CIA Leaked Torture Details to 'Zero Dark' Filmmakers to Make It Look Like It Worked: Frontline

Abu Ghraib
A U.S. soldier walks between cells with Iraqi detainees in 2004 at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. Reuters

The CIA secretly leaked details about the killing of Osama bin Laden to the filmmakers of the 2012 blockbuster Zero Dark Thirty to produce the CIA's version of history and how brutal torture programs led to his death, according to a new PBS Frontline documentary titled Secrets, Politics and Torture.

"The movie left the American people with the impression that torture worked, and that without it, we would never have been able to trace the trail back to Abbottabad and to find bin Laden," Richard Clarke, formerly of the National Security Council, said in the documentary that aired Tuesday night. U.S. Navy SEALS killed the Al-Qaeda founder at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011.

"The message was, you need to torture people in order to get the information that will lead you to your main target," said Dana Priest of The Washington Post.

But California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was then chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), said she left the movie screening after just 15 minutes.

"I walked out of Zero Dark Thirty candidly," she said in the documentary. "I couldn't handle it because it's so false."

For years, Feinstein and other Democrats have told a different story than what is depicted in the movie. She directed the Senate committee to examine highly classified documents to answer the question: Did torture work? Senate investigators dug into 6 million pages of internal CIA documents to examine one of the agency's most secret programs, according to the documentary.

In 2007, The New York Times reported that the CIA destroyed hundreds of tapes dating back to 2002. The footage showed so-called "enhanced interrogations" of two Al-Qaeda suspects in CIA detention. The CIA's top operations officer, Jose Rodriguez, knew how dangerous the tapes were and ordered the footage to be destroyed. He was never prosecuted because former President George W. Bush signed legislation that granted protection to anyone in the federal agency who had worked on the program.

"I was told if those videotapes had ever been seen, the reaction around the world would not have been survivable," said Jane Mayer of The New Yorker.

The destruction of the recordings enraged and motivated the SSCI to investigate the CIA's interrogation program. In December, the committee released its highly anticipated torture report that condemned the CIA for using harsh and controversial detention and interrogation techniques against terror suspects at CIA prisons in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Many Republicans criticized the Senate committee for the comprehensive review, which they said would jeopardize intelligence interests and harm American personnel abroad.

The documentary was released Tuesday also amid ongoing litigation about graphic images showing U.S. military abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a pending decision by the U.S. government to release an estimated 2,100 photographs depicting U.S. military abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, or appeal an order to do so. In 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union sued for the release of the graphic images showing detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.