Two former Guantanamo detainees on Thursday condemned Zero Dark Thirty, a film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden whose brutal interrogation scenes have sparked a discussion over the use of extreme methods in the U.S. campaign against terror.
Speaking at an event in London on the eve of the 11th anniversary of the opening of the U.S. prison camp in eastern Cuba, the pair said the film was an attempt to rehabilitate those guilty of human rights abuses.
"These people are getting away not only with committing the torture ... they're justifying it," said one of the ex-detainees, Libyan-born Omar Deghayes, who was left partially blind after what he said was an American guard's attempt to gouge out his eyes.
The other ex-detainee, Iraqi-born Bisher al-Rawi, said Hollywood films he used to watch portrayed torturers as the bad guys.
Casting heroes as torturers "will justify a very, very different mindset," he said at the event organized by human rights group CagePrisoners. "I think that's very dangerous."
More than 900 people have been imprisoned at Guantanamo, most of them held for years without charge. Deghayes and al-Rawi were released in 2007, part of a group of British residents who were returned to the U.K. following a lobbying campaign by family members and British human rights organizations.
Neither Deghayes nor al-Rawi had seen the movie — the Academy Award-nominated film has not yet opened in Britain — but the graphic scenes have been widely discussed.
The movie's suggestion that techniques such as simulated drowning, sleep deprivation, and sexual humiliation were critical to helping the CIA find and kill bin Laden is particularly controversial because there has never been a public accounting for the brutalization of detainees in U.S. custody. CIA interrogation videos were destroyed, a wide-ranging investigation into the agency's practices ended last year without charges and a report into the CIA approved by the Senate's intelligence committee last month remains classified.
Some have dismissed the controversy over the film by noting that it's a work of fiction, but Karen Greenberg, the director of Fordham Law School's Center on National Security, said the movie aggressively markets itself as being based on the real-life hunt for bin Laden, who was shot dead by U.S. commandoes in a raid on his Pakistani compound on May 2, 2011.
The movie "is impassioned in its belief that torture was an important tool in the war on terror and that it led to the death of Osama bin Laden," she said. "It's a polemic dressed up as fiction."
Back in London, Deghayes noted that the film would go on general release in the United States on the anniversary of the camp's opening.
"The timing is so sad," he said.