A declassified CIA memo detailing its requests to the filmmakers of "Zero Dark Thirty," posted by Gawker Monday evening, has human rights activists concerned that it is part of a larger trend of CIA interference into examinations of its post 9/11 policies.
Raha Wala, a senior counsel of Human Rights First, an anti-torture organization, calls the revelation "the latest in a long line of concerning suggestions that the CIA is trying rewrite history about these so-called enhanced interrogation programs."
The memo recounts CIA conversations with screenwriter Mark Boal in which the agency requested he remove or augment scenes he had for written the movie. During five separate conference calls, Boal "verbally shared" the movie's script with CIA public affairs officers. Among other things, they asked that the main character refrain from administrating "EITS" [enhanced interrogation techniques], as was apparently originally written. Boal met this request, and in the final cut the main character Maya only watched as her colleague waterboarded and administered other controversial techniques on a detainee.
Boal also agreed to take the use of dogs out of the screenplay, per the agency's insistence that it did not use them in interrogations. (Gawker points out that dogs were used, if not by the CIA, then by other actors in the War on Terror, including at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib). Boal also removed depictions of CIA officers' drunken revelry with firearms per CIA request. He declined, however, to remove scenes showing Maya studying dozens of taped interrogations, claiming cinematic necessity, even though the officials told him "detainee sessions were not taped and used for research and analysis."
"Zero Dark Thirty" sparked impassioned debate on both its artistic merits and its political interpretations of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Changing the script so Maya only observed, and did not participate, in the film's initial interrogation scene no doubt augmented the many discussions about her character and how its shapes viewers' perception the CIA practices.
But within the larger political debate about the ethics and effectiveness of controversial CIA policies, Wala worries that this memo is reflective of how the CIA is interfering with official – and not just fictionalized – examinations of its policies, particularly the efforts by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
"'Zero Dark Thirty' is a film, so it's really disturbing that the CIA has apparently taken the approach of trying to tell history through a fictional film rather than engaging in the normal congressional oversight process," he says.