Senators John McCain, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin wrote a scathing letter to Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Michael Lynton on Tuesday, condemning "Zero Dark Thirty" for its suggestion that the use of torture played a part in locating terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
"We write to express our deep disappointment with the movie 'Zero Dark Thirty,'" the letter begins. "We believe the film is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of Usama bin Laden."
While acknowledging that the Kathryn Bigelow movie, which opened in New York and L.A. on Wednesday, is a work of fiction, they note that the film bills itself as "based on first-hand accounts of actual events" and that, according to media reports, it was written with cooperation from the Central Intelligence Agency.
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"As you know, 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 Usama bin Laden."
The trio goes on to complain that the film "clearly implies that the CIA''s coercive interrogation techniques were effective in eliciting important information related to a courier for Usama bin Laden. We have reviewed CIA records and know that this is incorrect."
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McCain, Feinstein and Levin add that Sony has "an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Usama bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather the part of the film's fictional narrative."
In a statement provided to TheWrap, Bigelow and Boal counter that "Zero Dark Thirty" depicts a number of intelligence techniques leading to the capture of bin Laden, and that taking a single scene out of the overall context is unfair.
"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 statement reads. "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 dramatizes.
"One thing is clear: the single greatest factor in finding the world's most dangerous man was the hard work and dedication of the intelligence professionals who spent years working on this global effort," the filmmakers added. "We encourage people to see the film before characterizing it."
On Tuesday, McCain — who endured torture during his five-year stint as a captive of the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam war — trashed the film on the Senate floor after viewing it.
“Not only did the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed, it actually produced false and misleading information,” McCain said.
Last week, "Zero Dark Thirty" director Bigelow and screenwriter-producer Mark Boal told TheWrap that critics claiming that the film glorifies torture are mistaken.
“I’m not saying the film is a documentary of everything that happened, but it’s being misread,” Boal said. “The film shows that the guy was waterboarded, he doesn’t say anything and there’s an attack. It shows that the same detainee gives them some information, which was new to them, over a civilized lunch. And then it shows the [Jessica Chastain] character go back to the research room, and all this information is already there — from a number of detainees who are not being coerced. That is what’s in the film, if you actually look at it as a movie and not a potential launching pad for a political statement.”