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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who was director of the CIA when special forces found and killed Osama bin Laden, has weighed in with his review of “Zero Dark Thirty.”

“It’s a movie,” Panetta said, laughing, during an interview with AFP. “And it’s a good movie. But I lived the real story.”

“I think people ought to make their own judgments. There are parts of it
that give you a good sense of how the intelligence operations do work.
But I also think people in the end have to understand that it isn’t a
documentary, it’s a movie.”

Three senators — Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain — aren’t laughing off the film, but in December sent a letter to Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, blasting the picture and asking that changes be made. They later launched in investigation into the cooperation that the CIA gave to filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal in 2011 as they researched the project.

Panetta attempted to set the record straight on the role of harsh interrogation methods in extracting information that led to Bin Laden. Critics of the movie contend that it makes it seem as if torture played a critical role in the hunt, although many others who have watched the movie is to see something that is a bit more nuanced.

Panetta said, “The whole effort in going after Bin Laden involved 10 years of work,
in piecing together various pieces of intelligence that were gathered.
And there’s no question that some of the intelligence gathered was a
result of some of these methods.”

“But I think it’s
difficult to say that they were the critical element. I think they were
part of the vast puzzle that you had to put together in order to
ultimately locate where bin Laden was.”

He thinks that the U.S. would have found Bin Laden even without the intelligence yielded from the “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

He’s portrayed in the movie by James Gandolfini.

Panetta’s response adds new fodder for Sony and the filmmakers that the criticism of the movie is an overreaction, and that they were not making a documentary but a dramatization.