CIA torture shown in Bin Laden film renews debate

SCOTT SHANE

Even before its official release, Zero Dark Thirty, the new movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, has become a national Rorschach test on the divisive subject of torture.

The film's unflinching portrayal of Central Intelligence Agency's brutal interrogation of al-Qaeda prisoners hews close to the official record, offering a gruesome sampling of methods like the near-drowning of waterboarding.

What has already divided critics, journalists and activists who watched early screenings is a more subtle issue — the suggestion that the calculated infliction of pain and fear, graphically shown in the first 45 minutes of the film, may have produced useful early clues in the quest to find the terrorist leader, killed in May 2011.

Such a claim is anathema to outspoken critics of the Bush administration's decision in 2002 to resort to methods that the United States had for decades shunned as illegal. And a new, 6,000-page report on CIA interrogations by the Senate Intelligence Committee, based on a study of some six million pages of agency documents, finds that brutal treatment was not "a central component" in finding Bin Laden, said the committee's chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California.

According to intelligence officials and incomplete public record, detainees who endured varying degrees of physical force did tell their interrogators some truths, as well as half-truths and outright lies. What remains unprovable is whether — as FBI agents with long experience questioning terrorists have argued — the same or better information might have been obtained without treacherous path the CIA chose.

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