Zero Dark Zero: Our late, lame, Hollywood-driven 'national conversation' on torture


I'm going to back into this a little, but I finally, very belatedly got around to seeing "Argo" last night. Still a bit baffled by all the Oscar hype -- it's a very good movie (I did like how it evoked the great political thrillers of the '70s, when I was growing up) but nothing spectacular. And frankly I was a little troubled by the historical twisting of the facts -- the under-appreciation of the Canadian role in freeing six U.S. hostages from Iran in 1980, and the final airport drama that never happened. Ditto for (the solid but a tad dull) "Lincoln," which made Connecticut into a pro-slavery state for no other reason than to make a roll-call a tad more dramatic.

That's shameful and unnecessary -- but the killing-Bin-Laden movie "Zero Dark Thirty" is a completely different category. I got into it a bit -- also yesterday -- on Twitter, with Larry Mendteof all people, after the former Philly news anchor posted and promoting a video casting aspersions on how Hollywood's liberal "politics" had wrecked the Oscar chances of the Kathryn Bigelow-directed flick.

The bottom line is this: The people who know the most about the pursuit of Osama bin Laden all tell a similar story: That "Zero Dark Thirty" invents the role that waterboarding or other forms of torture played in finding and killing bin Laden and that in the reality-based world torture did not drive the outcome. The latest and strongest rejoinder came this morning in the New York Times from Ali H. Soufan, an FBI counterterrorism agent deeply involved in the bin Laden chase. He writes:

"Meanwhile, promoters of torture get to hoodwink journalists, authors and Hollywood producers while selectively declassifying material and providing false information that fits their narrative. The creators of “Zero Dark Thirty” attempted to document the greatest global manhunt of our generation. But they did so without acknowledging that their “history” was based on dubious sources."

A couple of things here. Getting some facts wrong about the Iranian hostage crisis or the passage of the 13th Amendment is a misdemeanor against history, for sure. But getting it wrong on torture and related issues like the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay are lashing an open wound in the U.S. body politic. America's embrace of criminal immorality crushed global respect for our country and created a new wave of anti-Americanism in the process. If millions of citizens are getting their education at the multiplex -- and they are -- then we should get it right.

But even more important is this. We've been having this debate about a movie and about "Hollywood politics" because our so-called political leaders -- from President Obama on down -- have been too cowardly to have this conversation themselves. When Obama ran in 2008, he promised at least an initial probe and hopefully some justice for the sins of the 2000s, including torture. This has not happened -- instead, secrecy has increased.

As Soufan notes in his piece, the Obama administration and Congress could clear the air about the role of torture in the bin Laden matter by declassifying the key reports -- but they refuse to do so. So instead we're "prosecuting" the wrongs of torture by arguing over whether a Hollywood movie deserves an Academy Award. So American! And so wrong.

Now here, in the interest of fairness (as always) is Larry Mendte's video take: