Acting CIA director Michael Morell
Acting CIA director Michael Morell AFP photo

Acting CIA director Michael Morell said on Saturday that "Zero Dark Thirty," the Hollywood take on the hunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, exaggerates the importance of information obtained by harsh interrogations, AFP reports.

The movie by Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow tells the story of the decade-long search after September 11, 2001 that climaxed in last year's dramatic and deadly raid in May on the Al-Qaeda terror leader's hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The film shows U.S. personnel using harsh interrogation techniques like water-boarding, a method widely seen as torture, to force captives to speak. The information obtained was crucial, according to the movie, in piecing together the trail that eventually led to bin Laden.

Not so, Morell said in a message to Central Intelligence Agency employees released to AFP on Saturday.

The movie "creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding bin Laden. That impression is false," he said.

Morell's message states that "multiple streams of intelligence" led CIA analysts to conclude that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad.

He acknowledged that "some" of the information "came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques. But there were many other sources as well."

The controversial techniques were banned in 2009 by President Barack Obama.

Morell said that "whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved."

Morell's message, first reported by The New York Times, echoes a statement decrying the "Zero Dark Thirty" interrogation scenes signed by three senators, including Republican John McCain, himself a prisoner of war and torture victim during the Vietnam war.

In a letter to the head of Sony Pictures, McCain and Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin wrote that the movie "clearly implies that the CIA's coercive interrogation techniques were effective" in obtaining information that would lead to bin Laden.

"We have reviewed CIA records and know that this is incorrect," the senators wrote. "We believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for (Bin Laden) is not based on the facts, but rather part of the film's fictional narrative."

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