Scott Z. Burns: America’s Darkest Secrets Are Laid Bare in ‘The Report’
While Americans will never be able to see the full Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA torture committed in the aftermath of September 11th, even the publicly available executive summary reveals shocking facts about the agency’s heinous acts. “The Report,” a new film by director Scott Z. Burns, whose work includes “the Bourne Ultimatum” and, more recently, “The Laundromat,” brings to life this dark chapter of recent American history with a star-studded movie featuring Annette Bening, Adam Driver and Jon Hamm.
In the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” Burns speaks with Robert Scheer about his film and explains the inspiration behind the movie.
“The way in for me was an article that I read in Vanity Fair about the two psychologists who are generally given credit as being the architects of the program,” the director tells Scheer. “They had this idea that they could come up with a program that used, you know, what they called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’—what I think most people on the planet would call torture—[that] they sold to the CIA after 9/11, and said that they had the special sauce that would make people talk.
“My parents are both psychologists,” Burns goes on, “so I grew up around people who, you know, who practice. And the notion that psychologists would think that they should use their understanding of the human mind to hurt people was very confronting to me.”
Scheer, who also recently interviewed the author of “A Place Outside the Law: Forgotten Voices from Guantanamo,” points out one of the most tragic facts about CIA torture.
“I don’t think you can justify torture, even if it produces valuable evidence,” Scheer states. “That’s why it’s banned internationally in other documents—But the fact is, they didn’t produce any actionable information. And that makes it such an incredible scandal.”
Burns also shares an incredible story that he learned during his research but wasn’t able to include in “The Report” which puts the CIA’s actions into a powerful historical context.
“The best interrogator the Nazis had was a guy named Hanns Scharff,” Burns tells Scheer. “And Scharff interviewed 500 airmen, and he basically used tea conversation, maybe a scotch; knowledge of, you know, American baseball. And he was successful in 480 out of 500 airmen who he interrogated … So the Nazis’ best guy wouldn’t use these techniques, and yet this is immediately where the CIA took us to.”
There are only 3 full reports in existence, after several copies were destroyed, a fact that indicates the American public may never know the truth about what was carried out in their names. However, thanks to Burns’ film, which is in cinemas and will be available on Amazon, Scheer concludes that many may begin to become more aware of the issue.
Listen to Burns and Scheer discuss what the latter calls a “riveting” film about one of the defining moments of our time.
Introduction by Natasha Hakimi Zapata
[Originally posted on KCRW 11/24/2019]
RS: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. And the irony of that word–I always saw this podcast as kind of the poor man’s CIA, you know; ”intelligence” in that sense. But we’re here to discuss a movie, and you are Scott Z. Burns–very famous director, writer–Bourne Ultimatum, Contagion, the great documentary on the Panama Papers, which I’m blocking on–
SB: Ah, the movie The Laundromat, which–it’s not a documentary, but it’s with Meryl Streep.
RS: Yeah, and it’s terrific. But I just want to say right at the outset, I went to see a prescreening of The Report. I expected not to like it; I’m not a big fan of Dianne Feinstein, I am a big fan of Annette Bening. And I thought, oh, this is going to give her too much credit, and also it’s a movie made for Amazon, what are they doing in the movie business, and so forth. And I, you know, worry about the size of Amazon and all of their connections and everything. I came out of that theater, one of those Hollywood screening rooms, and I thought: this is one of the best movies dealing with national security, war and peace, that I think I’ve ever seen. And I’ve spent a lot of time on this issue. I’ve read everything I can about the torture program, I’ve written about it extensively; I even have a book out on the surveillance society and so forth. And I learned a lot from The Report. And I’m a little confused at some of the response to it. It’s been mixed. And mixed only in terms of how theatrical it is.
First of all, I found it riveting. I found it incredible theater, OK. And I just wonder whether there’s resistance to really examining the U.S. as a sponsor of torture. And in your movie–I don’t want to put my own spin on it. But what I found was devastating was the clear assertion–and it’s clear in The Report, we’re talking about a 6,700-page report that most of us have never been able to read. But there was a heavily redacted 500-page executive summary. I read that carefully; I’ve covered this issue. And the devastating thing about this is that this torture–I don’t think you can justify torture, even if it produces valuable evidence. That’s why it’s banned internationally in other documents. But the fact is, they didn’t produce any actionable information. And that makes it such an incredible scandal. It was zealously produced by one administration, the George W. Bush administration, and then effectively covered up, in a sense, by the Barack Obama administration. So I want to turn it over to you to tell me how at this point in your career, when you’ve done all sorts of more action-oriented, you took on what seemed like a difficult subject, you know, and brought it to life.
SB: Well, I think the way in for me was an article that I read in Vanity Fair about the two psychologists who are generally given credit as being the architects of the program. And they were contractors; they were guys out in the world, they’d retired from the Air Force. And they had this idea that they could come up with a program that used, you know, what they called ”enhanced interrogation techniques”–what I think most people on the planet would call torture. And so they used that euphemism. And they sold this program to the CIA after 9/11, and said that they had the special sauce that would make people talk. And my parents are both psychologists, so I grew up around people who, you know, who practice. And the notion that psychologists would think that they should use their understanding of the human mind to hurt people was very confronting to me. And that sort of sparked my curiosity, and I started doing more research. Eventually I came across the report that Daniel Jones wrote for the Senate Intelligence Committee, and I read the 500-page executive summary, like you did. And I was aghast at what was done in our name. And I was also stunned by the fact that when I walked around in the world, there were people who were under the impression that these techniques work.
And so I began speaking to people in the FBI, people in military intelligence, people whose whole lives have been about interrogation. And every one of them that I spoke to said that not only is this illegal, but it is ineffective. And the conclusion of the report that Daniel J. Jones reached, you know, as the lead investigator, is that everything that we learned from using these techniques, we already had from other sources, from other governments, and that this was not, you know, a successful program. And the CIA in fact themselves, at the end, did an after action review, after six years of this. And their conclusion was that this wasn’t a successful program, and that in the future, they would talk to law enforcement in other countries about successful interrogation methods.
RS: Yeah, but this is not information that they feel that they can trust the American people, or in fact the world’s population, to know. Because in fact, the CIA had done its own study, pretty much came to this conclusion. The FBI was against the torture from day one, and some of the most effective interrogations were done by the FBI using totally opposite approach of befriending witnesses, getting their story, showing a little bit of understanding of their language and history and knowledge. And then these goons came in, and I–the two psychoanalysts that you’re talking about, and you changed their name in the film–
SB: No, we used their real names. Their names are changed in the report, they’re Swigert and Dunbar in the report.
RS: Yeah, I’m sorry, I misspoke. But the fact is, they represent the worst–they’re like a Dr. Strangelove of science. You know, how can we use our intelligence and knowledge about the human personality in the most destructive way. You know, science gone mad. And what I find most important about this movie, The Report–and it’s riveting on many levels. I really, unabashedly, really encourage people to see this movie, and I say it with full enthusiasm. But what I learned about it, the most important was the difficulty of a Senate Intelligence Committee which, after all, had been formed in the aftermath of the Senator Frank Church investigations of excess of our intelligence agencies and their abuse of power. So it was formed to keep these agencies within the Constitution, within standards of human decency. And finally, you know, a senator who hasn’t always been on the forefront of challenging government, Senator Dianne Feinstein, is the head of the committee; the Democrats happened to be a majority of the committee at that moment, and they conduct this investigation.
And it really raises–this movie, The Report–the most fundamental question in a democratic society: What right do we–and need do we–as the public have to know the bad, the good, and the ugly, you know? What need? And James Clapper, who was the big guru of intelligence, weighed in and said, you can’t release this report because the bad people around the world will do terrible things. And once again, the question is, is truth an asset to a free people in their education, or is it the enemy? And the government–and I must say Barack Obama collaborated on this. He came in as president, and he said, I’m not opening that wound. Well, you don’t open–that’s like, then why did we have the Nuremberg Trials? Why did we hold the Soviets accountable for their show trials? Why do we hold any ruler in the world, if you can’t examine it and learn the lessons from it? And so I think the power of this movie is really the difficulty of a Senate committee doing its job.
SB: Yeah. Look, I started out very much writing a movie about the program. But then, you’re right, as I learned sort of the odyssey that Daniel Jones went through trying to push this thing out, it became clear to me that what this story is really about is accountability. And does this, you know, does Congress really have the authority and the guts to hold the executive branch accountable. And I think we’re seeing that today. And it didn’t start with this program, but I think this is a really interesting sort of tracer bullet through a fundamental political problem that we’re having right now. Which is, you know, do we believe that the executive branch can perform unchecked by Congress. And as you pointed out, The Senate Intelligence Committee was created on the heels of the Church investigation to, in fact, provide oversight and accountability to the CIA. And the fact that the CIA resisted this, and continues to this day to refute the findings of this report, is really problematic.
You know, I mean, just on its face, you have to recognize that, you know, there were other countries who used techniques like the water board–and we, you know, we vilify them. And yeah, we did it and expect to, you know, proceed with impunity. And, you know, the Japanese used the waterboard in World War II, and we had trials for the people who did that, and we executed them. And the hypocrisy of that is really stunning to me. You know, and what you said before about the FBI and these other groups using rapport-building as really the technique to get information is true. And one of the stories I learned along the way–which didn’t make it into the film, unfortunately–the Nazis, the best interrogator the Nazis had was a guy named Hanns Scharff. And Scharff interviewed 500 airmen, and he basically used tea conversation, maybe a scotch; knowledge of, you know, American baseball. And he was successful in 480 out of 500 airmen who he interrogated. After the war, we actually hired Hanns Scharff to come and lecture in this country. And so the Nazis’ best guy wouldn’t use these techniques, and yet this is immediately where the CIA took us to.
RS: Well, it really goes to an important, I think, and dangerous drug within the American experience, and that’s the insistence on American innocence. We may do bad things, but they’re accidents, they’re mistakes. Whether it was, you know, genocidal attacks on Native Americans, or the existence of slavery and then segregation right up through World War II in the military, and so forth. There’s always this insistence on–well, Donald Trump said he’s going to make America great again, which would mean we were great when we had slavery and we were great when we did all that stuff. And then Hillary Clinton said, no, we’ve always been great. So there’s this requirement for that. And what it does is it destroys, I think, the main strength of our Constitution, which is the assumption that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And that’s why we have a Constitution that is genius–with whatever contradictions of the founders being white men and everything. But the genius of our Constitution was that power corrupts, and you know, and that’s why you have to have division of powers and checks and balances. Here you have a perfect example of the check and balance. You have a Senate committee that, reluctantly and quite late, investigates–comes to this conclusion, and they came to this conclusion five years ago. And now thanks to your movie, we may have a chance of that report becoming part of public debate. If the movie is successful, if it generates the debate it deserves.
And I would just hold out another example of Hollywood. You had a movie, Zero Dark Thirty, which was well received, and it reflected CIA propaganda that torture was necessary to the capture and killing of bin Laden. That’s–that’s as big a lie as you can tell. Torture was not a factor, and it has been conceded and so forth, yet we have probably the most important Hollywood product dealing with torture, is actually a movie that is based on a lie. And a lie put out by the CIA, which even violated–they always talk about national security. You can’t talk about this, you can’t–they actually had the director and the writer of that movie come to a closed CIA meeting where they identified the people who were on the raid to capture bin Laden. You know, jeopardizing their lives. And they put out this false story. It is stunning. And Leon Panetta, who was a liberal democratic ex-congressman, was actually the head of the agency then.
So, you know, then I looked at your movie, and I thought my goodness, here is a very moderate centrist democrat, Dianne Feinstein. And she looks into this and decides this is really quite reprehensible, particularly the CIA’s infiltrating their computer system and everything else. This is really what we’re most afraid of with secret agencies, right? Like the FBI that went after Martin Luther King. And here is this veteran senator, and they put tremendous pressure on her. And the fact is, we now basically still have to speculate about the report. We have the introduction. But we–ordinary citizens, journalists, filmmakers, or anyone else–are not allowed to read this report. It is a direct violation of one of the great U.S. contributions to international justice jurisprudence, which was the Nuremberg Trials. Where they said, the truth matters; setting the record matters. I mean, I don’t know–what am I missing here?
SB: Well, you know, to that point, after Daniel Jones left the committee, and after the republicans–
RS: You should mention that he’s brilliantly portrayed.
SB: Yeah, Daniel Jones is played by Adam Driver in our movie, and Adam does an extraordinary job of kind of showing this Kafkaesque odyssey that Dan went on. Not only writing the report, but then trying to get this thing through the corridors of power and out into the world. And you know, when I was doing my research I spent a fair amount of time with Jane Mayer, who wrote a great book about this called The Dark Side. And you know, Jane said to me early on, Daniel Jones is an American hero. And you know, there are other heroes in this story. I mean, I met with Alberto Mora, who was at the Pentagon when this program happened. And recognize that this is a CIA program, not a DoD program, but the Pentagon seemed very willing to carry the CIA’s water on this one. And Alberto Mora got up and said, this is not what we do. We cannot torture people. This is against our laws. It’s against what this country is meant to be about.
RS: And John McCain, who had himself been tortured in a Vietnamese jail, was to his last day on this earth very clear about that.
SB: Yeah. The last conversation that Daniel Jones had with John McCain, before Senator McCain died, was, you know, they ran into each other on the street in D.C. and Senator McCain said to Dan, ”We got to get the rest of the report out.” And it is chilling to me that, you know, after Dan leaves the committee and Senator Richard Burr is made the chairman, one of the first things that Senator Burr did was ask to have all the copies of the report that were at the executive branch returned. And destroyed. And so I think at this point, there really are only three full copies that we’re aware of, of the report, that remain. Which has a lot to do with why I wanted to make this film.
RS: Where are these three copies?
SB: One is in Barack Obama’s presidential library. I believe the other two are in Guantanamo and can be used by people, you know, as part of these military commissions. Which is also a part of this story. You know, the fact that we did these things means that justice can’t really be served, because we violated the law by torturing people. And you know, I think regardless of where you find yourself on the right and left spectrum, I think we would all like to believe that the people who hijacked those planes and were part of that should face justice. And I’ve spent a lot of time with people who, you know, who had family members they lost on 9/11, and they would like for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to face justice. And they are outraged that these things were done in their name, because that was cited as the reason for doing this.
RS: Yeah, and the reason to have trials, public trials, is for the population, the world population and the American population, to learn what is done, what is this all about, you know. And I just want to mention that, though–what I thought was a really scurrilous, irresponsible review in the New York Times. I mean, which–you know, instead of dealing with the issues in this movie, deals with camera angles or something. Or does the actor–you know, what I loved about the film, by the way, was its measured tone. This is not a sensationalist movie. This is an incredibly responsible, but riveting–I hasten to say, riveting movie, you know. And if I’m, you know, getting a little propagandistic here for the movie, it’s because I really think it’s an incredibly important document. I’m not, you know, I have no stake in it otherwise. I think it’s–I asked my 165 students to go see it this week, because it’s in the theaters; it will be available from Amazon, I gather, after November 29th, I guess, and people should get it. And the reason, I think, is because it’s an important teaching tool in addition to being riveting as a film. And I was really annoyed, in the New York Times–again, superficial review. I suppose, by the way, the L.A. Times, where I worked for many years, had a much more thoughtful review. But there’s a sentence, that it said there are flashbacks of abused al-Qaeda detainees. And that’s really interesting: “abused.” And this is, you know, people waterboarded 83 times. I mean, this is some of the most extreme torture that has been visited upon human beings. But the assumption that all the people in the flashbacks, or who were tortured, were actually in al-Qaeda, in a New York Times film review of this movie, makes the main mistake, the error that so much of the reporting about torture has been.
And there’s a very interesting book by a very distinguished law professor at the University of San Francisco law school, [Peter Jan] Honigsberg, that just came out; I did a podcast with him just a few days ago, and carefully read his book. And it’s about Guantanamo, the people who ended up after the rendition and everything being at Guantanamo. And of the, say, 760 or whatever it was people at Guantanamo, about 90% of them were judged to have no, or no significant, but generally no connection with al-Qaeda. So the torture that was visited on a lot of people was not of al-Qaeda detainees; they were people, many of whom were grabbed because the U.S. government offered $5,000 to $30,000 for anyone that the Pakistan or Afghan police or army could round up. You know, Taxi to the Dark Side, which was an excellent documentary, captured that. I think it was Gibney, was it? Yeah, Alex Gibney. And the fact of the matter is that most of the detainees at Guantanamo–and this fellow, this law professor interviewed 56 of them who had been released, you know. And included, by the way, about 20 who had been fighting Muslims in China, in one of the serious human rights violations of reeducation camps for millions of Muslims in China, right? These people were fighting against the Chinese Communist government, right–they ended up in Guantanamo.
SB: The report itself–and you know, we include this in the film–the findings of the report state that, according to the CIA, a quarter of the people who went through their interrogation program were guilty of nothing. That they were people who probably should have never been picked up. And one of the detainees that we portray in the movie is killed, and he’s killed before we learn if he has any affiliation with al-Qaeda. And so, you know, I don’t read reviews, so you know, I guess everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
RS: No, but the reason I bring it up is this is kind of a test of our seriousness of purpose, as journalists, as citizens, as whatever. This is not some minor event in American history. This is an indelible mark on what America has been all about. And it comes not at an earlier period of our history where you could say, oh–well, there’s slavery in the world, and there’s abuse, and male chauvinism, and contempt for natives and what have you. This comes at the height of our–it’s like the embarrassment of Donald Trump right now. I mean, we’re seeing an ugly side of America in a late stage of the American republic. And your film–and that’s why I bring up a review. If you will not deal with this film–and given that we will probably never see this report–this is like in the old Soviet Union. They’ll make it a non-event, there was never a report. If there are really only three physical copies, and you can’t get to see them, we’re talking about destroying history. Already we know the CIA–by the way, under the direction of the current head of the CIA, Gina Haspel, who was appointed by Donald Trump–destroyed the videos of interrogation. So here you have a movie–I don’t think anyone else is going to produce a commercial movie on this subject. It took courage. And I, again, my hat’s off to Amazon, for whatever reason willing to make such a movie, you know.
SB: Yeah. I mean, Amazon was–it was interesting, because we initially had this project at HBO. And for a variety of reasons, they decided they weren’t going to go forward with it, but they did something that never happens in Hollywood–they gave us back the project. And we were able to get the money to make the movie from Vice Media.
RS: Otherwise you would have been frozen in turnaround.
SB: Yeah. So they did give us relief on all of that, and gave us the movie back. And vice media put up the money to make the movie. So we made it independently. But to their credit, at Sundance–where the movie was very well received–they came to us and said they wanted to buy it, and they wanted to put it in theaters. And they wanted to put it on Prime, which to me was really meaningful. Because I do want there to be a theatrical experience of this movie; I want people to go and see this as part of a community, and have to get up and look at each other at the end of this movie, and think about what our country did in all of our names. But I also recognize that the way the theatrical experience has evolved, that not everybody lives in a community where they’re going to get to do this. And so, you know, I’m grateful that Amazon Prime can get this movie to places where otherwise a small independent film like ours wouldn’t go. And for that matter, I’m really great–I mean, we have Jon Hamm, we have Annette Bening, we have Michael C. Hall, Maura Tierney, Adam Driver, obviously. We have this incredible cast, Matthew Reese–for actors who all worked for scale, and all showed up and helped tell this story. And so that was a really gratifying experience. To go back to what you were saying–
RS: I’d like to nail that one down. You mean even your stars worked for scale?
RS: Well, that says–you know, it’s very easy to put down Hollywood, but that really is quite impressive.
SB: Yeah, no, I mean, it was–it was a really gratifying experience to put the script that I’d written in front of people and have them say, this is a really important story, and I need to help and be a part of it. And you know, put their own–I mean, obviously, these are people who get asked to do a lot of projects, and it was a wonderful experience to have them show up, and you know, and help me do this.
RS: Well, you know, I think this movie, and the subject–and regrettably, your movie is really the only way we have of coming to grips with this subject. Because we have bits and pieces of it; we most likely will be prevented from ever reading the report, which I think is a, you know, a scandal, a major scandal in itself. And the heavily redacted report. When I say the film has really important, serious content, I’m not trying to discourage people from going to see it. Because I think, you know, you obviously are one of the most skilled directors, writers, and so forth, and you’ve made great popular movies. And this is definitely an action-filled and, you know, emotional searing movie. And I think the acting, you know, done for scale–I didn’t even know that until we did this–is absolutely brilliant. You know, I must say there was another movie made before 9/11 called The Siege. And Denzel Washington played an FBI agent, and Annette Bening was in it also; she was, I believe, CIA. And that was before 9/11. But there’s been a terrorist attack, and they end up rounding up every Arab in Brooklyn. And I happened to play like a little bit role in it, as a journalist who was a commentator with Arianna Huffington. And, you know, is it right to round up every Arab in Brooklyn–
SB: And I’m willing to bet you worked for scale. [Laughs]
RS: I, yes, I’m sure. But anyway, in that movie–and it’s interesting. Again, before 9/11, Denzel Washington makes all these arguments that were consistent with the FBI’s position that torture does not work. Not only that it’s anti our values, but it is counterproductive. And I forget his name, the guy from Monk, Tony–is it–
SB: Tony Shalhoub.
RS: Tony Shalhoub. He is an Arab-speaking FBI agent, and it’s comparable to the person you mentioned before, it Ali Soufan. So history repeated itself in reality, you know. And Ali Soufan, who was a translator, actually was involved with John Kiriakou in the capture of the first high-level al-Qaeda suspect. And they interviewed–he was interrogated, and the important information that they got out of this person was done by Ali Soufan. And these, what happened was, they didn’t get anything more from that particular captive. But the CIA spun the story, because once the torture stopped, he clammed up and he started lying. That’s one of the things that happens with torture, you get all these false accounts.
SB: Well, and long before anybody else said that, actually, Napoleon said that. He said that we need to stop doing this, because all you get is false information. The fascinating thing that happened at the CIA–which goes to your sort of, you know, your point about Dr. Strangelove, or a movie like Catch-22–is the CIA initially said that they needed the waterboard for the detainee you’re talking about, who was Abu Zubaydah, who was the first sort of high-value detainee we had. First of all, the CIA claimed that–
RS: That’s who I was talking about–
SB: Yeah, and the CIA claimed that Abu Zubaydah was three or four in the al-Qaeda hierarchy.
RS: Yeah, he wasn’t even in al-Qaeda.
SB: He wasn’t really even in al-Qaeda; he was associated with them, but he wasn’t part of their leadership structure. He did give Ali Soufan information about who had planned 9/11
RS: Yeah, in Germany, for instance, they were able to break up a whole network because of the information they obtained by giving him cigarettes and talking to him. Yeah.
SB: And I spent a fair amount of time talking to Ali Soufan about his techniques when I was doing my research. The interesting thing that happened once the waterboard was employed was, you know, the psychologists who were contractors–who, I should say, were paid $80 million to do this work, which got us no intelligence–
RS: As well as their legal expenses when people sued them, yeah.
SB: Exactly. They were indemnified. They initially claimed they needed the waterboard because they felt Abu Zubaydah had information that he wasn’t giving us. And so they immediately start waterboarding him. Even people at the black site where that was done were writing back to the CIA saying this is horrible, I want to be transferred, this guy doesn’t know anything. And eventually they stop, and they say well, the waterboard was successful because now we know he doesn’t know anything. And it’s that sort of circular logic that kind of runs throughout, you know, this program and throughout the film.
RS: Well, the torturers can always claim that they have what you call the secret sauce. And what is disturbing is not only do they–first of all, they deny basic human values that the world has reluctantly come to accept, that you don’t do this, OK. And if you do it, then you provide everyone in the world with an excuse for doing this, you know. But in this specific case of what your movie’s about, not having the trials–because after all, once you use the torture, you contaminate all the evidence, and that then becomes the excuse for not having trials.
Now, we believe in having trials because we learn from them. It’s not just that the victims get some measure of justice, important as it may be, but we believe that the legal system brings clarity, understanding. Who are these people, why do they do this? How did Khalid Sheikh Mohammed go from being an engineering student at a Christian school in North Carolina, and seem to be a happy exchange student at one point, to becoming the mastermind of 9/11? How did these people get to Afghanistan, after all–15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia; you know, even the 20th, I think, was, who wasn’t on the planes. So you know, we have a 9/11 Commission Report which has a disclaimer in it, saying that the 9/11 Commission was not able to interview the key witnesses, or even the people who interviewed the key witnesses in Guantanamo or elsewhere, but could submit questions.
So the value of a trial was to actually try to figure out, how did this happen? Who are these people? You know, why do they hate us? Why did they do this? You know, we don’t have that. We don’t have that information. And if that information is in this report, you know–and let’s go over the figures here, what has been released. And this is the chilling thing at the end of your movie–you say as of now, we still don’t have this report, which is 6,700 pages. That, by the way, we paid for, we taxpayers; a five-year investigation, right?
SB: Initially, you know, there were tapes that the CIA made of these interrogations, and it was discovered that they had these tapes. And the CIA destroyed the tapes, actually, above the objections of the Bush White House. And that’s what triggered the study. So Daniel was tasked after the destruction of the tapes, and the whole–the tapes investigation and the larger investigation took him seven years. It comprised looking at 6.2 million documents. And all those documents, you’ve got to understand, those–those are the CIA’s own records. So Daniel wasn’t looking at, you know, at Red Cross or, you know, humanitarian aid groups’ accounts. These are the CIA’s own records, in real time, of their study. And there isn’t anything in there that concludes that it works. In fact, what you see in, you know, the 500-page summary is that this program never was effective, and that it was misrepresented to the American people. The 6,700-page version–which I obviously can’t see because it’s classified, you know. But Daniel will say it just gives more detail and more examples. The thing that pains him the most is there are things from those 6.2 million documents that didn’t make it into the 6,700-page version, that are very chilling and are lost to history. And I can tell you from having spent, you know, a little bit of time with him, that’s probably the thing that bothers him the most, is at some point there were things, you know, essentially that were left on the cutting-room floor that, you know, we’ll never know.
RS: You know, it’s interesting. We’re going to run out of time here, but I do want to nail something here. Right now, because democrats are all angry with Trump and want to impeach him, suddenly whistleblowers–when they’re blowing the whistle on Donald Trump–they are heroes now. Even if they’re still anonymous, and we don’t know who they are, but hey, you’re blowing the whistle on Trump–OK, you’re our guy, or you’re our woman. But with the case of torture, under two administrations, the whistleblowers have not been treated kindly. In the case of John Kiriakou, who was involved in the capture of the top al-Qaeda person, who sat with this person for 56 hours when he was severely injured, and then was involved, you know, in the transfer over to the FBI interrogator. His life was destroyed, he lost his benefits, and he served two years in jail because he dared to say, challenge the torture program. And so it’s very interesting. You have really a whistle–not a whistleblower, you have a truth-seeker at the center of your movie. Right?
RS: And this truth-seeker is actually a rare bird. This is what I want to focus on now. You know, you come away from the movie thinking, thank God there was this guy. Right? What’s his name again?
SB: Daniel Jones.
RS: Daniel Jones, not a household name at all, even to me. All right. So here he is–and your film brings him to life–and he is a regular person, right? He’s not some, you know, hogging the spotlight. He goes about his work methodically, tries to follow the evidence, and so forth. And he’s subjected to harassment. They actually tried to get material to–
SB: Yeah, no, there was a criminal referral against Daniel, you know, where the CIA claimed he had hacked into their computers; it was not at all true. Eventually it was dismissed because the Justice Department could find no evidence that that was the case. But, you know, this is a guy who doesn’t have political ambitions. He was somebody who came out of school and wanted to serve his country. And he went and worked in counterintelligence for the FBI before coming to the Hill, and because he cared about, you know, the issue of our day, which at the time was our national security, and he’s given this task to tell the truth. And you know, it’s fascinating to me because we are living in this moment, and the other night Carl Bernstein came to see our film and spoke to me afterwards. And we talked about, you know, how–
RS: Since I teach at a college, we have to mention Carl Bernstein of Watergate.
SB: Yeah. I mean, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward are the journalists who, you know, for The Washington Post uncovered Watergate. And there was a movie made about that called All the President’s Men, which was a major influence on me in choosing my camera angles, and how we told the story. And Carl, you know, pointed out that, you know, we really owe a debt to truth-tellers like Dan. He is not a whistleblower. He is–and I’m grateful to you for making the distinction–he is somebody whose job it was to go and find the truth. That was it. It was not go and find the truth for the democrats, it wasn’t go and find the truth for the republicans. It was go and find the truth of this program. And that’s what he did.
RS: Well, you know, it’s interesting, though. He’s also unusual, because maybe we put careerism before everything else, convenience and so forth. And when you’re watching your movie–The Report, by the way. I don’t want to lose sight that we’re here, and I’m unabashedly promoting this movie. And you can get it on Amazon, which I happen to think is a good thing, even though a lot of filmmakers wonder about, you know, their art and everything. But, you know, hey, right now you’re listening to this, you stop listening, you go online, and you can watch this movie. And you can decide whether the director and this guy Scheer were wrong or not, whether it’s a good movie. And what, you won’t have made a big investment of money or time. So there is something great about the fact that hundreds of millions of people can watch this movie. I think it’s irresponsible for anyone who cares about what’s going on in the world, you know, if they don’t watch this movie. I really think that, and I think it’s interesting that, you know, you don’t want to talk about critical reviews and so forth, and you’ve gotten a lot of good reviews. But the negative–or not the negative, the nitpicking–is, oh, it’s not as dramatic as it should be, it’s not as–oh, OK. Bashing people against the wall, waterboarding them 83 times, you know, torturing the innocent people–oh, that’s not dramatic–oh. In fact, it gets an R rating, and I couldn’t tell whether the New York Times was being sarcastic or not. I wrote it down. It said, “For nauseating abuse and disgusting cover-ups.” I swear, at the bottom of the review that I printed out, it said “Rated R for nauseating abuse and disgusting cover-ups. OK, now you say you don’t read reviews, but I read the review. And I thought, wait a minute. “Nauseating abuse”–that means nauseating abuse by the United States government on the highest level. Disgusting cover-ups. And why would that get an R rating, that we want to protect children from that? And I don’t know, is that a–have you ever heard that before?
SB: No, no, I haven’t.
RS: But it has an R rating for other reasons, right? It’s violent, or–
SB: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think children should see this movie. It does have a fair amount of violence in it. I mean, not a lot. You know, the torture scenes that you’re talking about–and not that I feel like as a director, I get to defend my work; my work is out there, you can see it. But Alberto Mora, you know, who I mentioned previously, when I interviewed him he said, are you going to show torture in your film? And I said to him, I wasn’t sure–that it made me uncomfortable as a director, as a filmmaker, or as an artist to do that. And he said, but if you don’t show it, aren’t you perpetuating the original sin here by the CIA? You have the power, because you have a camera, to provide visual evidence of what was done. That’s what they took away from us when they destroyed the tape, because they know the power of the image. And as a filmmaker, I recognize that as well, and that is why I made that choice. And I hope that when people see the movie, you know, that they understand that that’s why that had to happen. And by the way, these scenes are actually more about the torturers than the torture itself. That was what I was trying to get at. And you know, honestly, I don’t think there’s more than a minute or two, at the most, of those scenes; probably closer to a minute in the entire two-hour movie.
RS: I think–I don’t know about how we define children, but I think young people should watch this movie. Because, you know, when they’re a certain age, they go into the military. They fight in these wars, these forever wars, and so forth. And they do so out of, often, a misguided sense of virtue of why they’re sent. But I do want to end on a point that I think is absolutely critical. The argument for trying to suppress–well, for suppressing the report–let’s cut to the chase: the report has been suppressed, OK. The video of the torturea a critical part of the record of the United States at this point in our history of what we did to human beings–and indeed, what did they say. Because after all, we have not answered the basic question of where did al-Qaeda come from. So there’s lots of conspiracy theories and so forth; you feed conspiracy theories–I guess in the sense of unfounded theories, you know; not all conspiracies turned out to be unfounded. But you feed this kind of fake news, if you like, by not having a clear narrative.
And the main document we have about why these people did this stuff–we don’t have trials, we don’t have independent investigations–would be what they told their interrogators. As I said, the 9/11 Commission Report, the 9/11 Commission was picked by George W. Bush on the approval of democrat and republican leaders in Congress. These people all had high-level security, their staff had high-level security. And there is a disclaimer in the 9/11 Commission Report that says that this whole narrative is based on what we were told by people who interrogated the witnesses.
So let’s end this by saying, go see this movie. The fact of the matter is, this is as close as you will get to finding out, who were these people, and what part of the story were we allowed to see? And get a sense of what has been kept from us. And were it not for–I think, I’ll even say a heroic, and certainly persistent and talented director here that I’ve been talking to, Scott C. Burns, and actors who work for scale–we wouldn’t even have this. And so look at the report, and then tell me there aren’t a lot of unanswered questions about what this was all about.
I want to thank you for coming in, and for doing this. I want to thank the people here at NPR West, who provided the studio, and KCRW, Christopher Ho and the others for hosting this program. Our producer for Scheer Intelligence is Joshua Scheer, who found you and insisted we do this–I want to give him full credit, and he said you cannot avoid doing this, so I went and saw the movie, and I’m thrilled that I did. And we’ll see you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.
SB: Thank you.