Nazir is dead. Actually, both Nazirs are dead. Earlier this month, Mullah Nazir, a Taliban and al-Qaeda commander, was killed by an American drone strike in South Waziristan, a tribal area of Pakistan. Also recently killed: Abu Nazir, the fictional al-Qaeda terrorist in the suspenseful Showtime series Homeland.
I suspect more Americans know about Abu Nazir than Mullah Nazir. It also seems possible that more Americans are forming their understanding of the global conflict now underway based on television dramas and movies than on newspaper dispatches and the talking heads who quarrel over the airwaves.
This may explain, at least in part, why senators Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, and John McCain last month sent a letter to Sony Pictures expressing their anger over Zero Dark Thirty, the feature film loosely based on the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. The senators called the movie “grossly inaccurate and misleading” because it suggests that harsh interrogations produced intelligence that led to the discovery of bin Laden’s whereabouts. The senators are now investigating the CIA’s communications with the filmmakers to determine whether “inappropriate” access was provided. Your tax dollars at work.
Acting CIA director Michael Morell was among those who provided access — appropriate or not — to Zero director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Michael Boal. Morell released a statement saying that harsh interrogations were not “the key to finding bin Laden.” He acknowledged, however, that some intelligence did come “from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques.” Former CIA director Michael Hayden and former attorney general Michael Mukasey have both said the same. Actually, Mukasey has gone further, saying that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “broke like a dam” thanks to waterboarding, and provided a “torrent of information”
Morrell’s main complaint with the film is that it does not make clear that a “very large team” — not just “Maya,” the main protagonist in the movie — was actually responsible for finding bin Laden. Last week, Morell was passed over for the top job at the agency in favor of White House adviser John Brennan. I don’t know whether there was any connection.
And then there is Jose A. Rodriguez, a 31-year CIA veteran who was “intimately involved in setting up and administering the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ program.” He left the agency in 2007, “secure in the knowledge not only that our program worked but also that it was not torture.” His criticism of the film is that the on-screen interrogations were far more brutal than in real life. “The enhanced interrogation program was carefully monitored and conducted,” he wrote. “The truth is that no one was bloodied or beaten in the enhanced interrogation program that I supervised from 2002 to 2007.”
Rodriguez commended the film makers for accurately portraying the hunt for bin Laden “as a 10-year marathon, rather than a sprint ordered by a new president.”
This much seems clear: Kathryn Bigelow has been denied an Oscar nomination in Hollywood due to Washington politics and Hollywood “political correctness,” a development lamented in a Wall Street Journal editorial last weekend. The Journal pointedly notes that Zero is “an action movie, not a documentary.” But that ignores the fact that, these days, documentaries, too, often are weapons of mass indoctrination. In addition to airing Homeland, Showtime has been broadcasting Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States, a series that re-litigates the Cold War, finding Truman more to blame than Stalin, telling audiences that Americans not only aren’t “the good guys,” but that we are “the wrong side.”
This debate is of far more than academic interest. It is hugely consequential at a time when Americans are trying to decide whether we should be robustly defending America and other free nations from those who proclaim themselves our enemies, or whether we should be attempting to address the “legitimate grievances” of those we have supposedly wronged.
The elite broadcast media has been unwilling to give Stone’s critics — most notably historian Ron Radosh — an opportunity to challenge Stone’s “facts” and his broader conceit that the truth about the Cold War for years has been hidden from Americans. Nor have members of the U.S. Senate taken exception to Stone’s attempt to breathe new life into old Soviet propaganda. Nor, for that matter, has serious concern been expressed on Capitol Hill over al Jazeera’s imminent entry into 40 million American homes with former vice president Al Gore opening the doors.
As for Homeland, I found the series generally nuanced despite the fact that the most articulate character was Abu Nazir, who, at a climactic moment in the story, explains to CIA agent Carrie — the series’s heroine whom he’s taken prisoner and handcuffed to a pipe — why drone attacks and other forms of American aggression justify the mass murder of civilians.
I doubt Mullah Nazir could have done as well — though I suppose we’ll never know. That fact, I should acknowledge, causes me minimal distress.
— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security.