Getting Dirty Getting bin Laden
During George W. Bush’s presidency, it was a matter of liberal faith that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on al-Qaida members “undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer,” as Barack Obama once put it. According to Obama, “enhanced interrogation techniques” are wrong, and — no matter what common sense tells you — they never work. Asking nicely works best with terrorists.
“Zero Dark Thirty” — Kathryn Bigelow’s new thriller about the decadelong quest to bring Osama bin Laden to justice — doesn’t cleave to that liberal orthodoxy.
At a preview Thursday, I saw a steely homage to the hardworking souls who endured the grueling slog to locate the man who ordered the 9/11 attacks. And yes, “Zero Dark Thirty” depicts an al-Qaida detainee who, after being waterboarded, gives up the first information about a courier to bin Laden.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein is hopping mad. Last month, her office sent a letter, co-signed by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., to Sony Pictures that called the movie “grossly inaccurate and misleading” in suggesting that harsh interrogations produced information that led to bin Laden.
The Senate Three now are investigating the CIA’s communications with the filmmakers.
“Some U.S. senators now think they’re film critics,” quipped former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. “For films they don’t like, they start investigations.”
Unfortunately for DiFi and company, not everyone is following the committee’s script. Acting CIA Director Michael Morell released a statement on what the Hollywood movie got wrong. Morell wrote that “Zero Dark Thirty” underrepresents the “very large team” that found bin Laden — it wasn’t “Maya” against Langley — and is wrong to suggest that harsh techniques “were the key to finding bin Laden.” Buried in the statement, however, was the admission that some intelligence “came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques.”
Uh-oh. DiFi released a new letter, asking the CIA for more information. ?Does she really want it? In his book, “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives,” CIA veteran Jose Rodriguez credited “enhanced interrogation techniques” — not waterboarding but a different act — with providing the courier nugget.
Not that he agreed with the movie. In The Washington Post last week, Rodriguez wrote that “Zero Dark Thirty” wrongly depicted CIA officers beating and freely waterboarding detainees, even leading one naked man around in a dog collar. To Rodriguez, CIA officers are more bureaucrat than cowboy. They had to receive written authorization before they could grasp a detainee. Government documents have revealed that the CIA waterboarded three high-value detainees, not more, and stopped in 2003.
So why is the Senate Intelligence Committee waging an inquisition to discredit a movie that, as Morell, former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey believe, shows that harsh methods work?
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Democrats branded those techniques as “torture” and forced the Bush administration to end their authorized use. “Zero Dark Thirty” leaves little question that under Obama White House rules, the CIA no longer can use the techniques that led to bin Laden.
No worries. As the administration has refined the use of drones, intelligence officers do not have frequent opportunities to question high-value detainees. American morals are safe. There’s no waterboarding of suspected al-Qaida leaders; we just kill them.
Email Debra J. Saunders at: [email protected].
Former New York Times foreign correspondent Joel Brinkley is on sabbatical. His column will return to American Voices in June
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