LOS ANGELES—In 2007, when the screenwriter Scott Z. Burns read a Vanity Fair story detailing how two American military psychologists had helped devise the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that the CIA used to torture captured terrorist suspects after the 9/11 attacks, he was fascinated. The son of two psychologists, he grew up in Minnesota seeing psychology “as a tool to understand and help people,” he told me, “and the idea that it could be weaponized and used to conduct interrogations was interesting to me.”
In fact, the whole idea seemed so bizarre that Burns first envisioned the story as one that could best be told as a black comedy. But the more he learned about the history of the torture program, the more convinced he became that it was too grotesque and complex a topic for that approach. By 2014, when a 525-page summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s secret 6,700-page report on its years-long investigation of the program became public, Burns had a new vision.
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