NOW With Alex Wagner, 12/26/12, 7:00 PM ET

Torture on the big screen

The movie “Zero Dark Thirty” has taken heavy criticism for the role that enhanced interrogation plays in the film. CIA Acting Director Michael Morell said the film is inaccurate, creating a strong impression that torture was “the key to finding Bin...

The efficacy of torture: In movies and in practice

Updated

“Zero Dark Thirty”—the much-anticipated film about the manhunt for Osama bin Laden—is facing criticism from Congress and the U.S. intelligence community for depicting torture as a crucial tactic that led to the killing of the world’s number one terrorist. Why did the producers, after meeting with top intelligence and White House officials in the writing of the film, make enhanced interrogation an out-sized part of the plot?

Mark Danner, the author of Torture and Truth and an Emmy award-winning journalist, said Thursday on NOW with Alex Wagner that, when used in story-telling, torture is “dramatically compelling—it captures the imagination.” Danner goes to say “it contains a soothing tale within it about power —the government is willing to use any kind of power…to protect you.”

In this case, the problem is that, as Danner notes,  the theatrical aspects of torture conflict with reality. The acting director of the CIA Michael Morell said, “the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Ladin. That impression is false.”

But in a broader sense, the efficacy of torture is embellished as well. Many studies on torture have failed to confirm whether it is useful. A 2006 report by the Intelligence Science Board at the national Defense Intelligence College found there has never been concrete evidence that torture works (see graphic).

It remains to be seen if Hollywood will stop using torture for dramatic purposes. It also remains to be seen how that is impacting the public debate on the United States’ torture policy.

The efficacy of torture: In movies and in practice

Updated