Thursday on the NewsHour: Examining Torture in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

BY Anne Davenport  January 10, 2013 at 3:19 PM EDT


Academy Award nominations came out Thursday, and “Zero Dark Thirty” claimed five of them, including for best picture, adding to a number of other recent accolades.

The movie hasn’t opened around the country yet, but chances are you’ve heard a lot about it.

Jessica Chastain, nominated for best actress, plays the role of a young, tireless CIA analyst named Maya, who is obsessed with finding Osama bin Laden. The film sweeps from the haunting days of 9/11 straight through to the successful raid on his compound in Pakistan in May 2011.

Behind the film is the team of director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal. Their 2009 film “The Hurt Locker” won six Oscars, including for best picture, best director for Bigelow — the first woman to win that award — and best original screenplay for Boal.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is also a very difficult film to watch, and that’s where the controversy begins.

Critics argue that the film’s graphic and gritty depictions of torture — and the role it played in America’s anti-terror policy — distort the truth and imply that the CIA’s use of aggressive, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including water boarding, produced information that lead directly to the discovery of bin Laden’s whereabouts — and his death.

There’s been considerable controversy — from both sides of the political aisle — in Congress.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Senate Armed Service Committee ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., and others sent two letters recently to the acting CIA director seeking information provided to the filmmakers and have subsequently begun a review of their own.

At a screening in Washington, D.C., Tuesday night, protesters, including some aligned with Amnesty International, showed their objections, while inside the filmmakers told the PBS NewsHour they stood by their work of the last five years:


On Thursday’s NewsHour, we get two views from a pair of journalists who have written extensively about the 10-year-hunt for bin Laden:

Jane Mayer is with the New Yorker and is the author of “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals.”

Mark Bowden wrote the book “The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden.” He is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and teaches journalism at the University of Delaware.

Watch their discussion with Jeffrey Brown here or below:


“Zero Dark Thirty” opens nationwide Friday.