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Monday, May 6, 2013

CIA Got 'ZDT' Writer to Cut Key Torture Angle

Those of us critical of Zero Dark Thirty's mishandling of torture should not be surprised by this new report, based on documents obtained by Gawker: showing the CIA got writer Mark Boal to cut out scenes showing the Maya character actually participating in (rather than just observing and cheerleading) torture.   Of course, we have known for some time that the CIA was deeply involved in aspects of the film but this didn't seem to bother the often clueless defenders of the film.  "During these calls, Boal 'verbally shared the screenpla'" for Zero Dark Thirty in order to get the CIA's feedback, and the CIA's public affairs department verbally asked Boal to take out parts that they objected to. According to the memo, he did. Here are the key changes."  One, for example:
The much-discussed opening scene of Zero Dark Thirty features the main character Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, observing a detainee at a CIA black site as he is water-boarded and shoved into a tiny box during an interrogation. It appears that an early version had Maya participating in the torture. But during their conference calls, the CIA told Boal that this was not true to life. The memo reads: "For this scene we emphasized that substantive debriefers [i.e. Maya] did not administer [Enhanced Interrogation Techniques] because in this scene he had a non-interrogator, substantive debriefer assisting in a dosing technique."
According to the memo, "Boal said he would fix this." Indeed, in the final film Maya doesn't touch the prisoner during this scene. The decision to have Maya abstain from the torture was as significant artistically as it was factually. Her ambivalence was a key part of her character, and critics picked over every detail of the torture scenes, including Maya's status as an observer rather than a participant, for meaning in the debate over torture that the movie sparked.
The CIA also took issue with an interrogation scene that featured a dog intimidating a detainee. Boal took it out: "We raised an objection that such tactics would not be used by the Agency," the memo reads. "Boal confirmed in January that the use of dogs was taken out of the screenplay."

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