Watching “Zero Dark Thirty” with the CIA

Former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen is an AEI fellow, a Washington Post columnist, and author of Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack. When it comes to the techniques used by the CIA to interrogate detainees in the aftermath of 9/11, Thiessen knows what he is talking about. Prompted by the controversy over Kathryn Bigelow’s film Zero Dark Thirty and its portrayal of the hunt for bin Laden. Thiessen moderated an AEI forum this past Tuesday with a few witnesses who speak from experience in separating fact from fiction:

Gen. Michael Hayden (ret.), former director of the CIA, suggested that enhanced interrogation techniques were never used to elicit information in the moment, but to move detainees out of the “zone of defiance” and toward cooperation. Hayden argued that it is incredibly unlikely that the raid in Abbottabad would have been successful without the help of intelligence gained from CIA detainees.

John A. Rizzo, former chief legal officer at the CIA, stressed that while the public can disagree on how big a role enhanced interrogation techniques played in the hunt for bin Laden, the intelligence collection component was paramount for the first years of the search. Jose Rodriguez, former director of the National Clandestine Service, concluded by saying that the Obama administration’s narrative conveyed that enhanced interrogations were torture and useless, but reality belies this view. The intelligence obtained at black sites was key.

The forum has not elicited much attention. One exception is Will Saletan in the obtusely titled Slate column “The case for torture,” providing a useful summary of the proceedings from the hostile point of view reflected in the title of his column.

AEI has posted the audio, video, and transcript of the event here. This is an important subject in so many ways. Thiessen and AEI have performed a public service in hosting this forum and making it accessible to the public. The video is below. Please check it out.

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