All these years since 2001 I could not understand how the might of the United States military, the CIA and all the other resources at our disposal were not enough to find a 6 foot 4 inch tall Arab on dialysis.
After watching Zero Dark Thirty, I understand. The film starts on September 11, 2001. We follow a team of CIA agents on the trail of bin Laden. The first third of the movie deals with interrogation techniques applied on detainees to press them for information. The United States “did not torture” but used enhanced interrogation techniques on prisoners. We witness some of those techniques, and I might warn they are not for the faint of heart.
The next third of the movie follows the CIA as they close in on bin Laden, against all odds, driven purely by the tenacious, stubborn, relentless CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain), who is obsessed with finding the target and has to strongarm her superiors over and over again for time and resources – until she wins out in the end.
When the CIA director asks her “who are you?” as she speaks from the back of the room, she answers: “I am the motherfucker who found him.”
The last third of the movie then shows the preparations of the SEAL team, and the political machinations in Washington that finally result in Obama giving the go-ahead for the mission. The stealth attack takes us into the compound. We follow floor by floor as the SEALs make their way up the stairs through the dumpy house all the way into bin Laden’s bedroom. The suspense is not about how it ends – we all know that going into the movie – but observing how justice is served, finally, after so many years of grieving.
It feels oddly satisfying when the movie is over. I am proud of our government, our CIA, and our military. We did the right thing – we took the son of a bitch out, we didn’t ask for permission, just like he didn’t ask for permission before he destroyed lower Manhattan, 3000 lives and the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of loved ones, children who lost their parents, friends who lost their friends, workmates who lost their colleagues.
It wasn’t Obama who killed bin Laden, even though Obama made the risky and very gutsy decision to go into a sovereign country without permission and extract a terrorist.
It wasn’t the SEAL team who found bin Laden, even though they put their own lives on the line on a very risky mission, and even though they pulled the trigger and took out the most wanted man on earth.
It wasn’t the CIA who found bin Laden, it was Maya and her perseverance that kept the teams cunning and running, and never lost the trail.
It wasn’t Maya who found bin Laden, it was the people of the United States.
There are critics of Zero Dark Thirty that say it is not authentic, it wasn’t really like this, but I don’t care. It’s close enough for me. I know I will never get a closer look than this.
And I cannot understand why anyone, anyone at all would want to work for the CIA.