Last night here in New York City, I saw the movie Zero Dark Thirty.
The film gets its wide release on January 11.
I thought it lived up to the hype. The Katheryn Bigelow directed movie about the take down of bin Laden was spell-binding, especially at the conclusion, even though you know how it ends.
But much of the advance attention has focused on how the movie begins – with the graphic depiction of an al Qaeda prisoner being harshly interrogated. Earlier this week, three U.S. senators took issue with that sequence. They fear American movie goers will get a distorted impression of the role of torture in our getting bin Laden.
The first half-hour of the movie depicts the interrogation of a detainee called Ammar. Although the filmakers say he is a composite figure, he appears based on Mohammad al-Khatani who was harshly interrogated, although not water-boarded.
At Gitmo, Khatani was one individual who identified bin Laden’s courier, a key break in the hunt for bin Laden. When we eventually learned the courier’s real name, and found him, we found bin Laden.
In real life, one month before 9/11, Khatani was denied admission to the U.S. when an astute INS agent named Jose Melendez Perez wouldnt allow him to enter at the Orlando Airport. So Khatani returned to the Middle East and was later apprehended fighting with bin Laden at Tora Bora.
The 9/11 Commission later determined he was to have been the 20th hijacker. Part of the evidence: 9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta awaited him at the Orlando Airport.
So for me, Zero Dark Thirty is a reminder of the power of one person.
One week ago today, we saw the power of one individual to do horrific things.
Well, this was the opposite.
If Jose Melendez Perez had allowed Khatani into the U.S., he would have been aboard Flight 93. Arguably his added muscle could have kept the passengers at bay for the 20 more minutes the flight needed to reach it’s target, the U.S. Capitol. That would have been catastrophic. And if Khatani died on Flight 93, he would not have been captured at Tora Bora and we would not learned the name of bin Laden’s courier from him.
Jose Melendez Perez.
He’s a little like the Jimmy Stewart character in a movie getting played a lot this week – It’s a Wonderful Life- the Frank Capra classic. Remember, George Bailey saved his brother Harry from drowning when he fell through the ice as a boy. And as a result, Harry was there in WWII to save the men of a transport boat, winning the Medal of Honor.
Well, it happens in real life too – one person can make a difference!