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While Report on CIA Abuse Stays Secret, Senators Blast Tinseltown Torture

By Spencer Ackerman

December 21, 2012

Three senators are furious at how the new movie on the manhunt for Osama bin Laden portrays torture. Unlike other critics of the film, they have the power to actually correct the record, by declassifying a major Senate inquiry into the CIA’s torture program. Only they’re not doing it.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) want Zero Dark Thirty distributor Sony Pictures to know they think the film buys into the false narrative that torturing detainees helped the U.S. nab Osama bin Laden. McCain, a torture victim himself, says he was "sickened" by the movie. Feinstein called it "a combination of fact, fiction and Hollywood in a very dangerous combination," and all three prepared a letter to Sony registering their objections, as The Hill first reported. "Grossly inaccurate and misleading" is how the letter, released late Wednesday, describes the movie.

All of which is well and good, even if we don’t consider the movie to be pro-torture. The problem is, the senators are complaining about fake torture when they could be showing us the truth about the real stuff . If the problem with Zero Dark Thirty is that it’s not an accurate presentation of the utility of torture (and we shudder at the thought that torture ought to be evaluated according to its utility), the senators could make a major push to declassify a massive report put together by Feinstein’s committee into what the CIA’s torture program did and didn’t do.

Last week, Feinstein announced that the Senate intelligence committee she chairs finally approved a 6,000-page study into the CIA’s treatment of terrorism detainees in its custody that took almost four years to investigate. By reviewing more than "6 million pages of CIA and other records," Feinstein said, the report details how the detainees were treated, how they were interrogated, and, crucially, "the intelligence they actually provided and the accuracy — or inaccuracy — of CIA descriptions about the program." Feinstein promised "startling details" and "critical questions" about the program, promising it would "settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques such as those detailed in this report." Small problem: the report is secret, so you can’t read it.

At least not yet. Feinstein says the report will remain classified until President Obama and "key executive branch officials" review it. Then her committee will consider declassifying it. So the report that could settle the debate about torture won’t settle the debate about torture until the self-interested parties who’ve stymied accountability for torture decide it’s safe to settle the debate about torture.

It’s not like Obama has any interest in exposing the torture program. After an early and acrimonious decision to partially declassify key Justice Department memos authorizing the torture — for which Obama deserves praise — he’s done nothing. A special prosecutor empowered by Attorney General Eric Holder ended up not indicting any CIA official who abused detainees, and didn’t even consider investigating the top officials who authorized the torture in the first place. There has been even less official public reckoning with what the torture program entailed, something that would fray Obama’s relationship with a CIA that implements his lethal drone program, since a former Bush administration aide described that program as amounting to "war crimes." And it’s worth noting that under Obama’s watch, the U.S. military placed accused Wikileaker Bradley Manning in conditions that were harsher than those for many Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Morris Davis, a retired Air Force colonel, also sees the easy way to get beyond the Zero Dark Thirty debate for some actual accountability. "As it stands now, the only information guaranteed to reach the public is the false account of torture in a Hollywood movie," Davis writes in Der Spiegel. "That makes it vitally important to make the Guantanamo military commissions open and transparent, and to declassify the Senate Intelligence Committee report."

Zero Dark Thirty also threatens to mess up the career of the Pentagon’s intelligence chief. McClatchy reported that Michael Vickers, already lionized in the counterterrorism film Charlie Wilson’s War, is under investigation for allegedly leaking information about the SEALs who conducted the raid to filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal. The Pentagon has rallied to Vickers’ side, calling McClatchy’s reporting "unwarranted, unfounded, and unfair" even while conceding the department’s inspector general is examining Vickers. The Hill’s Carlo Munoz reports that the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith (D-Calif.), has thrown his full support behind Vickers, considering him not to have jeopardized national security.

Zero Dark Thirty will inevitably stir heated disagreement. What’s important is to disclose and reckon honestly with the very ugly history that it presents, fictionally or otherwise.


:: Article nr. 93715 sent on 23-dec-2012 16:51 ECT


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