In court on Thursday, attorneys for alleged 9/11 conspirator Ammar al Baluchi screened scenes from the film Zero Dark Thirty in support of their argument that the CIA gave filmmakers Kathyrn Bigelow and Mark Boal greater access to evidence in the death-penalty case than the defense lawyers.
According to the Miami Herald, reporting from the war court at the Guantanamo Bay Navy Base, attorneys showed clips depicting a character named “Ammar” being subjected to a variety of abuses, including waterboarding. The judge in the case, Army Col. James Pohl, overruled prosecutor Jeffrey Groharing’s objection that “This is a movie, not a documentary.” (The accuracy of the film’s depiction of the role of torture in the search for Osama bin Laden has been widely disputed.)
The issue at hand is whether the CIA shared more information with Bigelow and Boal, who did not even have the necessary security clearance, than they did with defense attorneys. If so, the defense argues, this would be further evidence that the United States has lost the moral standing to execute the accused (if they are convicted). From the Herald, in 2013:
Baluchi’s attorneys Jay Connell and Air Force Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas, both on the case because they have top-secret security clearances, want the war court judge to order the government to furnish them with uncensored correspondence between the filmmakers and U.S. officials, including interrogators’ names. They want to read an unredacted version of an internal CIA memo that talks about “an interrogation of a character who is modeled after Ammar al Baluchi” — in which the agency sought changes.
“The United States has provided more information to the filmmakers of Zero Dark Thirty about Mr. al Baluchi’s treatment in CIA custody than it has to his defense counsel,” they argue. Although those lawyers months ago signed an agreement to safeguard national security secrets, “the prosecution has provided no information about Mr. al Baluchi’s rendition, detention, and interrogation.”
The unusual detour through a Hollywood production is just the latest effort by attorneys to shine a light on what happened to the alleged 9/11 conspirators before they got to Guantánamo in 2006. The CIA has acknowledged that it waterboarded Mohammed 183 times, among other interrogation tactics portrayed in the movie. But nothing has ever surfaced on what was done to his nephew, who sits four rows behind him at the war court as a co-defendant in the case alleging five men conspired to direct, train and fund the hijackers who killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.
Baluchi was in court on Thursday, and while he had seen the clips before, defense attorney Cheryl Bormann said, he was nevertheless “visibly upset” during the screening. “Mr. al Baluchi sat in court today and watched film clips about his own torture.”