The man who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, ex-CIA director Leon Panetta, vouched for “Zero Dark Thirty,” calling it a “good movie” even though the tale of the biggest manhunt in history had to be simplified for the big screen.
Panetta, who is due to step down as US defense secretary this month, said the film should not be seen as a historical account of a secret operation that he was intimately involved with as the head of the CIA from 2009 to 2011.
But Panetta indicated that the Oscar-nominated film did convey some sense of the years of legwork it took the CIA to track down the Al-Qaeda mastermind to a hideout in Pakistan.
The film, starring Jessica Chastain as a relentless CIA officer, suggests that torture and abuse of some suspects helped generate information that led to the May 2011 raid that ultimately took out bin Laden.
The portrayal has sparked criticism from some senators, rights advocates and even the acting head of the CIA, Michael Morrell.
But Panetta said harsh interrogation methods, including water boarding or simulated drowning, did play a role in locating bin Laden, though not a decisive one.
Asked if the Al-Qaeda leader would have been discovered even without the interrogation methods widely condemned as torture, Panetta said: “I think we would have found him, even without that piece of the puzzle.”
The CIA and the Pentagon heavily cooperated with the filmmakers, who were given access to officials and even a Navy SEAL commando familiar with the raid.
Panetta declined to offer a critique of how he was portrayed on screen by Hollywood star James Gandolfini, but joked that he was grateful the actor chosen to play him shared his Italian-American heritage.