This April 1998 file photo shows exiled al-Qaida leader Osama...

This April 1998 file photo shows exiled al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Credit: AP

THE DOCUMENTARY "The Hunt for bin Laden"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 8 p.m. on Smithsonian Channel

REASON TO WATCH Tagged to the one-year anniversary.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT On May 1, 2011, a special-forces operation hit a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where a target known simply as "Geronimo" was in hiding. His death marked the end of a hunt that stretched back 20 years.

This documentary picks up at the beginning, when a fatwa is declared on the United States by a then largely unknown Saudi named Osama bin Laden. A string of attacks around the world follows, and the U.S. response is faltering or inconsistent -- hamstrung by interagency turf wars, or obscure bureaucratic dictums preventing sharing of information.

Most people interviewed here say bin Laden absolutely was trapped at Tora Bora, although he escaped because of an insufficient U.S. force on the ground. The last 20 or so minutes wrap with the compound assault. Many are interviewed, including former CIA and FBI officials, as well as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former national security adviser and terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke, and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

MY SAY After reading the foregoing, the thought no doubt abruptly occurred to you that, "OK, I get it -- nothing new here. Move along . . ." And move along, indeed, if you are of no mind for a long recitation of details and observations that have been chronicled elsewhere.

Maybe that's why there are so few major outtakes on this anniversary -- TV has assumed there really isn't all that much new to be said, or at least said until classified material has been released. "The Hunt" doesn't just cover old ground, but it is downright incurious on the most sensational chapter of the story, notably the assault.

But anniversaries can be a time to reflect, and that's the best approach for viewers here. Clarke, who has effectively framed the post-9/11 narrative period in books, congressional testimony and interviews, haunts this broadcast with a what-might-have-been tone: On learning of bin Laden's death, "My reaction was, if I ordered a pizza and it came 10 years later, I wouldn't be too delighted." On the eve of this particular anniversary, few might agree.

BOTTOM LINE Basic overview of a story we already (think we) know very well, but some good perspective.


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