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.
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.
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?