Frank Bruni, The New York Times:
"[I]t's hard not to focus on them, because the first extended sequence in the movie shows a detainee being strung up by his wrists, sexually humiliated, deprived of sleep, made to feel as if he's drowning and shoved into a box smaller than a coffin.
"The torture sequence immediately follows a bone-chilling, audio-only prologue of the voices of terrified Americans trapped in the towering inferno of the World Trade Center. It's set up as payback.
"And by the movie's account, it produces information vital to the pursuit of the world's most wanted man. No waterboarding, no Bin Laden: that's what 'Zero Dark Thirty' appears to suggest."Steve Coll, New York Review of Books:
[T]he filmmakers cannot, on the one hand, claim authenticity as journalists while, on the other, citing art as an excuse for shoddy reporting about a subject as important as whether torture had a vital part in the search for bin Laden, and therefore might be, for some, defensible as public policy. . . .
The easiest question to consider is what Zero Dark Thirty actually depicts about the part torture played in locating bin Laden. . . . There can be no mistaking what Zero Dark Thirty shows: torture plays an outsized part in Maya’s success . . . . In virtually every instance in the film where Maya extracts important clues from prisoners, then, torture is a factor.
Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker:
"Bigelow maintains that everything in the film is based on first-hand accounts, but the waterboarding scene, which is likely to stir up controversy, appears to have strayed from real life. According to several official sources, including Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the identity of bin Laden's courier, whose trail led the CIA to the hideout in Pakistan, was not discovered through waterboarding."
Peter Bergen, CNN (unpaid adviser to the film):
"The compelling story told in the film captures a lot that is true about the search for al Qaeda's leader but also distorts the story in ways that could give its likely audience of millions of Americans the misleading picture that coercive interrogation techniques used by the CIA on al Qaeda detainees -- such as waterboarding, physical abuse and sleep deprivation -- were essential to finding bin Laden. . . .
"'Zero Dark Thirty' is a great piece of filmmaking and does a valuable public service by raising difficult questions most Hollywood movies shy away from, but as of this writing, it seems that one of its central themes -- that torture was instrumental to tracking down bin Laden -- is not supported by the facts."Fordham Law Professor Karen Greenberg, Salon:
The sad fact is that Zero Dark Thirty could have been written by the tight circle of national security advisors who counseled President George W. Bush to create the post-9/11 policies that led to Guantanamo, the global network of borrowed “black sites” that added up to an offshore universe of injustice, and the grim torture practices – euphemistically known as “enhanced interrogation techniques” — that went with them. . . .Continue reading here.
As its core, Bigelow’s film makes the bald-faced assertion that torture did help the United States track down the perpetrator of 9/11. . . . [T]he fact is that Bigelow has bought in, hook, line, and sinker, to the ethos of the Bush administration and its apologists. It’s as if she had followed an old government memo and decided to offer in fictional form step-by-step instructions for the creation, implementation, and selling of Bush-era torture and detention policies.