McCain: 'Zero Dark Thirty' Gives Ammunition to Islamic Extremists

John McCain Speaking - H 2012
Alex Wong/Getty Images

John McCain Speaking - H 2012

Appearing on CNN, the senator repeated calls for Sony Pictures to include a disclaimer on the movie, which suggests that information obtained through torture allowed agents to find Osama bin Laden. "That's not the case," McCain said.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain amped up his criticism of the Oscar-contending film Zero Dark Thirty Thursday, calling its depiction of U.S. intelligence agents torturing an Al Qaeda prisoner “really harmful.”

FILM REVIEW: 'Zero Dark Thirty'

The one-time GOP presidential candidate was one of three senior senators who Wednesday sent a letter to the movie’s distributor, Sony Pictures, protesting the script’s suggestion that information obtained by water boarding an Islamist detainee eventually allowed U.S. forces to locate and kill terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. The lawmakers—McCain, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) demanded that Sony include some sort of disclaimer, since the critically praised film explicitly claims to be based on documentary evidence and first-hand accounts.

McCain, who underwent six years of sporadic torture while a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, went on CNN Thursday to charge that, as released, Zero Dark Thirty could exert a dangerous influence—not only on domestic opinion, but also on attitudes toward America abroad.

“Obviously movies by very highly credentialed producers, directors and casts do have an effect on public opinion, not only in the United States, but also around the world,” he told interviewers on the cable news network. “The brutality depicted is very disturbing, but what senators Levin, Feinstein and I focused on (in the letter to Sony) is that you believe when watching this movie that water boarding and other torture produced information…that lead to the elimination of Osama bin Laden. That's not the case.”

McCain pointed out that when bin Laden lieutenant Khalid Shaikh Mohammad—the actual master mind of the 9/11 atrocities—“was water boarded, he gave information that was false. He said the guy who lead us to Osama bin Laden had retired.

“The moral of the story is torture does not work. It is hateful. It is harmful, incredibly harmful to the United States of America. To somehow make people believe that it was responsible for the elimination of Osama bin Laden is, in my view, unacceptable.”

BOX OFFICE REPORT: 'Zero Dark Thirty' Soars in New York and Los Angeles

Asked whether any of the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used against Shaikh Mohammad had provided any of the information that contributed to his location and killing, McCain was emphatic. “It did not.” Torture, he said, produced answers that “misled the interrogators.”

When questioned about why he has decided to take on this issue with so many other pressing matters pending in Washington, McCain, whose own wartime mistreatment left him so physically impaired that he cannot raise him arms above shoulder height, replied, “I've been involved in this issue for a long time. The senate voted 93 to 3 that this kind of thing was unacceptable. ... It really goes to what America is all about.

"Do we really want to do things that are inhumane and basically immoral—torturing people? And what is the impact on our image in the world, when we do that? We are in a long ideological struggle with the forces of radical Islam. This gives them all kinds of ammunition when they have a movie that shows that we are torturing people.”