Although I have started on pieces about Lincoln and Borgen, Sansom’s book Dominion, Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and a general review of the week, it is with Zero Dark Thirty and the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden that I am devoting today and will publish next. It by far the best film of this and recent years, and also the most important film of all those seen recently.
Although a fictitious account for the search for the man after 9/11, it rings authenticity to the extent that Republicans have called foul and are alleging that it could have only been made with agreement from Obama, the CIA and Military and therefore put at risk the security of the nation by releasing classified information, Such is their anger that a Congressional or Senate Committee the Senate was scheduled to hold, a hearing(s) about the subject in January although I could not find specific reference on the Internet.
I begin with the film and then consider the reality and the controversy. The film is the story of Maya, recruited to the CIA from University and also immediately appointed to locate the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. In 2003 she is assigned to the USA Embassy in Pakistan as an undercover operative and she spends much of time attending interrogations, often where waterboarding, food, water and sleep deprivation is used on detainees at black sites, unofficial locations. At first she finds the methods difficult to observe or endorse but as the film progresses she appears to approve and initiate such action and expresses regret where the man leading this work, Dan says he is going home having had enough of naked bodies and what he is required to do without any seeming success as the Al Qaeda atrocities continue.
This is my position on the use of torture. I have no deep seated objection to use by a government if doing so prevents atrocities and makes the people more safe than they were. However the recent public evidence suggests that it does not, that it damages those who undertake the task and creates even more determination among those it is intended to deter.
Under torture a detainee Ammar divulges that someone with the name of Abu Amed (see Sheikh Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti (died 2 May 2011), also known as Shaykh Abu Ahmed, Arshad Khan (see1* ) worked as courier for bin Laden and was one of his most trusted men. He said that Abu Ahmed passes the message to one Faraj al-Libbi ( see 2*) number three in Al Qaeda when his superior Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured in 2003 (see 3*). Faraj was captured in 2005 and Maya not only interrogates but has him tortured but he continues to deny knowing of the courier Abu Ahmed
Maya remains convinced he and bin Laden continue to function although the CIA boss in Pakistan and at HQ begin to question the value of her single task role especially when other atrocities are committed or attempted in Europe and also in Times square, New York She is with her female boss having a meal at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad(see 4*) when it is blown up and when she is placed on a target list she narrowly escapes assassination as she leaves her guarded home. This leads to her return to Washington,
The chief Interrogator has advised Maya that the change in Administration from Republican to Democrat means that a new approach to rendition and interrogation is being required, hence his departure. I cannot remember subsequence of events in the film. Maya is asked to assist in a mission at Camp Chapman ( see 5*) where her work friend who was also with her at the Marriott bombing was official charge of operations undertaken from the base although not directly responsible for base security. In the film Maya is asked to act as communication officer reporting on events to Langley where it is indicated the information is being passed to the President. A meeting has been arrange with a senior figure who it is proposed to relocate after debriefing in a deal worth $25million.The agreement in advance was that the individual would be able to access the basis without armed security in surveillance. The head of base security is concerned at this and is over ruled. As a consequence when the person gets out he appears to have a limp but is in effect a controlling for a powerful car bomb which takes out the friend and various CIA high ups and other contacts. Maya survives. The deaths affect Maya and CIA morale in general and given the aborted Times Square event the previous year ( unconnected to al brought home to the CIA the failure of their activities at home as well as abroad to apprehend those involved, with only a quarter of the al Qaeda top people in custody or killed.
It is at this point that the film begins to moves from failure towards success. A Jordanian detainee when shown the photo of wanted Abu Ahmed claims that he buried him in 2001 and various members of the CIA including Maya’s superior believe that she and they had been following a false trail for nine years. This is something which instinctively she finds difficult to accept. Then a young female recruit working on Moroccan intelligence issues, and who admires Maya at a distance, brings to her information filed away years before which suggested that the real name of Abu Ahmed was Ibrahim Sayeed, a man with a number of brothers, one of whom could be the man buried in 2001. Ibrahim is part of a large in friendly Kuwait where the mother and other relatives remain living and Maya persuades her boss to back her hunch that that getting the phone number of the woman for surveillance will lead to the whereabouts of the son being traced. This involves bribing a Kuwaiti with a Lamborghini car.
Calls are made and traced back to an area of Pakistan in the North far away from Pakistan border with Afghanistan where before this. the most common belief was that if alive Bin Laden was living in caves and ineffective. Eventually the team assigned in Pakistan work out that the individual is using the local call centre as a relay station making calls on a mobile phone from points all over the city, never for long and without any pattern or routine thus indicating someone trained in “tradecraft” expecting being looked for and with a sophisticated level of covering tracks. Then they manage to get a photo of the individual making a call from a distinctive vehicle.
Again Maya is shown having to battle to get the funds to employ the numbers required to keep watch on the roads going out of the city and track him down to an isolated dwelling close one Pakistan military college for officer training and with staff living in area. The building has a degree of isolation with a high surrounding wall. It is a three story building with top floor masked in such a way that while there appears to be walk around verandas it is impossible to see anyone moving there. Apart from satellite surveillance there is no way to get closer to the building from the ground or to be able to place cameras to get a closer look any those inside when they the internal open area, to dry clothing or for exercise. Apart from the man making the telephone calls no one appears to leave the building.
It is evident from this that someone is there who does not want to be identified and the proximity to the Military establishment raises questions. The matter is considered at the highest levels in the CIA, the Military and the White House. There is a general consensus that was the hideout of someone significant unlikely to be a drug baron or master criminal because there was no telephone and if retired where was the swimming pool and other trappings of wealth and usually a more open protection service. In this instance there were three women which normally meant three men plus a number of children.
There is a top meeting at the CIA the odds that the compound holds bin Laden is only put at 60% with Maya 100% and in response to who are you from the head of CIA says she is the mother f.....r who found him. The plan would involve two stealth helicopters and a team of Navy SEALS involving breaching Pakistan air space, 100 days pass before the operation is given the green light and Maya goes with the SEALS as they prepare and she appears to wait on her own at the US base Jlalabad Afghanistan, while the CIA HQ shown monitor the operation. We do not see the Whitehouse situation with the President and chiefs of staff. The complete darkness with some night sights we witness the operation taking place, the failure and hard landing of the one of the helicopters with its unit taking the perimeter with the second aircraft landing within the compound and then entering the main building where it is suggested that one of the women is killed as she attempts to protect the wounded body of her husband. There is a large office area with many computers and filing cabinets and some of the force race against time to remove the hard drives and the files especially when information arrives that the Pakistan airforce is launching its fighters. The body is brought back and Maya is given he task of identification although in reality there would have been a number of test, including DNA checks. While the SEALS celebrate there is no sense of triumphant. The picture ends with Maya being given a ride on her own in a transport plane for R and to anywhere of her choosing such are the order and the special position she now holds. No doubt if such an individual existed and exists they would now have been given an entirely new identity and life rather than appointed to a senior position in the service or feted as a national celebrity.
`The film engages from the outset even though the main events and the outcome are known. The lack of triumphalism is important and because of the Direction, the script and an outstanding and in my view Oscar winning performance by Jessica Chastain as Maya it communicates what happens to someone who has devoted all their lives to one thing even if they are successful in achieving their objective. I will also be disappointed if the Director Kathryn Bigelow, previously of the Hurt Locker is not awarded the Oscar as well as the film
As for the reality here is the information I have been able to find.
1* Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti also known as Shaykh and Arshah Khan or Mohammed Arshad was a Pakistani citizen born in Kuwait and was one of the few men bin Laden fully trusted, his right man and favourite courier. He spoke Pashto and Arabic, he pupil of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is reported responsible for giving computer training to those given computer training in Karachi to those preparing for the 9/11 attacks. He provided a safe haven at home in a residential neighbourhood of Karachi. His two languages enable him to communicate with members of Al Qaeda and the Pashtun tribesmen of Pakistan, he was believed to have been killed in 2001 but in 2007 his real name was discovered and in 2009 it was established that he lived in Abottabad Pakistan with the information coming from detainees at Guantanamo, notably Hassan Goul who had revealed the info in 2004 that he was close to Abu Faraj al Libbi. The CIA did track his whereabouts after gaining access to the telephone of relatives in Kuwait and with the assistance and in 2010 he was tracked from Peshawar where he made his phone calls to the compound at Abbottabad. He was known in the local community and attended local funerals he and another resident known as his brother claimed they were from a village near the town of Charsadda on the North-western frontier with their wealth from a family owned hotel in Dubai and that the high walls were to keep out enemies encountered in his profession as a money changer. Source Wikipedia and others. He was killed during the assault on the compound.
Hassan Ghul mentioned above was captured by the Kurdish Military in 2004 and handed to the USA who has detained him since. And was a courier for leading al Qaeda members including bin Laden, Sheik Khalid Mohammed and Abu al Zarqawi the man said to be responsible for suicide bombings in Iran and Iraq although there has never been formal statements and he man has never been brought to trial. He had been held in various location a prison in Pakistan and his present whereabouts is unknown. Under USA detention is said to have the name of Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti.
2* Abu Faraj al Libbi is the assumed name of the Libyan senior member of al Qaeda whoa real name is thought to be Mustafa al Uzayti. He was arrested by Pakistani forces in 2005 with the help of the CIA. He is held at Guantanamo Bay. He is said to have become number three and director of operations for the organisation after the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He is said to have been the main planner of the 2006 transatlantic plot and that his accomplice in this was responsible for the murder of Wall Street Journalist Daniel Pearl about whom I have previously written.
3* Khalid Sheik Mohammed is regarded as the chief architect of the 9/11 terror attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon and captured in Pakistan in 203 he has been held at Guantanamo Bay. He is said to have been responsible of most of the major atrocities and attempted atrocities of he past twenty years, including murder of Daniel Pearl, the Bali nightclub bombings. He has confessed under torture including to the plot to kill the Pope, President Jimmy Carter and atrocities all over the world. He is said to have been born in Kuwait and to speak fluent Arabic, English, Urdu and Balochi. He is known to have been in the Philippines, Bosnia and Qatar. Where in 1996 he was sheltered by the Qatari Minister of Religion. He is alleged to have warned that the capture of death of bin Laden would result in a secret cell exploding a nuclear weapon in Europe.
During the past three years here has been much argument about holding military controlled trials in Cuba and civilian in the United State. It is understood that Mohammed and those charged with him in relation to 9/11 were to have leaded guilty at a civilian trial; but at the Military led Trial which commenced in May of last year he and the others refused to answer questions put by the judge. The trial continues.
4* The Islamabad Marriott Hotel was bombed in September 2008 when a dump truck detonated outside its front. 54 people were killed and over 250 were injured leaving a 60 foot wide and 20 foot deep crater. Five foreign nationals were killed and 15 others reported injured within hours of the first speech of President Asif Ali Zardari to the Pakistani Parliament. The hotel was immediately and quickly rebuilt. The top leadership of the country was to have met at the hotel but the plan was changed at the last minute (why?) Two USA military personnel and a State Department employees plus a Danish intelligence agent were among those killed or missing. The UK Citizens also died. It is believed that a number of top CIA officer were at the hotel and this appears to be confirmed by the film. There were significant diplomatic repercussion.
5* Camp Chapman was(is?) a CIA forward base in Afghanistan close to an area controlled by the Taliban. The base monitored drone movements into Pakistan Seven CIA officers including the chief of the base and a Jordanian Intelligence officer were killed with six other seriously wounded. The suicide bomber was a double agent who had visited he base on a number of previous occasions and therefore was not search at the out perimeter and detonated the explosives attached to his bomb as he was about to be searched on arrival. This was the second greatest loss of life by the agency in a single incident. While responsibility initiating the attack remains to be established a claim was made that the action was taken following the death of a Taliban leader in a drone attack. The ehad of al Qaeda in Afghanistan praised the bombing and said that it was in retaliation for the deaths of their operatives by drone attacks. The perpetrator as a Jordanian doctor from the same town as Abu Musab al- Zarqawi. It is alleged that an established extremist he was blackmailed into acting for CIA and Jordanian authorities. He had provided information about low level extremists who were “whacked” by the CIA but in this instance he as believed to bringing information about top Al Qaeda people. The expectation was that the information he provided would go immediately to the President. In the film a sum of $25 million was mentioned and a new life with Maya pr4sent as a communications officer. Because he had been to the base before reports confirm what was said in the film that he was allowed to pass the three outer checkpoints without being searched. The head of the base Jennifer Lynne Matthews was married with three children. Also killed were two agency security officers contracted to work with the CIA. There has been an allegation that Pakistani Intelligence was involved in the plot.