9/11 Cinema: ‘The Siege’ Foreshadowed America’s Dark Transformation

Kevin Gosztola
9 min readSep 6, 2021
FBI Special Agent Anthony Hubbard (Screen shot from the promotional trailer for “The Siege” and fair use for the purposes of commentary)

[Editor’s Note: This is the first in The Dissenter’s weekly series on 9/11 and its impact on cinema, which will be published as a companion to our series, “Twenty Years In A Security State.”]

Yunis Shokuri, who was a Guantanamo Bay prisoner for over 13 years, once recalled the plot of “The Siege” when he appeared before a military tribunal. “The movie was about terrorists carrying out terrorist attacks in the United States.”

“The CIA and FBI were not successful in finding that terrorist group, and the United States Army interfered and gathered all the people of Arabic descent and put them in a land cage or camp just like it happened in Kandahar.”

Shokuri wondered, “Am I in that movie or on a stage in Hollywood?” and, “When does that movie end?”

Civil society organizations representing Arab and Muslim Americans protested how “The Siege” portrayed their communities as places uniquely prone to engage in terrorism.

Prior to completion, the movie’s producers met with representatives from the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), along with writer Jack Shaheen, who later authored Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies A People. But the filmmakers resisted changes that would have helped the production avoid crude stereotypes.

Director Edward Zwick’s insensitivity resulted in a movie that plays like post-9/11 liberal propaganda for a strong response to the threat of terrorism so long as the military and government does not cross certain boundaries. It condones abuses of power by the FBI and police as necessary to prevent violence while presenting the CIA and a bad apple military general as devious and untrustworthy.

The movie was released in 1998 and based on a story by New Yorker magazine writer Lawrence Wright. It starred Denzel Washington, as FBI Special Agent Anthony Hubbard in New York, Annette Bening, as CIA agent Elise Kraft, and Bruce Willis, the conniving Major General Bill Devereaux, who commands the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division as it deploys to New York to enforce martial law.

A nightmare chain of events unfolds that in many ways foreshadow America’s response to the September 11th attacks. The CIA kidnaps Sheikh…