Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) have added fuel to the controversy over the depiction of torture in “Zero Dark Thirty” with a letter to Sony Pictures chairman Michael Lynton that calls the movie “grossly inaccurate and misleading.”
The film, which opened in limited release on Wednesday, has already been criticized by some commentators and a human rights group, who say that it leaves the impression that torture yielded valuable information that led to Osama bin Laden.
“‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is factually inaccurate, and we believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Usama (sic) bin Laden is not based on facts, but rather part of the film’s fictional narrative,” the senators said in their letter.
Feinstein and McCain both saw the movie earlier this week.
The three hold powerful national security positions in the Senate: Feinstein chairs the Intelligence Committee, Levin the Armed Services Committee, and McCain is ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.
The movie features graphic scenes of CIA officers torturing detainees that “credits those detainees with providing critical lead information” on the courier who led to the bin Laden compound, the lawmakers said in their letter.
“We have reviewed CIA records and know that this is incorrect,” the senators noted.
They said the recent Senate Intelligence Committee study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program reviewed more than 6 million records. Feinstein and Levin released some conclusions from the review in April, including that the “CIA did not first learn about the existence of the Usama Bin Laden courtier from CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques. Nor did the CIA discover the courier’s identity from detainees subjected to coercive techniques.”
“Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program,” the senators wrote.
The movie also depicts a detainee subjected to torture as yielding no information, or leading to a dead end, with the most significant breaks coming years later.
Sony, which is distributing the film, had no immediate comment. But last week, filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal released a statement in which they said that they “depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden. The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes.
They added, “One thing is clear: The single greatest factor in finding the world’s most dangerous man was the hard work and dedication of the intelligence professionals who spent years working on this global effort. We encourage people to see the film before characterizing it.”
The senators expressed fears that the movie would bolster the case for torture, noting that the use of such coercive techniques is a “stain on our national conscience” and that the movie is “perpetuating the myth that torture is effective.” They said the movie “has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manner.”
They asked Lynton to correct “the impression that the CIA’s use of coercive techniques led to the operation against Usama bin Laden.” But they did not identify specific changes they wanted made to the movie.