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'Zero Dark Thirty' Threatens the 'Bush-the-Incompetent' Narrative

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
In "Zero Dark Thirty," the movie about the killing of Osama bin Laden, one of the first scenes shows a terrorist being waterboarded, where useful information gets extracted. The movie thus asserts the controversial practice leads to actionable intelligence.

Not only was former President George W. Bush criticized for "authorizing torture," his critics argued that "torture doesn't work." During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama said: "Torture is how you get bad information, not good intelligence. ... No more secret authorization of methods like simulated drowning. When I am President, America will once again be the country that stands up to these deplorable tactics."

"Zero Dark Thirty " threatens that narrative.

Here's the problem. Presumably to help make the film as accurate as possible, and, many suspect, to aid in his re-election, President Barack Obama's administration gave the filmmakers what some describe as "unprecedented access" to the State Department. At the time, many conservatives criticized the cozy relationship the screenwriter and director enjoyed with the State Department. (The film, ultimately, didn't come out until after Obama's re-election.)

The Obama administration was not happy. How dare the movie suggest that waterboarding "worked" and that it led to information useful in leading us to bin Laden?!

So in a rare comment on the alleged accuracy of a movie, the head of the CIA issued a statement denying that waterboarding played a positive role in leading to bin Laden. The film, wrote acting CIA Director Mike Morell, "takes significant artistic license, while portraying itself as being historically accurate. ... 'Zero Dark Thirty' is a dramatization, not a realistic portrayal of the facts. ... Whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved."


This statement didn't satisfy the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, prompting a probe of the CIA's contacts with the filmmakers. Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and two other committee members, Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., sent a letter to Morell, challenging his statement. The senators claimed that Morell's words were "potentially inconsistent" with their committee's studies and asked him to "provide specific examples of information that was obtained in a 'timely and effective' way from CIA detainees subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques."

The trio of senators also sent a letter to Sony Pictures, saying the studio has "an obligation" to correct "the impression that the CIA's use of coercive interrogation techniques led to the operation against Osama bin Laden."

Calling "enhanced interrogation" techniques "indisputably torture" and waterboarding a "mock execution," longtime anti-waterboarder McCain once said: "In my personal experience, the abuse of prisoners sometimes produces good intelligence, but often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear -- whether it is true or false -- if he believes it will relieve his suffering."

But there's a problem -- Obama's own team says enhanced interrogation provided useful information.


On two occasions, former CIA Director and current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta conceded that waterboarding produced good intel. When asked about this last Sunday on "Meet the Press," Panetta said: "I lived the real story. ... The real story is that in order to put the puzzle of intelligence together that led us to bin Laden, there was a lot of intelligence. There were a lot of pieces out there that were part of that puzzle. Yes, some of it came from some of the tactics that were used at that time, interrogation tactics that were used. But the fact is we put together most of that intelligence without having to resort to that."

And then there was the May 3, 2011, interview, when NBC's Brian Williams asked Panetta: "Are you denying that waterboarding was, in part, among the tactics used to extract the intelligence that led to this successful mission (to kill bin Laden)?"

"Some of the detainees," said Panetta, "clearly were, you know -- they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees. But I'm also saying that, you know, the debate about whether -- whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always gonna be an open question."

Hollywood once made a movie, "Hurricane," which portrayed boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter as an innocent man wrongly convicted of a triple homicide. One slight problem. Carter did it. Carter murdered three people; there was ample physical evidence pointing to his guilt, evidence ignored by the movie. And contrary to the alleged "all white jury," Carter's second trial -- that resulted in a second conviction -- included two blacks. Did the attorney general see the need to correct the film's accuracy?


Here, "Zero Dark Thirty" makes a real attempt to get it right. But this upsets the Bush-the-moronic-incompetent narrative.

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