HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

After seeing the movie Zero Dark Thirty this weekend, I became curious on how accurate the film was since it was “based on true events” and wondered what actually happened. From doing some research, the events from Zero Dark Thirty appear to be very accurate and the movie has even been accused of accessing classified information. Osama Bin Laden has been portrayed as possibly the biggest “bad guy” in our time and set off a global manhunt that lasted until May 2nd, 2011.

OBL

The defining moment of tracking down Bin Laden was the identification of a courier close to him that was passing out messages from Bin Laden to other members of al-Qaeda on the next actions to be taken. The courier was identified after the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani. After being subjected to mental and physical torture, he gave up the name of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, a trusted member of Bin Laden’s inner circle and a known courier. The name given was a war name, not the family name of the member, which made it difficult for the CIA to even know if this person was real. This technique of calling each other by war names or pseudonyms allowed al-Qaeda to be able to identify each other without having to worry about someone giving up personal information if captured. After obtaining this information, CIA officials were able to abstract the real name of Abu Ahmed through facial recognition and interrogation of other al-Qaeda members. The CIA then decided to tap the phone of Abu Ahmed’s mother and tracked a phone call using GPS to a house in Pakistan. Using satellites and intelligence, it was determined that the hideout was custom built to hide someone of significant importance. Even without complete certainty, the United States under President Obama decided that Bin Laden was most likely there and they decided to attack the compound.

OBL2

Operation Neptune Spear, as it was called by the CIA, would lead to the death of Osama Bin Laden and the capture of valuable information about al-Qaeda. The operation only took roughly 40 minutes and resulted in the deaths of a few inhabitants at the compound, including the courier and one of Bin Laden’s sons. No civilians or Americans were harmed during the operation. The story of how Bin Laden was tracked is interesting as it was celebrated across the United States when the news of the death was announced. The story appeals to Americans so much that the movie Zero Dark Thirty has been nominated for many awards and has made over 100 million dollars. However, the event has lead to some political ramifications beyond the story that should be understood.

First, the United States sent a military attack (officially called a CIA mission since the US was not at war with Pakistan) into Pakistan without warning any government officials. Navy Seal members flew from a base in Afghanistan in stealth helicopters into Pakistan, killed Bin Laden, and left before Pakistani officials made it to the scene. Before the attack, Pakistan was considered a strong ally of the United States, but a clear lack of trust by the United States has lead to a deteriorating relationship between the two countries. The second political ramification is that the use of torture seemed to play a heavy role in tracking down Bin Laden. The Obama administration has tried to limit and completely remove torture as a way of interrogating prisoners of war to obtain information. Should the United States have gone into Pakistan with no warning to attack Bin Laden or should they have risked letting the information leak to Bin Laden through the Pakistani government? As George Bush said, “ if you hide a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, if you provide comfort to a terrorist, you’re just as guilty as the terrorist.” If Pakistan has launched a similar assassination mission inside of the United States, I feel like the backlash would be more severe than condemnation of the action. At the same time, the compound Bin Laden was hiding in was less than a mile away from a Pakistani military school and other members of al-Qaeda were known to be hiding in Pakistan, leading me to think the decision by the United States was reasonable. Also, is torture a valid way to obtain information from prisoners of war or should other methods be conducted to obtain information? Torture is a despicable act and it is hard to wish it upon anyone. Even if other countries are torturing our soldiers, should we perform the same actions on them? It is hard to deny that people will crack under the pain, but at what cost should we give up our humanity to acquire information?

Tyler Natoli

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16 Comments

  1. kolson23 says:

    Nice post. I thought this movie was very well done and very interesting. I too have questioned the validity of the film and hove found some mixed reviews of its accuracy. I have heard that the lead female role was not done totally accurately and some close to the real person did not feel it did her justice. I also read that the torture scenes were not totally accurate, and may have showed the violence simply for Hollywood. Some of those torture techniques may take place, but the CIA has more than just brutal interrogation tactics such as water boarding. Physical torture is probably effective, but extremely inhumane, and there must be better ways to gain information. I feel the details of the whole event were definitely adapted to entertain. As for Pakistan, they are not even officially releasing it because of the depiction of their country.

    http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/02/21/17004297-zero-dark-thirty-unofficially-banned-in-pakistan?lite

    Some argue that it did a very poor job of depicting the day to day life on the streets of Pakistan. It has not helped in the relationship department between the two countries.

  2. jdowling6 says:

    Torture is never a good tool to acquire information. Like all films that have some truth also have to some extent exaggeration, to say the least. I found this article where the director of the film suggested that torture (“enhanced techniques”) couldn’t have NOT existed, but CIA director and John McCain and even screenwriter of the film Mark Boal all imply other methods excluding torture were the reason the led to Bin Laden’s capture. Boal agrees he dramatized the film in this piece, but I suppose the question remains secret through ambiguity.

    http://articles.latimes.com/2012/dec/21/entertainment/la-et-mn-cia-director-wades-into-controversy-over-zero-dark-thirty-torture-20121221

  3. shaimsn says:

    Tyler, thanks for writing about this.
    Reading about this operation made me think that action movies actually have some truth behind them.
    I also completely agree that using physical torture to get information is inhumane. At the same time, let’s think about other ways that are probably used to fulfill this objective: maybe threatening them with harming their loved ones (say, showing the interrogate a video where his/her family is being tracked). I can’t really think of more ways right now, but I’m sure there are more.
    The point is, you are dealing with people who aren’t the best humans out there. You might even be dealing with a person who’s willing to kill him/herself at the cost of others lives.
    I assume it’s really tough to find a “humane” way to get info. But I would also like to assume that the CIA and other organizations of that level try their best not to implement “inhumane” procedures – as you said, if someone is mistreating you it doesn’t mean that you should mistreat.

  4. ojanus3 says:

    It’s posts like this i enjoy the most because unfortunately I know very little about the issues going on over seas.This blog is very informative about the capture of Osama Bin Laden, and it is interesting how you integrated the movie Zero Dark Thirty with it. However, what concerns me is the fact that the United States used methods of torture. In 1994 we ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment where we aid in the prevention against torture around the world— and yet we participate in it?

  5. As much as torture is bad, I believe when dealing with people like terrorists, it is fair to use techniques as they would do to us. I enjoyed the movie very much and always knew that we wouldn’t be seeing the total truth from it. We will probably never know the complete truth behind the capture of Bin Laden, as the CIA is just too secretive to give out details.

  6. kledbetter6 says:

    I haven’t seen Zero Dark Thirty, but I’m not sure it will reflect well that the U.S. immediately dramatized a current event that is so politically charged. Bin Laden was a horrible person, of course, but I don’t think that making a Hollywood version of the event so soon afterwards is a great idea.

    I’m curious – What features of the compound indicated that the person inside was important?

  7. flambert3 says:

    I don’t know what other alternatives we could have besides torture. I don’t believe that it is right at all but just don’t see another way. With war the experience changes you and sometimes your never the same it might be part of the territory so to speak. I have an uncle who served for over 20 years and has been out for just as long and he has never spoke about his service if asked he says nothing about it at all obviously something went on and I feel like it is an accepted part of war and training to be expected.

  8. John Girata says:

    I think one of America’s biggest mistakes in Afghanistan and Iraq was attempting to solve a political problem with a military solution. I think that once we realized that we can’t shoot our way through the Middle East, we actually started making progress.

    On the contrary, it seems that this was, in fact, largely a military problem, and was appropriately handled by the military. I think it would have been a mistake to get “political” and involve Pakistan. President Obama kept it simple, and I applaud him for that.

  9. mcharles6 says:

    Although torture is obviously a terrible thing, and I would not wish it on anyone, at the end of the day, these people are terrorists. They want to destroy the United States. They want to kill us. If torture is the best way that the military has found to get information from them, then I trust the military. I’m not in the military, so I’m sure they know how to do their job much better than I do.

  10. marymsherman says:

    To build on your comment about the USA’s response if Pakistan were to do a similar operation in our country, I agree with your opinion. The US has always portrayed itself as someone who will out fire-power any enemy especially once it attacks our country (just look at the reactions to Pearl Harbor and 9/11, billions of dollars spent on the response). Pakistan’s economy could by no means stand up to the United States’ GDP and ability to buy its way into a win.
    I really enjoyed your post. Hopefully I can see this movie soon because I heard its fantastic.

  11. nholdaway3 says:

    I haven’t watched the movie, but I am interested in how it showed the interrogation. I remember reading a book written by a CIA agent who’s job was to get information from captured people. In it, he detail the process of “torture” and how it escalated from being nice to threatening family members. When asked about physical torture, he stated it was the most unreliable way to get information in that people would tell you any lie to stop it.

  12. nathenj65 says:

    I also have not watched the movie but thought that this was a very good post that brought a couple of very good points. The first of which being the use of torture on criminals. I agree with nholdaway though i have also read a couple of books written by interrogators talking about how physical torture is the least reliable of types and that mental torture is much more reliable. I hadn’t really realized about the other ramifications of this though. Very good post i will definitely look more into the story now.

  13. phillipscheng says:

    Regarding the lack of trust between the US and Pakistan, I’m not completely certain that trusting an operation of this scale to Pakistani officials would be a sound idea. If the situation were flipped, I’m not entirely certain such a compound would even exist. Sure there are probably a few private citizens who can hole up in a private estate, but I’m not convinced that they would be able to become international operators in warfare without being stopped by US police forces.

  14. Interesting post. I still wanna see this movie. I remember reading an article talking about how CIA gave them classified information so that this movie might be as accurate as possible. When Osama was killed though, i was shocked at how much of a celebration there was. I believe it was good that this man was no longer a threat, but the level of celebrating and partying in the US came as a surprise to me.

  15. drippykins says:

    I disagree that torture is not an effective tool. It is; that’s why it’s been used. I don’t think anyone has argued to much success that it’s humane, and I wouldn’t either. But when you deal with the type of people that will go to any length to fulfill their mission, destiny, task, goal, you name it, the simple fact is there aren’t many options to get the information you need.

  16. mnicholas6 says:

    I haven’t seen the movie, but after reading your post, I may have to check it out. I do think the US should have notified Pakistan that the attack was taking place. Of course there’s the possibility that the information could have been leaked, but we could’ve at least sent a “Hey, we’re outside,” message.

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