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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Torture Debate Surrounds New Bin Laden Film

This publicity film photo shows Jessica Chastain in"Zero Dark Thirty." (Jonathan Olley/Columbia Pictures/AP)

This publicity film photo shows Jessica Chastain in”Zero Dark Thirty.” (Jonathan Olley/Columbia Pictures/AP)

“Zero Dark Thirty,” the film about the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, includes an unflinching depiction of CIA torture of terrorist suspects. And it comes as a new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee shows that so-called “enhanced interrogation” was not a central factor in finding bin Laden.

We’re also learning more about the CIA operative who really pushed the hunt for bin Laden, focusing on his couriers, one who led the CIA to the compound in Pakistan where U.S. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in May 2011.

Controversial Senate Report

A new 6,000-page report on CIA interrogations post-9/11 is scheduled to be reviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. Much of the report will stay classified for months, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein says the report concludes that brutal treatment was not a “central” part of finding bin Laden.

Republicans, who refused to participate in the classified report, are calling the final product flawed. They want the report made public or approved by the CIA before the committee votes for it.

Is Torture Effective?

The debate has raged since the 9/11 attacks. FBI agent Ali Souffan wrote in a New York Times opinion piece that “there was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics.”

But former Vice President Dick Cheney said in 2011 that President Obama was able to order the targeted killing of bin Laden because of information gathered by torture techniques — including waterboarding.

Washington Post intelligence reporter Greg Miller says that even among CIA agents involved with the bin Laden operation there is no clear answer.

“You will have some who will argue that it was effective and it was important,” says Miller. “Nobody comes forward to  make any claim that it provided the breakthrough intelligence that lead to bin Laden. In fact most of these methods had been abandoned for years before the raid on bin Laden last year.”

Miller says while it’s clear that the CIA did use information gathered from detainees, finding bin Laden also took a lot of “detective work.” What’s less clear, he says, is whether brutal torture techniques like waterboarding were necessary to get this information from detainees.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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