Commentary: Abuses were committed in our name

The Sacramento BeeDecember 17, 2012 

There's this big buzz whether the new movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden somehow justifies torture.

To me, this Washington and Hollywood hullabaloo is over-hyped and beside the point.

The bigger issue takes center stage today, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California playing a leading role.

She is chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is set to formally approve a report – three years in the making and nearly 6,000 pages – that documents the CIA's "enhanced interrogation technique" program from 2002 until 2009, when President Barack Obama ended it.

It's far more important that Americans see this report than the movie. The report certainly won't be as dramatic as "Zero Dark Thirty." It will be unpleasant reading. But we need to know the full extent of the most shameful part of the war on terror.

Feinstein says the report "is comprehensive, it is strictly factual, and it is the most definitive review of this CIA program to be conducted." I see it as a bookend of sorts to the 9/11 Commission report, which detailed the failures that allowed the rise of al-Qaida and its attack.

But it's unclear how much the public will ever see of the torture report. First, it would have to go through the declassification process to make sure no national security secrets are revealed. Asked whether she would push to release a redacted version, Feinstein's office said Wednesday that it's a committee decision.

The surer bet is that Feinstein will be asked today about "Zero Dark Thirty."

She hasn't seen the movie yet, but she and other top officials have stated publicly that the identity of bin Laden's courier, whose trail led to the al-Qaida leader's hide-out in Pakistan, was not uncovered through torture. In a statement this April, Feinstein said that any suggestion that the May 2011 operation targeting bin Laden "was carried out based on information gained through the harsh treatment of CIA detainees is not only inaccurate, it trivializes the work of individuals across multiple U.S. agencies."

The filmmakers behind "Zero Dark Thirty" – director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal – both won Oscars for "The Hurt Locker," the riveting account of an elite Army bomb squad in Iraq. It's the most compelling movie made about the war so far; it was widely praised for showing what it was really like there.

So it's surprising and disappointing that their new movie, while already winning critics' awards, seems to have rewritten history. I've only seen the trailers and news coverage, but according to some who have seen it, many viewers will go away believing that the water boarding of a detainee, shown in early scenes, produced key information leading to bin Laden. "Zero Dark Thirty" opens in Los Angeles and New York next Wednesday and will be at theater near you on Jan. 11.

Yes, it would be unfortunate if this movie misled Americans into thinking that torture is necessary to win the war on terror.

It would be a travesty if we never get the chance to come to terms with the abuses that were committed in our name.

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