In a letter to Michael Lynton, head of Sony Pictures, Democratic senators Diane Feinstein and Carl Levin and Republican McCain took issue with Zero Dark Thirty, the new film by Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow.
“The film graphically depicts CIA officers repeatedly torturing detainees and then credits these detainees with providing critical lead information on the courier that led to” bin Laden, they wrote.
“Regardless of what message the filmmakers intended to convey, the movie clearly implies that the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques were effective in eliciting important information related to a courier for” bin Laden.
“We have reviewed CIA records and know that this is incorrect.
“Zero Dark Thirty is factually inaccurate, and we believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt [for bin Laden] is not based on the facts, but rather part of the film’s fictional narrative.”
The movie, which was released in North America this week, tells the story of the decade-long search after Sept 11, 2001, climaxing in last year’s dramatic and lethal raid on bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
A CIA agent played by Jessica Chastain — who has been tipped for best actress Oscar for the role — drives her bosses relentlessly to focus on leads which eventually identify the courier who totes messages to and from the Abbottabad compound.
The film — named after military-speak for the time of the nocturnal Abbottabad raid — pulls no punches in showing the use of torture and harsh interrogation techniques like water-boarding to force captives to speak.
A Sony Pictures spokesman pointed to a statement given last week by Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, who worked with her on 2008’s Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker.
That statement read: “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 dramatises.”
Levin is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on which McCain is ranking member, while Feinstein is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
McCain said he watched the film on Monday night after receiving a copy.