movie, it becomes obvious that Americans might now understand what was needed to make sure the homeland remained safe. The crowds in the theatre are subdued during the movie and afterward. There is no hissing, no yelling, and no cheering. As the audience exits, there is an eerie quiet, maybe because the movie brought home the fact to Americans that these were very dangerous times.
Jose Rodriguez, Jr., who headed the CIA's Counterterrorism Center and then became director of the National Clandestine Service, believes that the reaction of the audience was due to people realizing that what CIA officials have been saying for years is a reality: "it was necessary and needed to be done to keep Americans safe."
As the author of Hard Measures: How the CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, Rodriguez details in the book the actual tactics of the Enhanced Interrogation Program. He does not agree with the movie depiction of the interrogation scenes since "[t]he CIA did not torture anybody under the enhanced interrogation program. I know, because I actually supervised it myself from 2002 until 2007. The torture scenes in the movie did not happen. My biggest beef with this film is that millions of people around the world after seeing this movie will conclude that the CIA tortures, which is very unfair and not true."
Bill Harlow, the former CIA director of public affairs, believes that the movie confuses incidents such as Abu Ghraib with the CIA program. For example, there is a scene where a CIA officer puts a dog collar on a terrorist detainee and walks him like a dog. Harlow was offended by this untruth because it happened at Abu Ghraib, completely contrary to the situation shown in the movie. "So many people seem to accept this as a given. It is annoying to me that they don't ask, Did this really happen that way? The beating scenes did not happen and were put in the movie for dramatic content. We never beat the crap out of people. Had anyone done those things shown in the movie, they would have been prosecuted."
It would have been more accurate and still intense if the movie put in the actual enhanced interrogation techniques. Unlike in the movie's description, American Thinker was told that Zubaydah was put in a box only once -- but one large enough to allow him to sit up. As for waterboarding, it was done to only three terrorist detainees, and to none after 2003. Anyone waterboarded had his vital signs monitored, which was not portrayed in the movie. The technique in the film of asking a question, pouring large buckets of water, and then asking another question is not how it was done. In reality, small plastic water bottles were used, with only drops of water being poured over the subject. Once someone agreed to cooperate, the enhanced interrogation techniques stopped.
Jose Rodriguez, Jr. emphasized to American Thinker, "Enhanced interrogation is about psychological manipulation more than anything else. It starts with the shock of being captured, and the fact that they do not know where they are going or whom they are dealing with. They expected to be given a lawyer and instead had to deal with procedures that they were not trained in: the slap in the face, being grabbed by the collar, sleep deprivation, and for the three, waterboarding. The truth is that no one was bloodied or beaten and that most detainees were not subjected to any enhanced interrogation techniques. Eventually they concluded that they had no control over their situation and that we were the ones who controlled their fate. Some threw in the towel because these people had huge egos. They wanted to tell us what horrible things they did to Americans. Our program was not torture, and it did work."
Yet the movie implies, by using the clip of President Obama saying Americans do not torture, that enhanced interrogation is torture. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, for his part, feels that Jose Rodriguez's op-ed is the definitive piece on this issue. Rodriguez made it clear that those senators who are yelling and are threatening an investigation about the film's sources are trying to rewrite history because "they are denying that enhanced interrogation worked and call it torture." Hayden also was struck with the fact that these "senators wanted to investigate the Agency -- not for the classification of what they told the filmmakers, but because they disagreed with the conclusions suggested by the film. The senators appear to be fixated on this issue."
Maybe the senators should listen to those who were in the Obama administration about the success of the enhanced interrogation program. Admiral Dennis Blair, while director of National Intelligence, said in 2009 that harsh interrogation did produce significant information that helped the nation in its struggle with terrorists. "High-value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa'ida organization that was attacking this country." In a May 2011 interview with Brian Williams, CIA Director Leon Panetta noted that the waterboarding techniques did extract information that led to finding bin Laden: "Clearly some of it came from detainees and the interrogation of detainees." John Brennan, currently the nominee for CIA director and Obama's counter-terrorism adviser, commented in 2007 during a CBS interview, "Enhanced interrogation techniques had produced information that the CIA has used against real hardcore terrorists. It has saved lives. And let's not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the deaths of 3,000 innocents." The current CIA director, Mike Morrell, this past month stated that "some information" leading to the al-Qaeda chief "came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques."
The movie did point out that this administration's policies do not include capturing and interrogating terrorists, which affects the collection of valuable information. Jose told American Thinker, "I got a big kick out of the line used. I liked the fact that the filmmakers actually grasped that the CIA enhanced interrogation program gave the lead that led to the demise of bin Laden. The film correctly portrays that the hunt for him was a ten-year marathon, not a sprint. For a while people believed it was all Obama. It was the CIA's focus and hard work that eventually allowed us to find bin Laden. Many women deserve a chunk of the credit for their focus, tenacity, intensity, and being detailed-oriented, including Jennifer Matthews, chief of the Khost Afghanistan base. It was objectionable the way she was portrayed, making her look flighty and overly ambitious. She was actually a very serious person, very competent, and very successful. I thought the world of her. I think it was very unfair to show that she was responsible for the security lapse at the CIA base in Khost. I don't think it was her decision. There were a lot of people responsible as you move up the chain of command."
Overall, both Harlow and Rodriguez encourage Americans to see the film. They are hoping that what people will realize is that instead of supporting rights for terrorists, as some senators seem to be encouraging, those at the CIA chose to do what was right and legal to make sure terrorist plots were foiled. Although they wish the filmmakers consulted with them about the interrogation scenes, the movie realistically showed that those at the Agency are patriotic, very disciplined, and smart, and that they are risk-takers when it comes to making sure Americans are kept safe.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.