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26 Feb, 2013 19:35

Zero Dark Thirty: Senate ‘lets’ Bin Laden manhunt movie off the hook

Zero Dark Thirty: Senate ‘lets’ Bin Laden manhunt movie off the hook

Immediately after the Zero Dark Thirty movie scooped surprisingly little acclaim at Oscar ceremony, reports came the Senate had dropped its probe into the CIA’s alleged cooperation with the filmmakers.

A frontrunner in the Oscar race, Zero Dark Thirty is a highly controversial dramatization of the US operation to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden. The movie was nominated for five Academy of Motion Picture awards including the Best Picture and Best Director awards. But in the end it received just one statuette – for Best Sound Editing, which it shared with the James Bond movie Skyfall.

Next day it became known that Senate’s Intelligence Committee decided to close its inquiry into the CIA’s cooperation with Zero Dark Thirty, Reuters reported quoting anonymous sources. The Intelligence Agency did not tell the filmmakers "enhanced interrogations" led to capturing bin Laden, but helped develop characters in the film, said the source.

Eye-opener vs. Torture propaganda

Just a couple of months ago American movie critics shared common belief that Zero Dark Thirty would win Best Picture and Best Director awards at the Oscars.

“The landscape is dominated by Kathryn Bigelow's 'Zero Dark Thirty,” reported the Washington Post's Jen Chaney.

But in December, as Zero Dark Thirty was about to hit the screens at America’s multiplexes, a group of influential Washington politicians attacked the movie.

The Chair of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, joined the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin and Republican Senator John McCain in lambasting Zero Dark Thirty for scenes depicting enhanced interrogation of detainees by CIA agents.

This led to the Intelligence Committee launching a probe into whether the CIA shared classified data with the Zero Dark Thirty filmmakers to helping produce the film.

Unidentified cast and crew members are seen at the shooting site of the movie "Zero Dark Thirty" in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh March 6, 2012 (Reuters / Ajay Verma)

While the investigation proceeded, Zero Dark Thirty sparked a fierce debate between its supporter and detractors.

As movie critics admired Zero Dark Thirty, naming it one of the best films of the year, politicians and others pointed out that since enhanced interrogations played no role in finding Bin Laden, the movie was no more than an artistic falsification distorting the true story.

"When it comes to torture, the film fails the truth test for both accountants and poets," said Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney.

Others, however, thought the scenes of torture in the movie amounted to CIA propaganda aimed at justifying the practice, accusing director Kathryn Bigelow of “embedded journalism”.

"It makes a case for the efficacy of torture," argued New York Magazine's Film critic David Edelstein.

"No waterboarding, no Bin Laden: that's what 'Zero Dark Thirty' appears to suggest," claimed Frank Bruni of The New York Times.

Answering the avalanche of criticism, Bigelow wrote a public letter in mid-January.

Those of us who work in the arts know that depiction is not endorsement. If it was, no artist would be able to paint inhumane practices, no author could write about them, and no filmmaker could delve into the thorny subjects of our time,” she wrote.

I think Osama bin Laden was found due to ingenious detective work. Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn't mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn't ignore. War, obviously, isn't pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences,” Kathryn Bigelow stressed in her statement.

Unidentified cast members are seen at the filming location of the movie "Zero Dark Thirty" in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh March 6, 2012 (Reuters / Ajay Verma)

As Zero Dark Thirty’s rigorous drama drew opprobrium in the Senate and elsewhere, the Oscar for Best Picture was given to a movie about the ingenious rescue of American diplomats in Iran after the 1979 revolution.

Ben Affleck’s Argo depicts one of the most ominous episodes in American diplomacy in the 20th century – the Iran hostage crisis in 1979.

In real life, however, Washington’s attempts to free 52 American citizens captured by revolutionary Iranians through both diplomacy and force failed. After 444 days of captivity, Tehran returned the US citizens after the United States released several billion dollars in Iranian gold and bank assets which had been frozen in US banks shortly after the seizure of the embassy.

A crew member of Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow's team for the movie "Zero Dark Thirty" applies makeup on an actor during a shoot at the filming location in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh March 17, 2012 (Reuters / Ajay Verma)