Top CIA officials have weighed in on Zero Dark Thirty. Their conclusion: Kathryn Bigelow simply did not correctly portray the Agency's torture box — the real torture box is much more comfortable.
Yes, three top spooks — Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, John Rizzo, former deputy counsel of the CIA, and Jose Rodriguez, the former director of the National Clandestine Service at the CIA — Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington outlined the inaccuracies behind Bigelow's film.
Let's start with the torture box, into which Bigelow shows agents stuffing a "detainee" as if he were a carry-on bag.
From Elizabeth Flock's article about the talk in U.S. News and World Report:
Among the techniques shown is putting the detainee inside a box barely big enough for him to fit when it was closed.
The former CIA lawyer also took issue with the portrayal of "the box." While he acknowledged that the technique was "not pleasant," Rizzo noted that the CIA often used a much larger box in which detainees could stand, and that the smaller box the agency employed was not the same size as the one portrayed in the film.
As if exaggerating the size of the box wasn't enough, she totally got the torture wrong. It was much more controlled and measured, say the spooks.
From the report:
Enhanced interrogation of detainees post-9/11, he said, mostly lasted just a few days, or in the case of more high profile terrorists, a few weeks.
"But it was a finite amount of time ... "
... until they hit Guantanamo, which is in-de-finite.
The agents say eventually Khalid Sheik Muhammad figured out that the CIA was only allowed to waterboard for ten seconds, and that he would hold his fingers " up to 10 to let us know that the time was up," said Rodriguez.
So essentially, the CIA turned Muhammad into the Count Chocula of waterboarding — the relevance may be hard to see. Possibly that at some point in March 2003, somewhere on the way to being waterboarded 183 times, KSM figured out the timing trick — and made things much easier for himself.
Truth be told, Rodriguez was particularly upset about torture and how the CIA, and Bigelow, handled it. At this point in the conference things get a bit weird:
Rodriguez also argued that the film failed to note why torture was effective.
These tactics [were effective] on all al-Qaeda members because "they would not be expected by Allah to go beyond their capabilities."
"I was not trying to prove the point that what we were doing was universally applicable for all detainees and circumstances," said Hayden. "It was particularly well-suited to this group."
So, in summation, torture doesn't work the same on South American protestants.
Then this gem:
"They would become compliant" and share the information they had with the agency, he said.
"And they'd do so without sin," added Hayden.
This narrative, the former CIA chief told the audience, was important for his own soul-searching after a CIA Inspector General report in 2009 was critical of the techniques used.
Soul searching and sin aside, the portrayal of Agent Jennifer Matthews an overly enthusiastic and ambitious school-girl type of a character rubbed these gentlemen wrong.
The movie leads audiences to believe Matthews' eagerness led to the deaths of herself and six other agents (and a handful military operators). Yes, she was "haunted" by missing bin Laden in the 90s, but according to her colleagues, she was a "wonderful agent who" was into "hunting bin Laden before it was cool."
They did say there were two things Bigelow got right: that women spearheaded the intelligence effort, and that Bigelow pretty much got the narrative right — that is, the CIA got bin Laden.
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