March 2013        


The hunt for truth

Kathryn Bigelow’s film Zero Dark Thirty was one of the films nominated for this year’s Academy Awards. The film is about the hunt for and raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in 2011. It shows how the CIA, under the guise of a polio vaccination scheme, tried to obtain DNA samples from children in the compound; they hoped that this sample would prove that one of the children was Bin Laden’s. Their drone surveillance had ascertained the presence of adult males but had not been able to confirm the presence of Bin Laden.
      The film did not get an award, and many believe this was because it pulled no punches and in fact was very graphic in portraying the torture of prisoners by CIA operatives.
      The use of a fake polio vaccination scheme, and the implications of this, did not seem to worry any of the critics. This may, however, have done far more damage, in the long run, to the local population and beyond than the actual torture policy. Polio is endemic in Pakistan and needs to be combated vigorously with vaccination schemes. Since the raid on Bin Laden’s compound, and when the news of the use of the the fake campaign became known, polio vaccination workers have come under suspicion, and many have been killed.
      Some people in both Afghanistan and Pakistan now see the workers as spies and infiltrators. Our media merely report the deaths as another Taliban atrocity (which some of them are), without reference to the background story.
      The attacks have caused a serious setback to the immunisation scheme, and it had to be temporarily suspended. It also put at risk the worldwide campaign to eradicate the disease. The appalling consequences of interfering with a vital public health scheme in order to assassinate a (by then) non-combatant doesn’t seem to be of interest to much of our media.
      Polio can paralyse or kill within hours of infection. It is transmitted from person to person. Time is the enemy in the immunisation scheme, and every missed day increases the number of people, mainly children, who can be infected.
      There are other questions that need answering about the fake vaccination scheme. How many people were supposedly vaccinated and probably now feel that they are immune? What are the consequences for them?
      The tribal areas on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan have the largest number of new incidences of the disease, and people are constantly fleeing these areas to avoid war and drone attacks. This increases the risk of spreading the disease.
      Revenge seems to have been the main motive for the assassination of Bin Laden. It has hardly made the United States a safer place. It beggars belief that a deadly disease can be so casually used as a tool for furthering such an action.
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