MANHUNT explores the controversy that ensued when the Bush administration secretly authorized the use of “black site” prisons and 12 “enhanced interrogation techniques” to gather information from captured terrorists. Some in the film regret being a part of these operations; others acknowledge the complexity of the arguments, while defending the use of the techniques, as they feel some of them proved effective. “Eight of the 12 techniques, in my humble opinion, were pretty wimpy stuff,” says Jose Rodriguez, who led the Counter Terrorism Center after 9/11.
“We didn¹t ask for this; we didn¹t ask to get attacked,” says Marty Martin. “If we can’t make them uncomfortable in order to save lives, then we’ve missed the boat here.” Offering a different view, FBI agent Ali Soufan comments, “All the information we got from [senior al-Qaeda operative] Abu Zubaydah, we got before waterboarding. The traditional interrogation techniques worked tremendously.”
New intelligence gathered on the ground, combined with years of information compiled by the CIA’s bin Laden unit, eventually uncovered the lead that would result in the late-night raid in Abbottabad years later. MANHUNT reveals new details about this key break in the hunt for bin Laden, disclosing a CIA operation, headed in Iraq by targeter Nada Bakos, who recounts her decisive role in this crucial break for the first time. This led to the capture of al-Qaeda emissary Hassan Ghul, which revealed that bin Laden had a single courier, as well as the courier’s pseudonym (Ahmed al-Kuwaiti). This prompted the CIA to focus more attention and resources on the pursuit of al-Kuwaiti and the courier network. Later, as Jose Rodriguez reveals for the first time, a “human source” provided the bin Laden courier’s real name.
The documentary also chronicles the bombing of the military base in Khost, Afghanistan, where a Jordanian doctor viewed by the CIA as a potential mole inside bin Laden’s inner circle turned out to be a suicide bomber. This deadly attack took the lives of seven CIA officers, including base chief Jennifer Matthews, an original member of The Sisterhood, who had dedicated herself to tracking down bin Laden.
In the wake of the bombing, which al-Qaeda leadership seemed to publicly gloat over, the impetus to follow the tenuous lead of bin Laden’s courier became even more urgent, leading to the events of May 1, 2011 and the startling announcement by President Obama that the mastermind behind the deadliest attack on American soil was no longer a threat to the world.
MANHUNT is a unique insider account that puts a human face on the secret world of intelligence gathering. It offers a reminder that these CIA analysts, targeters and operatives aren’t trained soldiers like those who successfully raided Abbottabad. They are, in many ways, like everyone else. For them, however, debates about the morality of their choices aren’t an abstract philosophical discussion, but an everyday part of the job.
Peter Bergen’s bestselling book “Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad,” on which the film is based, will be released in paperback April 30 by Broadway Paperbacks, a division of Random House.
For more information on the documentary, visit: Facebook: facebook.com/hbodocs; and Twitter: @HBODocs #manhuntdoc.
HBO Documentary Films presents a Passion Pictures and Motto Pictures Production; a film by Greg Barker; based on the book by Peter Bergen; original music by Philip Sheppard; edited by Joe Bini; executive producer, Peter Bergen; produced by John Battsek, Julie Goldman and Greg Barker; directed by Greg Barker. For HBO: senior producer, Nancy Abraham; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.
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