Saturday, November 10, 2012

Seal Team Six: A Fiction Presented as Fact

The following is an expanded re-edit of an article coming out on tomorrow. But, it also fits on this site, so I'll put it here. "Fact Checking" is a slippery term when dealing with widely classified information. However, given that I have the same information available to me as did the filmmakers, I think it is fair to hold them to the facts as they are understood at this point.

In the early hours of May 1, 2011, a small group of American soldiers raided a compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan. The raid ended the life of Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden. The movie that recently aired on the National Geographic network, Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden, is an excellent example of good movie making. It's an intense piece of film, but it is also an excellent example of ignoring the facts in order to create drama.

In the end, the reality is our soldiers took out one of the biggest murderers in the history of the world. There should be a monument to their effort. However, this particular movie is not the monument the men deserve. A dramatic interpretation of events, while enjoyable and entertaining, is not history. When the facts surrounding the raid are fully declassified maybe we can find a filmmaker willing to do the event justice, but for now, the slapped-together version based on hearsay and unconfirmed reports is apparently the best we can do (we'll see if the big screen interpretation coming out in December does a better job).

Many conservatives are angry that President Barack Obama's decision to go ahead with the raid is sensationalized in the film. I am not sure how sensationalized it is. The decision to go in on foot, rather than bombing the compound, does seem like a more politically driven choice based on the timing of when the identity of the target was actually revealed in real life, rather than in the film. According to reports, Seal Team Six knew from day one of their training for the mission that they were going after bin Laden. The movie makes it seem like it was a last minute revelation. While it is clear that the intelligence community wasn't 100% certain it was bin Laden in the compound, reports also make it clear that the certainty was much higher than the film alludes to.

The decision to raid the compound was an important one, but the idea that we needed to have proof of bin Laden's death was what drove it, not military strategy. The film alludes to this concept in conversations amongst members of the CIA. There are a number of apparent factual errors in the film, such as the manner in which bin Laden is actually killed. By a couple accounts, it seems that bin Laden poked his head out the open door of the room he was in and was hit. He wasn't standing wide open in the doorway with a gun in his hand. In fact, reports claim he was unarmed.

The helmet cams with a satellite uplink that are used during the raid are a pure flight of fancy (although a smart visual device which the director used well), Also, according to the Obama administration, the movie gets the directive in regards to capture wrong. The film states they "prefer no detainees," but the administration, along with other reports, claim that capture was definitely an option. While the film claims that then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was against the raid, his true views were in line with one of the CIA guys who favored bombing. Certainly this is a question of nuance.

This event should be immortalized. Not politicized. In this film, the focus is definitely on the soldiers, where it should be. And, no matter how you view the sideshow of the actual decision to perform the raid, it is just that, a sideshow. The film is entertaining and interesting to watch. But, just as with all works of art, the purported facts should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, this one does a decent job of presenting the scenario without an overwhelming bias.

Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.

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