If you read the sketchy New York Times article on the Delta Force raid into Syria a few days ago — how an ISIS leader was killed when he “tried to engage” American commandos while his fighters used women and children as shields, and an 18-year-old slave was freed with no civilian casualties thanks to “very precise fire” — you can be forgiven for thinking, “Haven’t I seen this movie before?”
You probably have, and it was called Zero Dark Thirty, the film directed by Kathryn Bigelow, written by Mark Boal and backed with gusto by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA provided Bigelow and Boal with privileged access to officials and operators behind the hunt for Osama bin Laden — and not coincidently, their movie portrayed the CIA’s torture program as essential to the effort to find and kill the leader of al Qaeda. It grossed more than $132 million worldwide.
Zero Dark Thirty was criticized by a number of writers (including me) when it came out in 2012, and now it is being treated as a political farce in a new Frontline documentary scheduled to be broadcast by PBS on Tuesday, May 19. Titled “Secrets, Politics and Torture,” the show explores the CIA’s effort to persuade Congress, the White House and the American public that its “enhanced interrogation methods” were responsible for extracting from unwilling prisoners the clues that led to bin Laden and other enemy targets.
Jane Mayer, the New Yorker writer whose work on CIA torture has been exemplary, explains that the team behind Zero Dark Thirty was conned by the CIA.
“The CIA’s business is seduction, basically,” she says in the documentary. “And to seduce Hollywood producers, I mean they are easy marks compared to some of the people that the CIA has to go after.”
Another journalist, Michael Isikoff, connects the final dots by pointing out the harm caused by political lies that find their way into blockbuster films.
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