It's already been noted that while the first scene of Zero Dark Thirty shows a terrorist being waterboarded, in reality, torture didn't yield information that led the CIA to Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan. But now the film has the distinction of being labeled "grossly inaccurate and misleading" by three senators. The Wrap reports that on Wednesday, John McCain, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin sent a letter (full text here) to Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Michael Lynton in which they write that the Senate Intelligence Committee found “the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program." Whether the film is endorsing torture, critiquing the practice, or simply showing that it was one of the methods used by the CIA at the time is up for debate, but according to the senators, the film "clearly implies that the CIA's coercive interrogation techniques were effective" in the hunt for bin Laden. Though the senators are aware that the film isn't a documentary, they call out director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal for trying to have it both ways. They write that if the filmmakers are going to tout the extensive research that went into the film and open with the words "based on first-hand accounts of actual events" that gives them "an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather the part of the film's fictional narrative."
The letter goes on to condemn the United States' use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques and accuses the filmmakers of "perpetuating the myth that torture is effective."*
It's unclear how the senators want the studio to go about "correcting the impression" that torture played a role in the hunt for bin Laden, especially since the film opened in limited release on the day they sent the letter. (Reading a disclaimer from the Senate Intelligence Committee before every showing? Requiring actors to work the phrase "you know, they just made up all that torture stuff" into every interview?) Whatever the senators had in mind, it seems the filmmakers were unfazed by being dressed down on congressional letterhead. Sony responded with this statement from Bigelow and Boal:
"This was a 10-year intelligence operation brought to the screen in a two-and-a-half-hour film. We depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden. The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes. One thing is clear: the single greatest factor in finding the world's most dangerous man was the hard work and dedication of the intelligence professionals who spent years working on this global effort. We encourage people to see the film before characterizing it."
* This post has been corrected. It originally mistranscribed the quote as saying "ineffective" instead of "effective," reversing the letter's intent.