NEW YORK -- Twenty-eight retired generals and admirals sent a letter to the Academy Award-nominated filmmakers behind "Zero Dark Thirty" on Thursday, calling on them to use Oscar season to push for the release of a secret Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA's interrogation program.
"The Academy Awards are fast approaching. You will all be in the spotlight with an opportunity to make the case for transparency on this issue of vital importance to our nation," the generals and admirals, who have been active in calling for accountability on CIA torture, wrote in the letter. "From the red carpet to acceptance speeches to interviews, we urge you to continue calling on President Obama and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to release the SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] study on CIA interrogation and detention."
Perhaps to its makers' surprise, "Zero Dark Thirty" has found itself at the center of the debate over what exactly happened in the CIA's highly secretive interrogation program, which employed torture methods like waterboarding, and how critical the intelligence it produced was in finding Bin Laden.
The Senate Intelligence Committee approved a secret but reportedly damning report on the interrogation program in December, just as the film came out. However, the report has yet to be released to the public in even a declassified form -- apparently due in part to objections from the CIA.
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have blasted the film's depiction of torture as "grossly inaccurate and misleading." But some supporters have argued that the film leaves open to interpretation the question of whether torture did lead to Bin Laden's capture, and the filmmakers themselves have claimed they meant to take no stance on the issue.
The filmmakers did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.
The debate over "Zero Dark Thirty" has spilled out well beyond the world of film criticism. Key figures in the interrogation program like Jose Rodriguez, the former chief of the CIA's counterterrorism center who destroyed taped evidence of waterboarding torture, have even weighed in (He said it was "well worth seeing").
The letter from the generals and admirals suggests that Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, the film's director and writer, respectively, could help end the debate.
"There is one document that could help settle the historical debate once and for all," the letter's writers say. "The study must see the light of day."
Bigelow herself has suggested that the report should be released. "Maybe once the Senate report is declassified, we’ll have more information," she told Time magazine in January. "Maybe advocating a little more transparency in government would be a healthy step."
But the human rights advocates will have their work cut out for them in winning over Bigelow and Boal. The torture controversy apparently dimmed the film's chances with Academy members just as they were casting ballots. The annual awards show will take place this Sunday, Feb. 21.
"The [lawmakers] hijacked the marketing of the film with what, to my mind, was an intellectually dishonest publicity ploy," Boal told the Los Angeles Times this week.