Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Sunday that "We could have gotten bin Laden without" enhanced interrogation techniques, despite the implication in the film "Zero Dark Thirty" that the techniques, called torture by opponents, played a pivotal role in finding bin Laden.
"First of all, it's a movie," Panetta said on NBC's "Meet the Press". "Let's remember that."
Saying he "lived the real story," Panetta added that "in order to put the puzzle of intelligence together that led us to bin Laden, there was a lot of intelligence. There were a lot of pieces out there that were part of that puzzle."
Panetta went on to say that there was at least some truth to the notion that enhanced interrogation was part of the hunt for bin Laden.
"Yes, some of it came from some of the tactics that were used at that time, interrogation tactics that were used," he admitted. "But the fact is we put together most of that intelligence without having to resort to that."
NBC's Chuck Todd followed up: "And you think you could have gotten it without any?"
Panetta replied: "I think we could have gotten bin Laden without that."
Panetta's argument largely mirrors a similar point he made in May 2011, shortly after the raid that led to bin Laden's death, in a letter to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
"Nearly 10 years of intensive intelligence work led the CIA to conclude that Bin Laden was likely hiding at the compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan," wrote Panetta, then head of the CIA. "There was no one 'essential and indispensible' key piece of information that led us to this conclusion."
"Some of the detainees who provided useful information...had been subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques," he continued. "Whether those techniques were the 'only timely and effective way' to obtain such information is a matter of debate and cannot be established definitively."
"Zero Dark Thirty" has been nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film is a heavily researched, though fictitious, chronicle of the search for Osama bin Laden that resulted in his capture and execution by U.S. forces in May 2011.