May 19: “Secrets, Politics and Torture” | Press Release + Trailer
FRONTLINE Investigates the CIA’s Secret Interrogation Program
When Zero Dark Thirty premiered in 2012, the Hollywood film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden became a blockbuster hit.
The CIA worked with the filmmakers, and the movie portrayed the agency’s controversial “enhanced interrogations” — widely described as torture — as a key to uncovering information that led to the finding and killing of bin Laden.
But in Secrets, Politics and Torture, premiering May 19 on PBS, FRONTLINE reveals the many challenges to this version of history, and the inside story of how it came to be.
Drawing on recently declassified documents and interviews with prominent political leaders and CIA insiders, Secrets, Politics and Torture is a deep investigation of the agency’s top-secret interrogation program: how it began, what it accomplished, and the bitter fight in Washington over the public outing of its existence.
“We’ve found that, faced with 9/11 and the fear of a second attack, everybody from the head of the CIA, to the Justice Department, to the president asked ‘Can we do it?’ — meaning, can we do it legally — not, ‘Should we do it?’,” says veteran FRONTLINE filmmaker Michael Kirk (The Torture Question, Bush’s War, Losing Iraq, United States of Secrets).
The film unspools the dueling versions of history laid out by the CIA, which maintains that its now officially-shuttered program was effective in combating terrorism, and the massive Senate torture report released in December of 2014, which found that the program was brutal, mismanaged and — most importantly — didn’t work.
For example: The Senate concluded that the CIA’s first detainee, Abu Zubaydah, was not actually a senior member of Al Qaeda. And Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was a high-level Al Qaeda operative, admitted that he lied to interrogators who were waterboarding him.
“Waterboarding [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] 183 times did not work,” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who spearheaded the report, tells FRONTLINE. “And essentially, by the CIA’s own standard of why they did this, they did not receive otherwise unavailable actionable intelligence.”
But John McLaughlin, former deputy director of the CIA, defends the agency’s decision to employ techniques like waterboarding, forced nudity, days of sleep deprivation, and confinement in coffin-size boxes on terror suspects deemed high-level.
“We were at war. Bad things happen in wars,” McLaughlin tells FRONTLINE. “We felt a moral commitment to protect the United States.”
From the CIA’s use of black site prisons in Thailand, Lithuania, Afghanistan and Poland, to its destruction of nearly 100 hours of videotaped interrogations (and Congress’s fury upon finding out), to the Senate’s standoff with the CIA over the report, Secrets, Politics and Torture tells the dramatic inside story of one of the CIA’s most controversial programs.
It’s the latest in Michael Kirk’s acclaimed line of documentaries examining controversial counterterrorism programs and government secrecy: He traveled to Abu Ghraib to make The Torture Question in 2005, and he just won a Peabody Award for United States of Secrets, FRONTLINE’s 2014 examination of how the National Security Agency responded to 9/11.
“As the debate over how far the U.S. should be willing to go in the fight against terrorism continues, we felt it was important to tell the story of this CIA program, comprehensively, in documentary form,” Kirk says. “What we’ve found raises some very tough questions.”
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Secrets, Politics and Torture is a FRONTLINE production with the Kirk Documentary Group. The producers are Michael Kirk, Jim Gilmore and Mike Wiser. The director is Michael Kirk. The writers are Michael Kirk and Mike Wiser. The reporter is Jim Gilmore. The deputy executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is David Fanning.
FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 69 Emmy Awards and 17 Peabody Awards. Visit pbs.org/frontline and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Google+ to learn more. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.