The HBO documentary Manhunt tells the story of the CIA team of analysts that found Osama Bin Laden. This team will surprise you. For one, some of them are soft-spoken ladies. Not cowboy spies or James Bond-types. As I watched I thought, that could be my mom. Or me.
This show is Zero Dark Thirty, documentary style. It’s haunting. And scary. And amazing. A cautionary tale. “Alec Station,” the CIA’s Bin Laden unit, identified the threat of al-Qaida long before September 11th. Members of the team talk about it openly: The frustration they felt when their warnings were ignored, the guilt they felt after 9/11, the moral centeredness that is required of them.
After 9/11 it became the job of this team of analysts to target people who will be then be killed. They used spreadsheets to track it all. There was no “Zoom in on that face. . . now enlarge.” like you see in Alias. This was a desk job. And these women were committed.
They explain “black sites” and you see the real, sometimes-conflicted people talk about water-boarding and the pressure they were under to get answers for the White House. Whatever your stance toward torture, you’ll be more informed after hearing what the people who did it have to say. You may sympathize or find it appalling, but this is the kind of thoughtful journalism that we need to see and process, instead of the knee-jerk thoughtless grandstanding that happens within the no-barrier-to entry venue of a Facebook status.
It’s terrifying to see footage of Bin Laden speaking to his followers and rallying them for his cause. It’s terrifying because he got us and he is right about some of our weaknesses. The analysts explain that Bin Laden was bound by a religious obligation to warn his enemy, which he did over and over. “It made complete sense that [he] meant what [he] said.”
“Don’t worry about them listening,” says Bin Laden.
The film ends on this note from General Chrystal, “I’m not sure America has made the effort that it needs to to understand what we just went through.” It’s sobering. Watch it.