'Zero Dark Thirty' Is Now Officially Wrong About Torture

The Atlantic
'Zero Dark Thirty' Is Now Officially Wrong About Torture
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'Zero Dark Thirty' Is Now Officially Wrong About Torture

We already knew that Zero Dark Thirty messed up a couple of details about the bin Laden raid, but now, some senators would like the filmmakers to know they're straight up "incorrect." More specifically, Senators Diane Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain wrote in a letter addressed to Michael Lynton, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures, that "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 Bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather part of the film's fictional narrative." They go on to say that the film encourages the minority of Americans who favor torture as an intelligence gathering technique. "This is false," the letter reads. "We know that cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners is an unreliable and highly ineffective means of gathering intelligence."

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This is hardly the cut-and-dry issue the senators make it out to be, though. Ever since the initial details of what Glenn Greenwald called a White House "propaganda film," critics and pundits alike have been jousting over the scenes that depict torture. Mother Jones's Adam Serwer said as much as the senators' letter does about the film's potential for changing Americans' mind about torture. That is, if they think torture helped us find bin Laden, they'll probably think torture is a good thing. Greenwald said in a separate column that the film propagandizes the public to favorably view clear war crimes by the US government, based on pure falsehoods." (He loves the "p" word.) Critics of the critics said that torture happened, the film is fiction and, furthermore, most Americans haven't even seen the film, so who are we to say what they'll think. You can read more about these issues in our handy guide to the Zero Dark Thirty debate.

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On a pretty fundamental level, though, Wednesday evening's letter is a pretty assertive gesture from the senators. And it's a gesture that Sony Pictures probably ought to respond to, especially in light of other developments in the Zero Dark Thirty controversy, like that tricky situation in which the Pentagon leaked sensitive information to the filmmakers. The rest of us are free to continue arguing about whether or not the torture in the film is warranted and even whether or not the government is lying when they say that torture didn't provide any clues about bin Laden's location. (The senators do provide a lot of evidence for their claim, however.) Zero Dark Thirty's filmmakers, however, now have to work within the reality that is an official letter from the Senate. Their film is now officially factually inaccurate. It should blend in nicely with the rest of the world's films that are "based on first-hand accounts of actual events." 

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Read the Senate letter in full:

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