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Laura Poitras, Puzzling Over A Jihadi's Journey.

The filmmaker's documentary The Oath tells the story of two men who both worked for Osama bin Laden and then wound up in incredibly different spots: One drives a taxicab in Yemen, while the other sits in solitary confinement at Guantanamo. Poitras how she gained access to the story -- and why questions still remain about the film's protagonist.


Other segments from the episode on June 2, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 2, 2010: Interview with Samantha Bee; Interview with Laura Poitras.


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
The Not-So-Secret Life Of Samantha Bee


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Samantha Bee, is the most senior correspondent for "The Daily
Show with Jon Stewart." She joined the show in 2003. Her husband, Jason
Jones, became a contributor two years later.

They have two children together with a third on the way. Now Samantha
Bee has a new memoir about growing up in Canada in an unconventional
family called "I Know I Am, But What Are You?"

Let's start with a clip from "The Daily Show" from a couple of years
ago. It had just been reported that Eliot Spitzer, then governor of New
York, had been a client in a prostitution ring. At a press conference,
Spitzer admitted he'd violated the trust of his family. Standing at his
side was his wife.

Jon Stewart said that Spitzer had just joined the shame parade of
politicians caught cheating on their spouses, and Spitzer followed the
simple rule of public humiliation: bring a date. Here's Samantha Bee's
report. Midway through it, she's joined by her husband, Jason Jones.

(Soundbite of television program, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart")

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. JON STEWART (Comedian): We have seen this time and time again: a bad
actor with his supportive spouse by his side.

Ms. SAMANTHA BEE (Author, "I Know I Am, But What Are You?"): You know,
if there's one business event your spouse should probably be excused
from, it's the one where you explain how you've betrayed them. I mean,
what does someone even wear for that? Does this skirt make my ass look

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: It is mind-blowing. They always have their wife by their
side. It seems like cruelty piled upon cruelty.

Ms. BEE: Yes, exactly. If anything, let the hooker stand up there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: She's the one everyone wants to see. Ladies, am I right?

Mr. STEWART: Well, now, Sam, that's a good point. There are rumors,
though, that the governor is negotiating his resignation. What are your
sources telling you about that?

Ms. BEE: I don't really know. I haven't been really paying any
attention, so...

Mr. STEWART: I asked you to cover this last night...

Ms. BEE: I know. I was out, so I didn't really do that.

Mr. STEWART: You were out? What do you mean you were out?

Ms. BEE: Yeah, at a club, like a private club.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: I'm sorry, just hold on a second. Hey...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: Jon, I need to make a brief statement. Last night I engaged in
activities that failed to live up to the high standards I set for myself
as a wife. I was with a man, men, a group of men.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: Maybe a lady or two. I don't really remember. Definitely,
though, several men. It was a betrayal of my marriage, even if left me
satisfied in a way my husband, who you see next to me, never has.

Mr. STEWART: Sam, this is not an appropriate forum to...

Ms. BEE: No, no, no, no, please. I owe it to Jason, whom I love more
than life itself, mostly as a friend...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: confess my infidelity, my breaking of his heart to the
entire world. I also apologize to our daughter - I think our, definitely

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That's my guest, Samantha Bee, with Jon Stewart, and standing at
her side in that sketch is her actual husband, Jason Jones, who is also
a regular on "The Daily Show," and he is wearing a women's blazer with

Samantha Bee, you are so funny. Welcome to FRESH AIR.

Ms. BEE: Oh, thank you.

GROSS: I am so happy to have you on our show.

Ms. BEE: I can't tell you how happy I am to be here. I'm very excited.

GROSS: And congratulations on your new memoir, "I Know I Am, But What
Are You?" As we just heard, you work with your husband, Jason Jones, on
"The Daily Show," but you come from a long line of divorced people. So
I'd like you to read an excerpt from your memoir about that. So here's a
reading from Samantha Bee's new book, "I Know I Am, But What Are You?"

Ms. BEE: Okay. Our family legacy of failed marriage dates back to the
era in which women whose behavior vaguely pushed the boundaries of
social acceptability were automatically considered either mentally
deficient or, more likely, hookers.

If you wanted to be an actor, for example, that was just an artsy way of
saying: I'd do it for money. If you opted to have a job, then you may
have been a career gal by day, but everyone knew it was probably just a
front for your nighttime hookering. And if you dared to get a divorce,
then you were indisputably a hooker, and God bless the poor husband who
had to put up with you for so long, you horrible floozy.

The women in my family were often suspected of this kind of sluttery,
but the glorious truth is that they mostly just loved to marry sadists,
men who liked to beat them up physically or psychologically, drink up
all the food money, start a side family, and then proceed to drink up
all their new family's food money too.

It was quite a collection of gentlemen that the women on both sides of
my family had collectively cast aside. I'm sure they would have endured
any tawdry accusations with relish if those accusations had been
accompanied by divorce papers.

Dating from well before the turn of the 20th century, if there has ever
been a successful, happy marriage in my family lineage, I've yet to hear
about it.

GROSS: You know, it's amazing hearing about that history of divorce and
unhappy marriage in your family, and you have such a public marriage
because you work with your husband, Jason Jones.

Ms. BEE: I know. It's just a front.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: I know, I really – it's really – because Jason comes from a
very tight-knit family, a large family, and this is not – this is not
their narrative. So I was nervous that his family would find out about
my back story and think that I was not trustworthy.

GROSS: Now, your memoir is about growing up with your mother, your
stepfather, your father, your stepmother, plus grandmother and great-
grandmother. That's a lot of people to answer to.

Ms. BEE: A lot of people to answer to, and it was just me. I'm an only
child, so, you know, so I was just like a little miniature adult at a
very early age.

GROSS: It must have been really confusing because it sounds like your
mother was really into a very open idea of what childhood should be and
when a child should learn about sex, whereas, like, your father and
stepmother were much more conservative about that, as I imagine your
grandmother was too. It just sounds so confusing.

Ms. BEE: It was confusing. I really – listen, it's not a sad – it's not
a sad story by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, there was always
love in the home, whatever that home consisted of at the time. But it
was – I never knew who I was. I was a different person in everybody's
home. You know what I mean?

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. BEE: I changed myself depending on whose house I was living at. I
was most myself at my grandmother's, I would say.

GROSS: What were some of the changes from house to house?

Ms. BEE: Well, my father and my stepmother, and you know, believe me, I
love them, but they were a lot more high maintenance. You know, they
expected a lot of childness from me that I was really not capable of. I
mean, I was used to – I was just used to being - people who treated me
in a more adult way and allowed me to have, you know, preferences and,
you know, things I didn't want to do just didn't seem important to them.

But when I was at my father and my stepmother's home, they just really
expected me to want to do things like ride a bicycle, play jacks, talk
to other children.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: I was just so unfamiliar with that. It was really like being
thrown into a den of lions. I'm just not – I was not physical or
competitive or really interested in talking to other kids. I'm kind of –
I was very – so shy, so shy.

GROSS: Now, you write that your mother thought it was unhealthy to
prolong childhood past the age of seven, and she taught you the facts of
life pretty early with the help of a book that she gave you. Tell us
what the book was like. It sounds like a very odd book to give a child.

Ms. BEE: It really is not meant for children, but it...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: She just tossed it at me one day. She just decided that it was
time for me to learn all, you know, to learn all about sex, to learn all
about the terms for every sexual proclivity in existence, and, you know,
I was playing with my dollies at the time. I mean, I was getting them
ready for bed, putting their hair in pincurls, and she just sort of
tossed it at me. It was this little – it was this little red book, and
it just described every sex act.

It wasn't a scientific book. It was just a book that described every sex
act imaginable. And so that's - and I was an avid reader. So I just - I
opened up the book and I started reading, and then I had - man, I had

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: I actually called my – when I was writing this book, I called
my mother and – because I was trying to track down the book. I wanted to
know if she still had it, and she had gotten rid of it for whatever
reason. Maybe she lost it in a move. But we both lamented that. It would
have been great to have. Well, I'd love to give it to my children.

GROSS: Oh, sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: Probably hit them with it when they're around six, as soon as
they can start to read.

GROSS: My guest is Samantha Bee. She's a correspondent on "The Daily
Show" and author of a new memoir called "I Know I Am, But What Are You?"

You're a working woman, you know, on "The Daily Show," and three
children is a lot, I think, for somebody with a career.

Ms. BEE: It is, but I have to say, "The Daily Show" could not be more
accommodating. It really is a very family-friendly place to work, and I
think maybe that would surprise people. Maybe it wouldn't. But they are
great about it.

They are happy when people have children there. It's - nobody goes into
distress or lockdown mode. Everybody seems so warm - everybody's very
warm and embracing, and you know, they've been so accommodating with us,
bringing our children with us when we go away.

When we went to the conventions in 2008, I actually brought both my
kids. Fletcher had just been born. He was only eight weeks old. And we
carted him off to Denver and everybody was so great about it. So they
really make it possible for us to – and they're just – they could not be
more wonderful.

And actually, it's very helpful. It's really nice that they hired Jason
because that makes it a lot easier on me, because we just – we have
adult time together. Being at work is kind of like being on a date,
minus the S-E-X. You know.

GROSS: You – yeah, I get it. You've done field work, for instance, at
the National Republican Convention.

Ms. BEE: Uh-huh. Yes.

GROSS: Where you did a piece trying to get Republicans to say the word

Ms. BEE: Oh my – that was an incredible experience.

GROSS: I want you to talk about that. Describe the piece, first of all,
for listeners who haven't heard it.

Ms. BEE: Well, I don't – I don't know if I can describe it as well as
someone who hasn't seen it, because I don't – because, you know, we
(unintelligible) "Daily Show," I don't really remember things well.

But I do remember trying to – that the, you know, the main purpose of
the piece was to get all of those people to say the word choice. It was
like they had...

GROSS: I should stop here and say this was right after Sarah Palin has
given her address at the convention, and people at this point knew that
her daughter was pregnant and that her daughter had decided to carry to
term. I mean, there's absolutely no question of abortion here.

Ms. BEE: They kept talking about making a choice to, you know, in their
case, you know, in her case to keep the baby, when really all they
really seem to be planning to do was take away everybody's choice and
not make it a choice at all.

So choice became this key word, you know, in all of their speeches and
directives and internal memos and things. It seemed like they were
trying to eradicate the word completely because we couldn't get people
to say it. We just couldn't get people to say it. They just kind of went
around and around and around and around and around without saying it.

So we interviewed so many people, and they just wouldn't say the word

GROSS: So in this excerpt, Samantha Bee is interviewing several people,
trying to get them to say the word choice.

(Soundbite of television program, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart")

Unidentified Man #1: She said no, it's a human being.

Ms. BEE: She made – I'm sorry, what is...

Unidentified Woman #1: The decision, the decision.

Ms. BEE: There's another word I'm looking for. It rhymes with – I think
it rhymes with voice. Every family and every woman should have the right
to – I'm sorry, what's the word I'm looking for? It's her family, it's
her – God, what is the word? What is the word I'm looking for? It's like
an alternative, or if you have two things. You be Sarah Palin, and I'll
be her 17-year-old daughter.

Unidentified Woman #2: Bristol, you know, you and I have always been
able to openly discuss things.

Ms. BEE: What do you want to talk to me about? I'm so busy right now,
Mom. Can you get out of my room?

It's like when you have a lot of options, and you have to select one.
What's the word I'm looking for? What is the word?

Unidentified Woman #3: Adoption is one.

Ms. BEE: No, there's a specific word I'm looking for.

Unidentified Woman #4: And I'm sure the family will be able to make the
best decision for them, but they'll have the freedom to make that

Ms. BEE: Hold on a second. I'm talking to my boyfriend. Can I call you
back? My mom's in my room, and she wants to talk to me about something.
Hold on, I'll call you back.

Unidentified Woman #5: Yes, but I don't think the – I don't think that
the decision, I think it should be not – I think that the family
decision would become how – yes, okay.

Ms. BEE: You know, when you have, like, an alternative. What's the word
I'm looking for, alternative?

Unidentified Man #2: A different choice?

Ms. BEE: Choice, yes, exactly.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Ms. BEE: Every family, every person should have the choice to decide
what's best for them.

GROSS: That's Samantha Bee at the Republican National Convention, after
Sarah Palin gave her address. And that's, of course, from "The Daily
Show," where she's a correspondent. Now she also has a new memoir called
"I Know I Am, But What Are You?"

So there you were at the convention, at the Republican National
Convention, interviewing people, trying to get them to say the word
choice, which you thought had basically been eradicated from their

Ms. BEE: It felt like it. It felt like it had been. It was like pulling

GROSS: So what did you tell them? Like, each of those people who you
interviewed, did you say: I'm with "The Daily Show," it's a comedy show.
We're – you know, how did you say who you were and what the point of the
interview was?

Ms. BEE: Well, that's what we – you know, when it's something like that,
and we're at a convention and we're just talking to people, you know,
quickly, we're just grabbing person after person to see if they'll talk
to us, we always tell them where we're from, and we don't necessarily
tell them – we don't tell them the questions that we're going to ask

GROSS: Do you say Comedy Central, or do you just say "The Daily Show"?

Ms. BEE: Yeah, of course.

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. BEE: Uh-huh. Yes, they know – they know where we come from. You
know, that doesn't necessarily mean that they know the show. Many of
them know the reputation of the show, not the show specifically. They
don't necessarily watch it.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Samantha Bee. She's a
correspondent for "The Daily Show," and now she has a new memoir, and
it's called "I Know I Am, But What Are You?" Sam, let's take a short
break here, and then we'll talk some more.

Ms. BEE: Sure.

GROSS: Okay.

Ms. BEE: Okay.


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Samantha Bee. She's a
correspondent for "The Daily Show," and now she has a new memoir. It's
called "I Know I Am, But What Are You?"

So let me quote from your memoir, "I Know I Am, But What Are You?" You
write: Hitting puberty excavated a wellspring of evil energy in me that
led me to the discovery that my parents were vulnerable and had made
mistakes that could be exploited in an interesting way. I was a scary
teenager. My parents should have been much more scared than they
actually were.

Why should they have been more scared? What made you so scary?

Ms. BEE: Well, I – oh, I was a terrible teenager. I, you know, at the
beginning of my teendom, I took these terrible risks. I did all these
things that children, that you would just shake in your boots if you
knew that your daughter was doing these things.

And none of it involved, you know, copious amounts of sex and drugs at
that time, but I would just go to men's homes. Like, you know, I was
just a young girl, you know, 13, 14. I had braces on my teeth. I mean it
was just so obvious that I was a young girl. But men approached me a
lot, grown men approached me a lot and invited me to things and places
and their homes. And I would just go.

I don't really know – it was the most unwise decision. I can't believe I
emerged from that unscathed. I start to sweat. Talking about it, I
immediately began to perspire, thinking about my daughter going to men's
homes. I mean, it's just awful.

And then at the end of that, I sort of grew, I sort of spontaneously
grew a backbone. I don't really know what happened, but one day I just
kind of realized that that was probably not a – probably not the best
technique for staying alive or intact.

I mean, I was completely at their mercy in places I didn't – I didn't
know where I was - you know, in basement apartments.

GROSS: Why did you go? Do you have any idea?

Ms. BEE: You know, I think really it is, it boils down to the fact that
I was such a people pleaser growing up that I was really just afraid to
say no to people. You know what I mean? I mean, I think a lot of us
suffer from that, but I really did. It was – I really did have an
inability to turn people down. It's ridiculous. I've since learned. I've
since learned how to say no.

But at the time – and then I became – and then I met a – and then I met
a boy my own age who led me astray, and you know, we began this whole
criminal enterprise. So we had this whole underground – you know, this
wasn't a crime syndicate, but we were doing all of this stuff that was
just terrible, and in the end...

GROSS: Such as?

Ms. BEE: Oh, we were – we became car thieves, I mean, to an almost
professional degree. We were stealing cars and fencing the goods from
cars and throwing wild parties. It was ridiculous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: We were kids. I mean, I – you know, I didn't even have my
driver's license, but I was driving...

(Soundbite of laughter) Ms. BEE: ...other people's cars.

GROSS: You weren't terrified of getting caught, or morally guilty about
what you were doing?

Ms. BEE: We just had this unbelievable narcissism. Like, we just didn't
even imagine that we would get caught. We did it for - I'm going to say
maybe a year, maybe a year and a half, something like that. It didn't go
on forever.

No, I really didn't develop a sense for the morality of it until a
little bit later in life, when people stole things from me. And I
thought, I don't deserve this. What happened? What are you doing? And
then I – you know, I made those connections a little bit later in life.

I didn't really – I think I just was in that kind of teen state where
you don't, you don't really value property, and you think that things
are easy to come by. It really is just kind of – hopefully it just
remains with people in their teens. But I didn't really have respect for

GROSS: Samantha Bee will be back in the second half of the show. She's a
correspondent for "The Daily Show" and author of the new memoir "I Know
I Am, But What Are You?" I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Samantha Bee. She's
written a new memoir about growing up in an unconventional family in
Canada. It's called "I Know I Am, But What Are You?" Samantha Bee has
been a correspondent for "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" since 2003.

You've done a sketch or two satirizing the Catholic church and the pope.

Ms. BEE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And you went to Catholic school...

Ms. BEE: I did.

GROSS: ...which you write about in your memoir. So is it hard to
satirize the church and the pope having gone to Catholic school?

Ms. BEE: Oh heavens no. I'm a lapsed Catholic, Terry, a terribly lapsed
Catholic. So it is joyful for me to do that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: That is pure pleasure for me, I will say. In fact, I'm working
on piece right now that is related to the Catholic Church and it's
fascinating to me. I don't have any of that Catholic guilt. I've worked
my way through that. There's none of that left.

GROSS: Now you write in your memoir that your Catholic school was
considered a progressive Catholic school. What does that mean?

Ms. BEE: It was a progressive Catholic school. We did not, you know, we
had Seder meals in those, those adorable traditions from other religions
and we just learned about other religions and other cultures and that
was just an important part of our - when we took, we had to take a
religion course, of course. But it wasn't just our religion. It was
quite inclusive and we didn't have to do - we didn't wear uniforms and
we had to go to church occasionally but it wasn't a huge part of our
curriculum. And we didn't have big gory Jesuses everywhere. They were
monochromatic so you couldn't see the blood dripping from the wounds of

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: But, you know, my Catholic church was fairly modern. It was on
the modern side. I mean listen, it's not that modern but as Catholic
churches go, it was kind of on the more modern edge.

GROSS: You said that the Jesuses that were pictured in your school
looked more like Kris Kristofferson, circa "A Star is Born."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: Well, sure. Very sensual.

GROSS: And that you had a crush on Jesus.

Ms. BEE: I don't know, you know, I've spoken to a lot of lapsed
Catholics since I wrote the book and we all had a crush on Jesus. I
mean, he was really designed that way for young girls to find him sexy
and attractive. I mean, did you ever see the miniseries? You know the
miniseries "Jesus of Nazareth." I mean, that guy was...

GROSS: Was that the one with Rubenstein? What's his first name, John

Ms. BEE: Oh, God, I don't know.

GROSS: Okay.

Ms. BEE: I don't know any of their names. I just can really instantly
recall the face of the guy who played Jesus in "Jesus of Nazareth." I
mean, that was a really part of it for me. I wouldn't have been
interested in it all if he hadn't been, you know, had dazzling, dazzling
blue eyes and wonderful silky hair. I mean would any of us?

GROSS: So what did it mean to have a crush on Jesus?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: Well, I don't know that it, you know, I don't know that it
meant anything to my present life. It caused, in my family, conflict
because my mother is Wiccan and she became very concerned about me and
my love for Jesus. Because I really, you know, just like all the other
girls, I really wanted to marry him and I thought a lot about what would
happen if he materialized in front of me. You know, would I be prepared
to get down on my hands and knees and washed his feet? You're supposed
to wash his feet, dry them with your hair, you know, there are all these
rituals that you're supposed to do. But ultimately the goal is, you
know, to be together. And she did become concerned about my kind of - my
approach to that and my obsession with him, and I did have some, I did
have, I didn't really have like, rock posters in my bedroom. I had Jesus
- a big Jesus above my bed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: And she found it really repellant. My father is just a complete
atheist and my mother is into Wicca. So she decided that it was - she
felt compelled to introduce me to some other stuff so she made me go to
like a Wiccan mass, which was just horrible for me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: Just terrifying.

GROSS: We should explain that Wiccan means more of a kind of
contemporary kind of feminist spiritual approach to witchcraft.

Ms. BEE: Mm-hmm. Yes. Yes. It was very important to her. It has always
been very important to her. But to me it was just satanic, because I
just thought it was. It was just the people sort of looked vaguely - it
was just too counterculture for me. But she, you know, she made me go
and attend some rituals and it was terrifying. I found it just

GROSS: You know, I've known people who have been into Wicca but I've
never really known the child of somebody who's been into it and I've
always wondered what it's like to be the child of somebody who has
beliefs that are considered like far out of the mainstream like that.

Ms. BEE: Well, when I - I kind of felt sorry for my mother when I was
growing up because I was so in to Jesus. I thought oh, this poor lamb of
God. She doesn't understand. She just doesn't get it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: But now, I mean, you know, I'm proud of my mom. She stuck with
it. you know, now most people don't stick with it but she's always had
her little her, you know, oh that was so, oh her little amulets. That's
terrible. But she's always had her rituals and the things that she does.
It's really an important part of her life. And so I respect the fact
that she stuck with something now.

It's not for me. It's not for my husband, but she loves it and so, I
wouldn't say that it's not horrible or terrifying. It's not very
intrusive when you're growing up. It's the most unobtrusive religious
practice imaginable. It's very not in your face. It's kind of a private
thing and people gather on the wrong side of the tracks to practice the
whatever it is that they're doing. Being a child of Wicca has not
affected me negatively. And you get to know a lot about plants.

GROSS: When I...

Ms. BEE: They're all avid gardeners.

GROSS: When I use the word witchcraft is that okay or is that an
inappropriate word? I want to make sure I get it right.

Ms. BEE: Well, I'm not so savvy on the particulars. I think it's okay.
They're white, you know, they're kind of white witches.

GROSS: Okay. Good.

Ms. BEE: I did learn recently that word warlock is outdated. Nobody's
calling the male witches warlocks, because I made some reference to my
mom's husband as a warlock and she was like oh, he's a male witch. Can
you please not call him a warlock?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay.

Ms. BEE: So, you know, let everybody know: warlock, out. Very passe.

GROSS: How did you get into comedy?

Ms. BEE: I came to it very late in life. It was not a goal of mine. I
did think that I was going to, you know, in the midst of all of this,
you know, terrible teenage-hood, I was still kind of scholarly. Good
grades were very important to me. I went to college and I thought that I
was - I thought that I would go to law school and so I was preparing to
start preparing for my LSATs, and I ended up taking a theater course
very spontaneously. And because I thought that it was going to be so
easy and a breeze and that I would just blow it off and still get an
amazing grade and boost my GPA. And then I kind of liked it. There was
something intriguing about it.

And I - you had to do outside work. You had to do, you know, you had to
volunteer to, you know, be on the stage crew or whatever as part of this
class. And so I auditioned for a part. It was a Brecht play and I got a
part and I didn't even read the whole play. I just did my part in the

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: And I loved it. I had to sing. It was a, you know, it was a
kind of a good part and it just connected with me. It just connected
with me. So then I thought well, I'm going to be an actor. And so I
totally refocused all my energy into becoming a very, very serious actor
and then nobody would ever hire me as that because, you know, just
wanting to be a good, serious actor does not make you a good, serious
actor. I think I'm terrible at it or something. And so I struggled with
that for many years. Nobody would ever hire me for anything.

And then I became connected to some people through children's theater
who were doing comedy. And they asked me to fill in for someone, you
know, doing some sketch one night at a grody bar in Toronto. And I did
it and I loved it. I just loved it. It just everything kind of made
sense to me when I was on stage doing comedy. I got all that applause,
approval that I had been craving all those years and laughter too, which
was much better than tears to me in the end. And then I started doing

GROSS: Samantha Bee, I think you're so wonderful. Thank you so much for
talking with us.

Ms. BEE: This is such a pleasure. I just love this show and I'm just so
appreciative that you had me on. I can't even tell you.

GROSS: Samantha Bee. She's a correspondent for "The Daily Show" and
author of the new memoir, "I Know I Am, But What Are You?"

Coming up, the story of two men who were close to Osama bin Laden before
9/11. We talk with Laura Poitras about her documentary "The Oath."

This is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Laura Poitras, Puzzling Over A Jihadi's Journey


The new documentary "The Oath," is about two men who were close to Osama
bin Laden before 9/11. Abu Jandal was a jihadist who recruited Salim
Hamdan. Jandal became bin Laden's bodyguard, Hamdan became bin Laden's
driver. At the suggestion of bin Laden, the men married sisters, making
the two men brothers-in-law.

The two men's path diverged before 9/11 when they left bin Laden. Jandal
was in prison in Yemen in 2001. He was interrogated there by an American
and gave up key information. After his release, he became a taxi driver.
Hamdan was captured in Afghanistan then taken to Guantanamo Bay, where
he became the first detainee to face a military tribunal. He was also
the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, challenging
the legality of military tribunals. Hamdan was released after seven
years and returned to custody in Yemen to serve out the remainder of his
sentence which ended in late 2008.

My guest, Laura Poitras filmed her documentary "The Oath" in Yemen. It's
the second in her planned trilogy of post-9/11 films. Most of "The Oath"
focuses on Abu Jandal. Hamdan declined to speak with her. She tells his
story through his letters from Gitmo and his defense attorneys.

Given Abu Jandal's history, how did you convince him not only to talk
with you but to allow you to film him?

Ms. LAURA POITRAS (Director, "The Oath"): I think there are multiple
reasons that he, you know, agreed to be filmed. I think he actually
feels very guilty about the fact that he recruited Salim Hamdan and that
Hamdan was at Guantanamo and he was free. And I think it helped I'd made
a film about the war in Iraq and I gave him that film. And I think that
that also helped getting the kind of access that I needed.

GROSS: He's actually a very important figure in the larger story of
terrorism and counterterrorism. And he was interrogated after 9/11, and
he became one of the really important people to give up information to
American intelligence. Can you talk about how he ended up being
interrogated and what he offered?

Ms. POITRAS: Right. He was, in 2000, he was imprisoned in Yemen, so he
was in a Yemen prison on 9/11. And after the attacks, an FBI agent, Ali
Soufan, who many people might be aware of, he's written several op-eds
speaking out against torture. And Ali Soufan was in Yemen and was asked
to speak to people to try to find out information about the attack, and
six days after 9/11 entered Abu Jandal's cell and a two-week
interrogation ensued. And it's a very significant interrogation. I mean
some people think it's one of the most important post-9/11
interrogations. And one of the things that's quite extraordinary about
it is it was done with Miranda rights and by the book and actually
delayed the invasion of Afghanistan.

GROSS: Because they didn't want to start until they were finished

Ms. POITRAS: Yes. Because they were...

GROSS: ...because he was giving so much useful information.

Ms. POITRAS: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

GROSS: He was the one who indentified all of the suspects from 9/11.
He'd worked with them. He knew them.

Ms. POITRAS: Right. Yeah. He ran a guesthouse in Afghanistan so he would
receive guys. And there were several that the government knew who they
were but there were a lot of people on the planes whose names they
didn't know, so he was able to identify them.

GROSS: So Abu Jandal becomes the kind of model of interrogation, where
you get information without torture or extreme techniques. And his
interrogators - he's diabetic - his interrogators brought him sugar-free
soda and sugar-free food for him to eat. He talks about how they tried
to win him over and I guess they succeeded.

Ms. POITRAS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I mean I've spent time with both men.
Unfortunately, Ali Soufan couldn't participate in an interview for the
film but he testifies at the Senate, speaking out against the use of
enhanced interrogation techniques. And they're both pretty extraordinary
men, very intelligent. Both, I think, very skilled men at persuasion.
And, you know, what happens in this interrogation is that at first Abu
Jandal doesn't believe that the 9/11 attacks were committed by al-Qaida.
And then...

GROSS: And then he sees the pictures of the suspects and he starts to
weep because he knows them all.

Ms. POITRAS: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: Would you trace his trajectory for us about how he became a
member of al-Qaida and ended up joining bin Laden?

Ms. POITRAS: So Abu Jandal is born of Yemeni parents, but he's born in
Saudi Arabia, in Jeddah. And as he was growing up, he talks about being
influenced by the people who fought in Afghanistan during the Mujahedeen
and against the Soviets, and as a young boy being impressed by these men
who had fought. And what inspired him to leave home was the - what was
happening in Bosnia. So at the age of 19, he packed his bags, told his
dad he was going to be, you know, playing soccer with his friends, met a
friend of his and went to Bosnia and fought there for about a year. And
then after that...

GROSS: Fought with the Muslims there.

Ms. POITRAS: Yeah. Mm-hmm. And was trained there. And then he went into
Somalia, and he was there for a short time, went to Yemen. It was in
Yemen that he met Salim Hamdan. And, you know, Hamdan was, you know,
very different than Abu Jandal. Abu Jandal was a very ideologically
motivated jihadi who was looking for - to, you know, engage in jihad, as
he would define it, defending Muslims. And Salim Hamdan, by contrast
was, you know, a Yemeni guy who didn't have a place to live or a job,
and Abu Jandal recruits him and takes him on his way to Tajikistan. And
as they are going through Afghanistan, bin Laden had just left the Sudan
and invited that group to come visit. And it was in the invitation that
he invited them to stay, and Abu Jandal went on to become bin Laden's
bodyguard and Salim Hamdan the driver. This would've been in '96.

GROSS: So do you know why he was disillusioned when he was working for
bin Laden?

Ms. POITRAS: I think he felt that the tactics were wrong, that the
targeting of civilians was not what he wanted to engage with.

GROSS: And we should say, it's not like he's opposed to the jihad.

Ms. POITRAS: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: He still believes in Jihad. He just believes it should be a
battle on the battlefield, and not killing civilians in planes or

Ms. POITRAS: Right. Right. There's a point in the film where I ask him
this question, and that's what he says, is that he doesn't personally
believe in targeting civilians, but he believes in fighting on the

GROSS: Which makes him, I'm sure, a very ambiguous figure you and for
us, the viewers, because on the one hand, there's something really
sympathetic as we're watching him in the movie. He's charismatic. He's
very articulate, very persuasive, very energetic. He has a kind of
almost a comic gleam in his eye sometimes. He really engages with
people. He has a warmth about him. He's renounced bin Laden's tactics.
At the same time, he still believes in jihad, as you just said, it
should be on the battlefield.

Ms. POITRAS: Mm-hmm. I mean, as a filmmaker, I mean, that was what was
really interesting about this person. I mean, it felt that he was really
conflicted. We wanted the audience to sort of be drawn into his
charisma, because that's how, you know, this is a guy who ran a
guesthouse, you know. And so - and he's, you see in this film for...

GROSS: For bin Laden. Yeah.

Ms. POITRAS: For bin Laden in Afghanistan, and now he greets - young men
seek him out for teaching. So he receives these young men and they sort
of sit around, and there's these sort of teachings that happen. So we
want the viewer to sort of be drawn into, you know, he has this sort of
a kind of power, and he actually talks about it, you know, the art of
influencing people. We showed that he's also a very good liar and that
he's very media savvy. And so there's a bit of a push-pull between, you
know, drawing you in and also giving you clues of, you know, don't
always trust what you're hearing and also make you, you know, question
what you're listening to.

GROSS: Well, if you don't mind my bringing this up, the scene I think
you're referring to when you talk about him lying, you've basically put
a camera in his taxicab. He's a professional taxicab driver during the
making of your documentary, and you have a camera in there so we can see
him interacting with his passengers.

Ms. POITRAS: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And he's always trying to bargain them up so that they pay

Ms. POITRAS: Correct.

GROSS: ...and so on. And, but there's one scene where somebody gets in
and says well, what's this camera for? Like, why are you filming me?
What's this about? And tell us what he says in response.

Ms. POITRAS: Mm-hmm. So, you know, a passenger gets in, and he's talking
about the camera. And he's just like, oh well, this is, you know,
there's an American company making a film about the economic plight of
Yemenis and the camera's not - it's not on, and the lie goes on. He's
like, it's not rolling. You know, the batteries died. And he does it,
you know, this lie is so seamless, and it's so protracted that it's this
moment where like we're telling the viewer, okay, we're turning here and
we're asking you to question what it is that you're going to hear.

And it's an important part of the film and it's, you know, it's really -
I mean, although the film deals with, you know, some of these big
issues, it ultimately, in the end, is a psychological, you know,
portrait or mystery, you know, inside of the mind of this man who, you
know, is driving a taxicab.

And what Jonathan Oppenheim - the editor - and I were very interested in
is, you know, we were very aware that the audience is constantly
questioning him, right? Like questioning, you know, why is he speaking?
You know, why is he getting this access? You know, how is it possible
that this guy is free? I mean, there's so many sort of subtexts that are
constantly running throughout this film. So that's really part of the
story is sort of shaping that, you know, the journey into this man's

GROSS: Well, you show the ease with which he can lie. But I'm wondering
why the passenger was in that position in the first place?

Ms. POITRAS: Actually, the way that it worked is that there's a camera
that's mounted in the cab, and it's focused only on him. So you don't
see the passenger. So we just told him to drive and do his job, and then
I would go in and, you know, set focus and...

GROSS: Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Hang on. Hang on.

Ms. POITRAS: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You're talking about Yemen, where, you know, there are so many
terrorists and there's such suspicion that people are spies or
terrorists and you've got a camera planted in a taxi without any real
explanation. You're just telling the cabdriver to...

Ms. POITRAS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...yeah just like tell - I mean, you're almost setting him up to
lie. What's he going to do? Tell the truth to the passengers that you're
making a documentary about somebody who was interrogated by American
intelligence and gave up the information about who the 9/11 hijackers
were? I mean...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. POITRAS: Well, right. You know, I actually, you know, I didn't tell
Abu Jandal to lie or not to lie. I told him just do your job. And then
we find out he tells - you know, as we sort of saw the tapes later -
that there are many different stories. There's another story where he
says they're making a film about Guantanamo and they want to get public
opinion about - from Yemenis about what's happening in Guantanamo. So
each story is different. I mean, I should say that this was a risky film
to make and had to be made pretty much under the radar. So Abu Jandal,
you know, he's concerned about his safety from the younger generation of
al-Qaida. And so for him to be driving through the streets of Yemen, you
know, with a small camera in his cab I think, you know, made him a
little nervous.

But, you know, it was fascinating to see how he, you know, he handled
each situation. I mean, these interactions with his passengers are quite
fascinating. You know, they're oftentimes negotiations about fares, you
know, whether or not he's getting, you know, what he thinks is the right
amount, and then also this telling of the story of why the camera's

GROSS: But is it really a tipoff of who he is, then, if you've put him
in a position where he basically has to lie?

Ms. POITRAS: Oh, actually, I do think it's a good tipoff of who he is,
because I think it shows that he's very good at...

GROSS: He knows how to do it.

Ms. POITRAS: He knows how to do it. And I think that that is actually
quite revealing.

GROSS: My guest is Laura Poitras. Her new documentary, "The Oath," is
about two men who were close to Osama bin Laden before 9/11. Abu Jandal
was his bodyguard. Salim Hamdan was bin Laden's driver.

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Laura Poitras. She
directed the new documentary, "The Oath."

So I'm wondering what it was like for you to film in Yemen. I mean, the
women in Yemen that we see are wearing, you know, full burqa. All you
see is their eyes. So there you are, a Western woman, doing a
documentary about a man, Abu Jandal, who some young jihadis would like
to assassinate, even though Abu Jandal used to be very close to bin
Laden. So what was it like for you to get around in Yemen?

Ms. POITRAS: Well, I mean, I made a film earlier about the war in Iraq,
and that was a very dangerous place to work. And Yemen had its dangers,
as well, but I felt I had more freedom of movement. The way that I work
in the field is I work alone. So I do my own camera and sound work, and
I was renting a house. And I would, you know, I would go to the market.
I would taxis and film.

GROSS: Wearing what? Wearing Western clothes?

Ms. POITRAS: Well, yeah. I would dress conservatively. But you didn't
have to cover. It's not like Saudi, where if you're not covered, you
know, you'll be stopped on the street. But I would tend to be relatively
conservative. It seemed to be, you know, respectful. And I tried to stay
away from too many, you know, Western establishments because they're,
you know, foreigners are targeted. Being an American, you're, you know,
you're targeted. And so I tried to stay under the radar. And it was -
you know, of course, I worried, you know.

I mean, I remember the first time that I went to film in his house, and
we were going - I was going to film. There's a prayer scene where he -
it starts at 4:30 in the morning, so that was a situation I needed to be
there the night before. And I remember being quite nervous getting into
his car. Like, what am I doing? You know, how am I going to this house
and filming this? And you can't - I couldn't not be worrying about those
things. And yet, you know, I also felt that being a journalist gives me
some kinds of protections in terms of doing this work.

So - but in terms of being a woman, what I find is that, as a Western
woman, you can kind of move - it's a very gender segregated society, but
as a Western woman, you get to move between the two worlds. Most of the
film is mostly men, so I would be in those situations and I'd be allowed
in them because I was Western. But then I also can hang out in the house
and be with the women. And, you know, the thing that I couldn't do was
film their faces, which was sad. I would've liked to - them to be a
larger presence in the film, but that wasn't possible because of - but,
you know, when I'm at their house, they're not covering. It's when the
camera comes out that women are - have to cover their faces.

GROSS: Laura Poitras, thank you very much for talking with us, and good
luck with the film.

Ms. POITRAS: Thank you so much.

GROSS: Laura Poitras directed the new documentary "The Oath." You can
see several clips from "The Oath" on our website,,
where you can also download podcasts of our show.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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