ITV’s The Hunt for Bin Laden reviewed – an enlightening programme but less than interesting experts!

by Matt D

A year ago today the terrorist Osama Bin Laden was finally killed by US forces, so to mark the occasion ITV1 has produced the documentary The Hunt for Bin Laden, in which the extent of America’s efforts to track him down are finally revealed.

Most of us first heard the name Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre however this documentary told us that the US had been after him long before that. The son of an Arabian businessman, Bin Laden was able to ingratiate himself with the Islamic guerrillas thanks to his ability to bank-roll their efforts and soon set up his own terrorist cell in Al Qaeda. In addition he used his charisma to forge an alliance with the leaders of the Taliban.

One of the plus points of this documentary for me was in detailing Bin Laden’s involvement in attacks that happened when I was still too young to be aware of them, such as the Black Hawk Down strike of 1991 and the first attack on the World Trade Centre in 1993 – an incident that I wasn’t aware of but which tragically killed six people. The documentary then switches to Bill Clinton’s attempts to track Bin Laden, especially after 1996 when he issues his first fatwa against America and a centre is set up purely to deal with finding the leader, so he can finally be brought to justice. The running theme throughout the documentary though is the question, should Bin Laden can be treated as a criminal to be arrested and brought in to serve a life sentence, or simply treated as public enemy number one to be assassinated as soon as he is found?

The answer to this comes in 1998 when Bin Laden’s involvement in the bombing of two American embassies in Africa can be proved and an indictment for his arrest is finally released. Around this time an agreement is also made with Commander Masood, the leader of the main Anti-Taliban group, who uses his resources to try and help the Americans to track down Bin Laden. Though some progress is made there was still a problem with intel being shared between the CIA and FBI, of which the latter group became increasingly frustrated with. The documentary recounts this struggle in detail, highlighting that a possible strike on the USS Cole, an American destroyer, could’ve been prevented if the right information had been shared. This is also true of the information the CIA had that two of the men who flew the planes into the World Trade Centre were in America at the time of the tragedy.

The second part of the documentary details George W Bush’s attempts to bring Bin Laden to justice and one talking head specifically recounts that the president wanted Osama’s head bought to him. The problem was that they had little idea where Bin Laden was at this point, a dilemma that was coupled with a lack of troops, meaning that the only thing they could do was bomb Tora Bora in attempt to lure him out of hiding. America agreed to a one-day ceasefire, however this allowed 800 Al Qaeda troops, including Bin Laden, to flee to Pakistan with the Americans again having little idea where he was hiding. The talking heads on the documentary blame the lack of troops coupled with the fact that the Afghan soldiers didn’t want to be involved in the final killing of Bin Laden, on the fact that the man they were after had escaped. Following this was the so-called decade of frustration in which Bush down-played Osama’s importance and instead used the conflict in Iraq almost as a smokescreen to hide the fact that they had no idea where he was.

A breakthrough came in 2007 when an idea was hatched to trace Bin Laden’s courier network and in particular Al Kuwaiti, who was thought to be close to Osama. This intelligence was then boosted when Obama came into power the year later, with his main agenda being the capture of Bin Laden. Finally in 2010 the trail to Bin Laden opened up and they discovered that he had been hiding out in a military compound in Pakistan, to which many CIA agents moved close in order to track day-to-day movements. Finally as I mentioned on May 1st of last year there were shots fired and Bin Laden was finally killed, over twenty years after American troops first began hunting him down.

The Hunt for Bin Laden was an interesting documentary which worked at its best when revealing inside information about the pursuit of this terrorist and also in some of its footage. As I previously mentioned I wasn’t aware of some Bin Laden’s earlier strikes and I feel this documentary did do a good job of highlighting all the attempts to track Osama prior to 9/11. There are also some interesting visual resources such as one of Bush’s day-to-day agendas and visual footage of the two 9/11 bombers laughing and joking less than a year before they’d carry out the plan that Bin Laden had for them. The problem I found was that the talking heads were all too similar and the message they all had was basically it wasn’t my fault, as the CIA blamed the FBI and vice versa while lack of troops as well as resources were also failures according to some here. In addition I felt the 7/7 bombings in 2005 were skipped over, as were a lot of the period between the 2001/2002 attacks and the capture of Bin Laden. At times I almost felt like I was watching an American documentary as there were no British talking heads despite this airing over here, so I did wonder if this was originally aired in the States and shown over here with a re-dubbed voiceover.

Overall I found The Hunt for Bin Laden interesting however the commentary and talking heads were fairly dry throughout which I found to be a problem. Some good visual resources were coupled with the use of the same pictures of Bin Laden, as well as some of the key American figures, over and over again. Though some of the insider information was new most of what was on offer here was, to most people, already public knowledge and at 90 minutes long I felt it had long over-stayed its welcome. I would recommend this to people who wanted to know the extent of America’s efforts to track Bin Laden down over 20 years and don’t mind their information being delivered in the most basic of ways. Though this does indeed mark the anniversary of his death, as one talking head remarks at the end of the show, the question is now who will take his place?

Did you watch The Hunt for in Laden? If so what did you think? Please leave your comments below.

The Hunt For Bin Laden is on tonight at 9pm on ITV1.

1 Comment

  1. Thepu Maman on July 20, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Wow Juliano, you sound like u really know your stuff. I’m glad some of us are not common sheeple.

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