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'Zero Dark Thirty' is Hollywood's tale of the hunt for bin Laden.
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BY KEN DILANIAN
Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON--Nearly a decade after the last al-Qaida detainee was waterboarded, Americans still know little about what the CIA did to its prisoners, or whether it worked.
President Barack Obama decided against an investigation to hold accountable Bush administration and CIA officials who conceived and carried out what he and others believed were acts of torture. And a criminal investigation ended last year with no charges and no public report.
But now, a Hollywood movie has put renewed pressure on CIA officials to reveal whether simulated drowning and other harsh techniques elicited valuable intelligence, as the agency has long contended. "Zero Dark Thirty," made by Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal after extensive consultation with CIA officers, is sparking a new quest for answers, in part because it suggests that torture by CIA officers was instrumental in pinpointing Osama bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
A senior CIA official on the short list to be the agency's next head, acting director Michael Morell, has been caught in the maelstrom in a way that could complicate his bid for the job.
On Jan. 3, senators on the intelligence committee sent Morell a sharply worded letter demanding he explain his assertion in a Dec. 21 message to CIA employees that "some information" leading to the al-Qaida head "came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques."
Democrats on the committee, who produced their own 6,000-page, still-secret report on the CIA interrogation program, contend the agency's records don't support that conclusion.
CIA officials and Washington politicians care so deeply about the movie's depiction because "Zero Dark Thirty" will influence how people understand the bin Laden operation, said Tricia Jenkins, an assistant professor at Texas Christian University and author of "The CIA in Hollywood," an examination of the agency's role in shaping its image through film.
"The CIA has long said that most people in the general public get their information about the CIA and its activities from film and television," she said. "The film will be a key shaper of public opinion and historical memory about this event."
Both critics and defenders with knowledge of the CIA program say the movie's torture scenes are grossly inaccurate--a cartoonish depiction that bears little resemblance to reality.