waterboarding protesters
© Reuters / Kevin Lamarque / File
Protesters simulate waterboarding outside the Department of Justice in Washington DC
Secretary of State and former CIA Director Mike Pompeo has added a new string to his bow: film critic. Though Pompeo dismisses The Report as fiction, the torture chronicled in the movie was real, and had deadly consequences.

Released last month, The Report follows the story of Senate staffer Daniel Jones, working to compile a damning 6,700-page report on the CIA's detention and interrogation programs after 9/11. The movie cuts from political wrangling in Washington to secure the report's release, to scenes of brutal torture recounted in the report itself - or at least, the unredacted portion we're allowed to read.

Pompeo wasn't impressed. Calling the movie "fiction," he tweeted a scathing review on Friday. "To be clear," he wrote, "the bad guys are not our intelligence warriors. The bad guys are the terrorists. To my former colleagues and all of the patriots at @CIA who have kept us safe since 9/11: America supports you, defends you and has your back. So do I."


Pompeo's world, in which "good guys" deliver justice to "bad guys," and "intelligence warriors" battle "terrorists," has already been depicted in jingoistic CIA puff pieces like Zero Dark Thirty and Amazon's Jack Ryan. The Report clearly troubles Pompeo because it's based on real, shameful non-fiction.

The movie depicts the graphic torture of detainee Abu Zubaydah, captured in Pakistan in 2002 and shuttled to a so-called 'black site' in Thailand. There he was waterboarded almost to death, physically assaulted by CIA officers, deprived of food, sleep and clothes, and forced to spend over 11 days in a coffin-sized 'confinement box.' Meanwhile, the CIA's then-Director Michael Hayden lied to Congress in 2007 about the severity of the techniques used on Zubaydah and the effectiveness of torture in obtaining information.

The 'good guys' who interrogated Zubaydah later destroyed videotapes of the interrogations in 2005, reportedly under the instruction of current agency Director Gina Haspel. These tapes also showed the interrogation of one Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was threatened with a handgun and an electric drill, and sodomized by interrogators.


An aide to CIA Executive Director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo later wrote in an email that "the heat from destroying [the tapes] is nothing compared with what it would be if the tapes ever got into [the] public domain... it would be devastating to us."

The Report also references the death of Gul Rahman, who faced similar treatment in a secret Afghan prison run by the CIA in 2002. Rahman was shackled and forced to stand in 'stress positions' for days on end, blasted with freezing cold water, and found dead of hypothermia on the concrete floor of his cell, three weeks after his arrival at the site.

Though Pompeo asserts that the CIA's actions "have kept us safe since 9/11," the Senate torture report shows no evidence that any useable information was extracted through torture. "If it works, why do you need to do it 183 times?" Sen. Dianne Feinstein says in one scene in The Report, referring to the repeated waterboarding of 9/11 suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Even if one sanctions the use of torture on genuinely "bad" guys, many of the suspects rounded up by the CIA have never had their guilt ascertained in a court of law. Zubaydah is currently languishing in US military custody in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and has never been charged with any crimes. Rahman was not charged with any crimes before his death, and Sheikh Mohammed is awaiting trial on war crimes charges - though his confessions in 2007 to a string of terror offences were obtained under torture, and may prove inadmissible.

Pompeo would clearly prefer endless reruns of Zero Dark Thirty to anything that might call his former agency's reputation into question. Though some have argued that the movie's second half - which sees agency lawyers and bureaucrats attempt to stymie Jones' investigation - is exaggerated, the fact remains that the CIA needlessly tortured suspects for years with little oversight and attempted to destroy the evidence.

Pompeo is not alone in giving torture the thumbs-up. President Trump emerged as a torture advocate on the campaign trail in 2016, with his statements garnering significant criticism. Still, a 2017 survey revealed that Americans were almost evenly divided on the use of torture.

Public opinion may be split, but one thing nobody believes is that the harrowing stories depicted in both the movie and the Senate's report are "fiction."