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Former CIA official: 'War is hell. Get over it.'

January 10th, 2013
06:36 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Every so often, politics and moviemaking coincide in a way that aligns the attentions of both Hollywood and Washington.

The release of Zero Dark Thirty, the graphic film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, is such a moment.

Detractors say it overemphasizes the positive role of torture, and that the CIA may have over-shared operational details with its writer.

But on the day it was nominated for a best picture Academy Award, a former top CIA official, while admitting that there may not have been a “direct correlation” between torture and the bin Laden breakthrough, said torture’s importance in the broad fight against al Qaeda should not be minimized.

“I would categorize what we got from detainees as equally as important as things like human-source intelligence and technical intelligence,” Philip Mudd told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour said. “It was critical.”

Mudd was deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center until 2005, then worked at the FBI until 2010.

“None of these detainees is going to walk in this door and say, ‘Here’s the holy grail,’” he said. “But if they can give us a fragment of a name, if they can identify someone we pick up from a safe site in some place like Somalia, that’s never going to make the New York Times, but that’s critically important.”

In Zero Dark Thirty, the breakthrough is portrayed as a “connecting of the dots” between dozens of sources – with one detainee, initially tortured, at the center.

Meanwhile, in Washington, politicians are gearing up for a confirmation battle over John Brennan, President Obama’s pick to lead the CIA. He has been a top national security official, both at the CIA and in the White House, for much of the period leading up to the capture of bin Laden. His first nomination to lead the CIA, in 2008, was derailed over torture.

Indeed, the controversy over the film is heightened as political opponents, like Republican Senator John McCain, raise concerns over Brennan’s alleged past support for torture.

Mudd called the choice of Brennan to lead the CIA an “excellent” one, but admitted that his confirmation process will be “very difficult.”

He worked closely with Brennan at the CIA, and said that his position as deputy executive director from 2001 to 2003 was a managerial, not operational one.

“I don’t remember him having a critical role in things like enhanced interrogation techniques,” Mudd said.

As for the alleged leaks from the CIA to the film’s writer, Mudd said Brennan, who has worked at the White House since 2009, is not culpable.

“If I were him on the hill I would be saying, ‘What do you want me to do? I wasn’t there.’”

Mudd said that he was uncomfortable with Zero Dark Thirty, because it portrays the CIA as a “rogue organization.”

The actual methods employed by the CIA, Mudd said, like “pushing people against a flexible wall,” are unlike those portrayed on film.

Most Americans, he said, would say that “what the CIA did was nothing like what [they] imagine, or nothing like what [they] see in a movie.”

President Obama called for an end to enhanced interrogation when he took office, but has dramatically increased the use of other controversial practices, like drone strikes, which Mudd defended.

“I don’t lose any sleep over it, and I believe I’m an American who represents American values,” he said. “I think Americans should ask for, and require answers, but war is hell. Get over it.”

CNN’s Ken Olshansky produced this piece for television.


Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. Lando

    Nazi.

    January 10, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Reply
  2. midachs

    Nothing is fair in war,....................................................................perhaps love, but not war.

    January 10, 2013 at 7:29 pm | Reply
  3. vj

    We cant ask the reason for war in the first place? (there never is one)

    January 10, 2013 at 7:31 pm | Reply
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      'War is hell. Get over it.'

      Left wingers would do well to come to grips with this simple reality. All of their efforts since Vietnam to "sanitize wars" and make them more "humane", have only succeeded in dragging what would be brief military actions into decades long occupations and quagmires we cannot escape.

      War is ugly. Friendly fire, loss of civilian life, destruction of national treasures. All the more reason to seek a peaceful resolution at all costs, and fight wars only as a last resort.

      But...once you are in a war....you should pull out all the stops and play to win.

      January 10, 2013 at 7:40 pm | Reply
      • MC

        Its a very good point ... I agree we should have absolutely not entered unnecessary wars like Vietnam and the two Iraq wars involving countries halfway around the world that did not threaten the US ... and that we should avoid supporting dictators like Saddam Hussein.

        January 10, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
      • jon

        Vietnam was stupid, Iraq was stupid, Afghanistan is stupid.

        January 10, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
      • royalthird

        I think you're trying to rewrite history. Last time that I checked it was the first Bush Administration that portrayed war like a massive video game with pin point accuracy of the missiles. Throw in embedded reporters who dare not report about the negatives of war. I am ex military. It always seems the majority of people who urge on war have never been in the military and/or never seen war. You don't want see people who you work with on a 24/7 basis obliterated, injured, maimed, and killed in any kind of way right in front of your very eyes. Comradery is the more important emotion, not patriotism or anything else.

        January 10, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
      • soul68

        "have only succeeded in dragging what would be brief military actions into decades long occupations and quagmires we cannot escape."

        Which is exactly what we have no with things like torture in place. So what's the difference?
        We torture people, and still have long wars. We don't torture, and we have long wars. maybe we ought to try standing up for some principles instead of taking the easy way out.

        This simpleton answer "war is hell get over it" is a cop-out for anyone who doesn't want to be bothered to actually think. Throw your hands in the air and proclaim it's necessary in the name of safety. Ever stop to think our policies on torture and drones are designed to create a permanent enemy that lines the pocketbooks of weapons manufacturers. Amazing some of you haven't figure out that scam yet.

        Sometimes getting dirty IS necessary. But making it a national pastime without and regard for ethics is the road to ruin for a nation that used to claim the moral high ground in the world.

        January 10, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
    • richg

      Which way to crack a hard boiled egg, there's a reason for ya!

      January 10, 2013 at 8:14 pm | Reply
  4. tiberiandusk

    Torture is against everything America used to stand for. I say used to because we obviously don't anymore.

    January 10, 2013 at 7:31 pm | Reply
    • royalthird

      You're absolutely correct. The United States now has to have a do as we say, not as we do brand of foreign policy. Once other countries in war decide to use torture against U.S. soldiers what is the United States going to say?

      January 10, 2013 at 8:23 pm | Reply
  5. vj

    Oh btw, every war since the french revolution has been a FRAUD. All false flag ops to keep the banking elite wealthy, and profiting on both sides of every war. Screw the fed, screw libor, and add this guy too now.

    January 10, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Reply
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      That is a bunch of tripe.

      January 10, 2013 at 7:37 pm | Reply
    • Kurt

      You're absolutely right!!

      January 10, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Reply
      • Kurt

        ...vj. NOT Freethinker).

        January 10, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
  6. Fred

    Yeah, America should not be bound by laws and due process. That is what the founding fathers would have wanted. Why don't we start amputating limbs to get information? These prisoners are not human after all. Why stop at waterboarding?

    January 10, 2013 at 7:42 pm | Reply
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      What due process?

      Prisoners of war have NEVER been afforded jury trials as part of their incarceration. Also, the Geneva Accords are basically a gentlemen's agreement– if both sides do not comply with its provisions, it's protections are null and void. As soon as they started cutting people's heads off on national TV with pocketknives, and dragging bodies of U.S. Servicemembers through the streets, they forfeited any protections under the Geneva Accords.

      Also the Geneva Accords are there to protect the rights of combatants captured from other soveriegn nations. Al Queda is a criminal organization– not a soveriegn nation subjct to the provisions of the Geneva Accords.

      January 10, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Reply
      • James

        Not True. Al Qaeda is NOT a "criminal organization." It is a CIA run Organization, and always has been.

        January 10, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
      • Fred Evil

        You spend much effort defending the indefensible. Wars ARE necessary, but torture is a tool of the immoral, no matter how you try to justify it.

        January 10, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
    • Kuber

      Hi Christine, its a good question. We are keienpg track of what the boys have donated directly as well as being advised of funds that have been donated through what people have told us they have done as a direct result of meeting the boys. We are also acting as a conduit for the three charities for which Daniel and William support and, for example, in this tour we have taken direct donations on behalf of The Orangutan Project of $582 ($82 was as a direct result of a gold coin donation programs instigated at Temora Public School). They boys have also met several business people, political and community leaders who, as a result of meeting and talking to the boys, have advised they will be taking action toward saving the orang-utan. Some of these donations we will not see so we have to continue in blind faith and just hope that these people will make good their commitments. At the end of the day it ends up being an estimation of funds raised from lot of different known, and unknown, sources. We are just continuing on knowing that we are doing the right thing.

      March 14, 2013 at 8:17 am | Reply
    • aligpnmtcf

      DiznKe lpcqvvnagmya

      March 17, 2013 at 4:04 am | Reply
  7. svann

    Well if you want torture to be legal then the way to do it is to remove our signature from the Geneva convention.

    January 10, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Reply
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      INCORRECT

      Prisoners of war have NEVER been afforded jury trials as part of their incarceration. Also, the Geneva Accords are basically a gentlemen's agreement– if both sides do not comply with its provisions, it's protections are null and void. As soon as they started cutting people's heads off on national TV with pocketknives, and dragging bodies of U.S. Servicemembers through the streets, they forfeited any protections under the Geneva Accords.

      Also the Geneva Accords are there to protect the rights of combatants captured from other soveriegn nations. Al Queda is a criminal organization– not a soveriegn nation subjct to the provisions of the Geneva Accords.

      January 10, 2013 at 7:49 pm | Reply
  8. Fr33th1nk3r

    Americans are silly– they want to be safe and secure to raise their families with no threat of bombings or terrorist attacks, but they don't want to have to do the things necessary to ensure that safety.

    We always want to have the cake and be able to eat it too in this country. We want smaller government, but then we want the government to make our kids stop bullying each other and to protect us from ourselves all the time. We want to be safe, but we don't want to have to lift a finger to make that happen.

    January 10, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Reply
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      If information that directly led to the execution of Osama Bin Laden was acquired through "coercive interrogation techniques", then I would say that is a great tool for gathering military intelligence– especially when dealing with enemies who would not afford us the same protections if situations were reversed,

      January 10, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Reply
    • Larry L

      When you resort to the things the "bad guys" do you are just somebody fighting for "stuff". When ideology and morality are not a part of your thought process then military decisions are based on fear, insecurity and greed. At some level we must make pragmatic decisions – got it. But we still must retain our sense of humanity or patriotism becomes nationalism.

      January 10, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Reply
      • Fr33th1nk3r

        I definitely hear what you are saying, Larry, and you are absolutely correct, to a degree.

        It is a fine line to have to tread. But I think practicality has to trump idealism when fighting an enemy like Al-Queda.

        January 10, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
  9. Larry L

    About 1% of Americans can now call themselves veterans. Since we've been fighting a constant war for about ten years that seems like a small number. Many of the Soldiers I know have done 3-5 deployments to the war zones. Maybe we should just ask them about war and the rest of our population should STFU.

    January 10, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Reply
  10. jimmer

    Maybe the slogan should be...

    "War is hell, maybe we should stop starting them"

    January 10, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Reply
  11. energeia

    Reblogged this on energeia.

    January 10, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Reply
  12. Hootie The Blowfish

    These Wars are so fake. How can ANYBODY believe them? They must be the stup1dest people ALIVE who believe that world trade center building # Seven (NOT wtc bldg #1, & 2) just suddenly fell by Itself, for NO reason! NO Airplanes even went CLOSE to #7...for it to just crumble to dust like that, like exactly what happens in controlled demolitions, is simply amazing! You have to ask yourself, Aircraft "loaded with fuel" would produce "black smoke" NOT white dust! It would NOT make all four corners of a building that was not even hit, fall at EXACTLY THE SAME TIME like what they do in controlled demolitions, which is exactly what wtc bldg # 7 Was. No one can argue that a building doesn't just fall by itself, with all four corners crumbling to DUST at EXACTLY the same time! If you believe it had ANYTHING TO DO WITH terrorists, then I have some Oceanfront Property to sell you in Arizona! Even IF you subscribe to the unintelligent theory that it was so-called debris....this does NOT make the whole Building crumble to an absolute Fine dust like what happens in controlled-demolitions and it Certainly wouldn't make ALL FOUR CORNERS fall at Freefall Speed into it's own footprint, exactly like happens in Controlled demolitions!#@# Go on believing that a little bit of "debris" touching WTC Building no. 7 from one Angle...from one side....would cause the Whole wtc bldg #7 to Instantly pulverize into dust completely.

    January 10, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Reply
    • Hootie The Blowfish

      ALL FOUR CORNERS

      January 10, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Reply
      • Hootie The Blowfish

        COMPLETELY pulverize to DUST. At EXACTLY the SAME TIME. Are there any intelligent people in here who can tell me what that means?

        January 10, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
      • Steve

        It means you're not an engineer and you do not understand physics.

        January 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  13. Stan Lightner

    Here we go again. As a disabled Vietnam Vet I can assure everyone war is not just hell, but the absolutely most inhumane activity of humanity. If we are to survive as a species we MUST find ways to quit killing each other over utter nonsense and solve our problems/disputes civilly. ALL of the messengers of God have effectively said the same thing.

    Call me a liberal unrealistic bleeding heart if that makes you feel better, but we must quit being school yard bullies and get along with each other.

    January 10, 2013 at 8:21 pm | Reply
    • Steve

      I couldn't agree more, but there will always be people and groups that are jealous of those who have more opportunities/money/etc. than they, and combined with ideology that supports the dehumanization of that group coupled with carte blanche to commit violent acts against that group, we will always need to defend ourselves. And sometimes, defending ourselves mean being proactive. It's horrible and terrible and I wish it weren't so, but to ignore such threats and approach them all with olive branches in hand would be lunacy as well.

      January 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  14. Hootie The Blowfish

    COMPLETELY pulverize to DUST. At EXACTLY the SAME TIME. Are there any intelligent people in here who can tell me what that means?

    January 10, 2013 at 8:22 pm | Reply
  15. bribarian

    Bush/Obama both working for zi0nism.

    January 10, 2013 at 9:25 pm | Reply
  16. Gabson

    All dis is zlonist activities,give or take.

    January 11, 2013 at 7:07 am | Reply
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    May 12, 2013 at 7:21 am | Reply

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