Bin Laden Home Videos

The US government has released previously unseen videos of Osama bin Laden, which include footage of him channel surfing satellite TV and out-takes from a propaganda video.

Last week a Navy SEAL team raided his compound in Pakistan, shot him in the head and dumped his body into the sea.

But whilst they were there, they also took a ‘treasure trove’ of information on the world’s most wanted terrorist including computers and thumb drives.

Yesterday they released the first of the videos from the compound, with the sound turned off.

First, there is this four minute video of bin Laden flipping channels to watch images of himself on various news outlets:

Then there is this other video of him giving some kind of speech:

Plus, we get an outtake of a speech, which appears to have lighting problems:

It reminds me of this scene from True Lies (1994):

And also this unused scene from Four Lions (2010):

But the weirdest story to come out of these latest revelations is the news that Osama apparently watched the UK comedy series The IT Crowd.

Although I haven’t seen any video evidence yet, creator Graham Linehan has tweeted:

“Does anyone have confirmation that Osama was watching ‘The IT Crowd’ in these home movies? Amazing if true. Don’t know how to feel.”

And then:

Still totally shocked/confused about #OBL #itcrowd news. Phone ringing every 5 mins w another journo asking for quote. Signing off for now

Mike Monteiro tweeted the following:

Yep, CNN is now reporting on the IT Crowd / Osama thing. You seeing this @Glinner?

Then Linehan replied back:

Yes, been advised not to comment ATM RT @Mike_FTW: yep, CNN is now reporting on the IT Crowd / Osama thing. You seeing this @Glinner?

Does anyone have any video or an image of Osama watching The IT Crowd?

UPDATE 09/05/11: Graham Linehan said he got hold of an unaired copy of the videos from the Irish embassy in Washington and has claimed that Osama was actually watching US sitcom The Big Bang Theory and not The IT Crowd.

But wait, apparently the whole thing is a hoax.

> CNN on the new videos
> Find out more about The IT Crowd at Wikipedia
> Watch all five Osama bin laden videos at Wired


The Seige and 9/11

The death of Osama bin Laden marks a watershed moment in modern history, but why does a movie from 1998 still retain an eerie relevance?

When the attacks of September 11th, 2001 happened many people remarked that what they were seeing unfold ‘looked like a movie’.

Part of the reason was that the only images shocked viewers could compare them to were scenes of fictional destruction from various disaster movies of the 1990s.

Escaping the Explosions
Independence Day at

Films such as Independence Day (1996), Deep Impact (1998) and Armageddon (1998) imagined fantastical scenarios where iconic symbols of American power, such as the White House, were spectacularly destroyed by aliens or asteroids.

But by far the most prescient film of this era was The Siege (1998), a drama which imagined a scenario where New York is hit by a wave of terror attacks after an elusive, Islamic radical is captured by the US military.

Directed by Ed Zwick, it explored the dilemas facing an FBI special agent (Denzel Washington), a CIA agent (Annette Benning) and an army general (Bruce Willis) as martial law is declared in a major American city.

The screenplay was by Lawrence Wright, a journalist who would go on to write the award winning book The Looming Tower (2006) which covered the history of Al-Qaeda and the events leading to 9/11.

Picking up on the anxieties of the Clinton era, after the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, The Siege explored the ethical choices facing law enforcement when confronted by a ruthless, suicidal enemy.

A box office failure on its initial release, it also resulted in a wave of protests from organisations, such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who felt that it unfairly demonised Muslims.

Even though Zwick engaged with Arab-Americans early in the production of the film, he opted not to soften the depiction of the terrorists in the film.

One sequence, in which a bus is blown up purely for the TV spectacle it will create, seemed tame in comparison with what actually happened three years later, with the destruction of the Twin Towers beamed live around the globe.

Bus Bombing
The Siege at

But the film also imagined New York being put under martial law, a fantastical plotline which nonetheless touched upon the subsequent debates surrounding the response to 9/11, which involved the real-life use of offshore torture facilities and subsequent debates surrounding the laws passed by the Bush administration.

The Siege isn’t by any means a classic film, even in retrospect, but it was made by serious people with their finger firmly on the pulse of dangers posed by radicalised terrorists.

Looking back on it now, it managed to predict a devastating terrorist attack in New York, a disturbing military response, persecution and profiling of people based on their race and the torture of suspects.

Seeing the original posters for the film, it is hard not to feel an eerie twinge with their use of the Twin Towers and the Brooklyn Bridge.

The same chill is evoked when Bruce Willis’ army general gives a speech declaring martial law against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline:

Martial Law
The Siege at

In 2009, I asked Zwick about how he looked back on the film from a post-9/11 perspective and he said that he was just picking up on issues that were in the air:

“I wasn’t being prophetic. I was listening to people whose job is to know those things. I felt there was some inevitability that I was keying in to. But when I look at certain aspects of the film that we imagined – the rounding up of people and interrogations and torture – we were tapping in to something that was there to be mined but no-one else was willing to talk about yet. There were many people, in any number of cultures, that were already quite desperately concerned with [terrorism] but it somehow hadn’t found its way in to the popular imagination”

It took several years for mainstream films to explicitly deal with 9/11, in dramas such as World Trade Center (2006) and United 93 (2006), whilst documentaries such as Taxi to the Darkside (2007) and No End in Sight (2007) examined aspects of the wars unleashed by the attacks.

But in the light of bin Laden’s death this week, The Siege retains a strange relevance, which is odd for a film made in 1998 by a major studio (Fox).

The opening sequence depicts an operation in which US special forces capture and imprison a shadowy figure, who appears to be based on the late Al-Qaeda leader.

This is the reverse of what happened last Sunday when Navy SEALS broke into his compound in Pakistan and shot him in the head.

Even in death, bin Laden has provoked more discussion and earlier this week Lawrence Wright spoke to NPR about what his killing may signify:As he mentions during the interview, in the aftermath of 9/11, the CIA even reached out to Wright for his ideas on what would happen if bin Laden was caught.

Let’s apply that logic to current events.

In Wright’s 1998 movie version, the capture of a wanted terrorist leads to reprisal attacks which further divide America.

Now in 2011, could The Siege continue to have a chilling relevance in a post-bin Laden world?

> The Siege at the IMDb
> More on The Death of Osama bin Laden at Wikipedia
> Lawrence Wright
> The Looming Tower at Amazon UK


Bin Laden Killed

The death of the world’s most wanted terrorist is one of the biggest news stories of the year and will have reverberations beyond the current news cycle.

One of the perils about thinking and writing about films is that just as you are about to write something about the box office success of the Fast and the Furious franchise, a massive news story breaks to remind you of more important things.

So it was last night when the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death was announced.

If you want to check out some detailed and illuminating analysis of the story, then check out the following links:

A major news event like this eventually gets reflected on the big screen, but one story is that director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (the Oscar winning team behind The Hurt Locker) were actually working on a film project surrounding the hunt for bin Laden.

Given the raft of non-fiction films that have been made about the war on terror unleashed by the 9/11 attacks (the best among them The Falling Man and Taxi to the Darkside) perhaps some documentary filmmakers are already exploring how can make a film which incorporates the current news story.

Back in 2008 I spoke to director Morgan Spurlock about his film Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? and we discussed why bin Laden hadn’t been captured.

The received wisdom then was that he had eluded capture because he was in the rural, lawless border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It turns out that he was actually in a heavily fortified compound in Abbottabad, right by the Pakistan Military Academy, which is their version of Sandhurst or West Point.

Doesn’t it seem a little odd that the US had to stage a secret mission without the knowledge of their (supposed) ally in the War on Terror, to snatch the world’s most wanted man?

And what about the reports, based on leaked US government files made public by Wikileaks, which suggest that Pakistan’s security forces were shielding bin Laden?

Given the billions of dollars of aid the US gives to Pakistan every year, I imagine the consequences of bin Laden’s death will make for an interesting story, whether or not it ever becomes the subject for a film.

Just a quick thought to end on.

Whilst Obama was roasting Donald Trump on Saturday night at the White House Correspondent’s dinner (an event which included a bin Laden gag by SNL comedian Seth Meyers) he would have known all about the momentous operation which was about to take place.

> More on The Death of bin Laden at Wikipedia
> The updated FBI Most Wanted page