That Bin Laden film was good, wasn’t it?

Posted on September 8, 2011


Last night’s Bin Laden: Shoot to Kill (Channel 4) was a weird mix of Pentagon politicking, transatlantic glamorisation and desert gun lust. It felt more like a US military recruitment centre tape than a documentary. The name even sounds like a video game that the children of the National Rifle Association would be encouraged to play, like one of those colouring books where the villain is always camel brown.

The film was produced in association with Channel 4 and the History Channel by Nutopia, a production company specialising in “factually inspired” so-called “mega docs”, with offices in London and Washington, D.C. As well as a landmark interview with President Barack Obama, the film featured (amongst others) White House Chief Counter-Terrorism Advisor, John O. Brennan; former CIA Deputy Director of Counter-Terrorism, Philip Mudd; and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Michael Hayden, who was appointed by then President, George W. Bush, in 2006.

Phil Craig, the Emmy Award-winning producer of United Flight 93, The Flight that Fought Back (2006) and 9/11: State of Emergency (2010), is Executive Producer of Bin Laden: Shoot to Kill. He calls the film a “partial account”, a dramatised documentary-view of the US military’s “secret war” against bin Laden.

“When you embark on a project like this you understand only one side is talking,” he says. “You do end up broadcasting the ‘received wisdom’ but, for the moment, the only way you’re going to do this is through the Americans. You’ve got to make a film based on these sources, or you don’t make a film at all.”

Craig understands why Bin Laden might be seen as unbalanced. “When the film is sourced from one area only, I’m not surprised. Whether or not it’s propaganda or not, it’s not really for me to say.”

For what it is the film is solidly researched, counting up an array of American big guns rightly billed as “a stellar cast of White House insiders”. Still, if these insiders’ economics of truth and moral standards were not immediately suggested by their rank alone, their words certainly do the trick.

Craig spent a lot of time with the Americans, even going to the White House to interview Obama himself.

“It would be the highlight of anyone’s career, but, we were there to ask questions and be objective,” he says. This was Obama’s first documentary interview, and Craig spent some 30 minutes with him. “He was very professional, he was very friendly, and frank.”

In the interview Obama tells details of what it was like in The Situation Room during the raid on bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound:

It was the longest 40 minutes of my life [laughs].Other than when my daughter got sick at the age of 3 months and we were worried about whether she was gonna be safe or not.

One stellar White House advisor said he felt “deep joy” at the thought the last thing bin Laden would have seen was the muzzle of an American rifle.

At one point John O. Brennan indulges in a righteous passage of American justice that ends the film, and so becomes its epitaph. Discussing the elusive “burial at sea” of bin Laden (during a shot of a man in a robe incants over another man in a robe), Brennan incants:

It was consistent with Islamic law…This was a murderer and yet we didn’t want to do anything that was going to be deemed offensive to Islam. We gave it much more consideration and we gave it appropriate, you know, deference. Much more so than Bin Laden gave to any single man, woman or child that he killed. This was somebody who would kill thousands upon thousands of people, and it was long past time that his terror, his murder and the agony he caused people be put to an end.

It is helpful to remember that Bill Blum’s exhaustive account of America’s bloody and relentless campaign of “counter-terrorism” – Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II – contains account after account of the same American blindness. Perhaps Bin Laden was somebody who would kill thousands upon thousands of people. On 9/11, 2753 people died – one more than the official count since Jerry Borg, 63, from Manhattan died of lung disease this year, supposedly due to complications from World Trade Centre dust. We don’t know who else, if anybody, bin Laden might have killed next. According to last night’s film, a mountain of digital intelligence suggested there would be more.

But the fact is, the Americans would kill people. They have, and they certainly will again. In his book, Blum called the post-war US campaign of violence, counter-revolution and espionage an “American holocaust”, denial of which – he says – “put the denial of the Nazi one to shame.” Brennan is proof. In his epitaph there is no admission of the 864,531 Iraqi and 8,813 Afghan civilian dead (according to following the US invasions there.

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