Drama starring Sam Waterston. An Arab terrorist is smuggled out of West Beirut by American secret forces under the charge of conspiracy to commit murder and killing five innocent people including a five-year-old child. An unprecedented trial commences as he is charged under a new Federal stature declaring murder of American civilians overseas a felony. Resnick (Ron Leibman) is one of the all-time best defence lawyers in the country but hasn't fought a case in years. He hesitantly takes the case and finds himself up against Jim Delmore (Waterston). The two most brilliant legal minds in the country go head-to-head in a trial intended as a showcase for American justice.
This movie seems to be almost completely unknown, which is unfortunate as it's a pretty good movie, at least if you like thought-provoking movies about international current events.
I chanced upon this movie by accident. I found it for sale on DVD at a flea market for £1.50 and took a chance and bought it. When I tried to read about it on IMDb (The Internet Movie Database) I found only three reviews! (Most movies at IMDb have dozens or even hundreds of reviews.) And here at Amazon (both amazon.com and amazon.co.uk there were no reviews at all.
Let's start with the basic facts. This is an American made-for-TV movie from 1988. The original title was "Terrorist on Trial: The United States vs. Salim Ajami". It is being sold on DVD in the USA, the UK, Scandinavia and perhaps elsewhere as "Hostile Witness", and in Australia as "In the Hands of the Enemy". The Scandinavian version that I watched was 125 minutes (too long), while the version being sold in the UK is apparently 130 minutes.
The story is about a Palestinian terrorist named Salim Ajami (Robert Davi) who has been kidnapped in Beirut by American Special Forces personnel and transported to the USA to stand trial for the murder of four American tourists in Spain.
The movie starts with Salim Ajami's arrival in the USA. We see discussions at the Justice Department and the recruitment of a defense lawyer (Ron Leibman) and a prosecution attorney (Sam Waterston). We follow both sides as they prepare for the trial. Then the movie becomes a courtroom drama, and finally the verdict is handed down.
This is not typical light entertainment, and many people may consider it to be boring.
There are many thought-provoking ideas being considered here.
- Does the United States have the right to kidnap a suspected criminal in another country and bring him/her to the USA to stand trial? (What if British police kidnapped an American in Los Angeles and brought him to London to stand trial?)
- When is a terrorist a terrorist, and when is he a soldier or a freedom-fighter? (Or an "insurgent" or an "enemy combatant" to use the current labels?)
- Was dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in Japan in the Second World War an act of terrorism on the part of the United States?
- What can explain the mentality of the Middle East activists who kill innocent people and expect that this will aid their cause?
It is especially this last question that the movie tries to explore. On one hand it is made obvious that Salim Ajami is responsible for unspeakable acts of terrorism, killing and injuring innocent American tourists. On the other hand Salim Ajami comes across as intelligent and articulate, maintaining that he is a soldier who is fighting using a new kind of warfare.
The movie does a fairly good job of giving the viewer the information that allows us to understand Salim Ajami, although not accepting his deeds. This is provided by Salim Ajami's own testimony about the conditions in the Palestinian refugee camps, by descriptions of how Western military operations have killed many Arab civilians, and by the explanations of an Iranian living in the USA about how Arab resentment towards Western colonialism makes any Arab fighter a hero.
This movie was made almost 20 years ago at a time when most people in the West had almost no knowledge of Middle East affairs. As such it was fairly daring. Today we have much more knowledge and many more opinions due to the Gulf War, the 9/11-2001 terrorist attacks, the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the establishment of the Guantánamo Bay detainment camp and the on-going Iraq War.
Still, even though it is dated it is a pretty good movie for those who like thought-provoking stories that attempt to explain the terrorist mentality. The acting and direction is good and the story is believable.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com:3.5 out of 5 stars 2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 starsUncanny preview of coming attractions19 April 2013
By Sharon Edwards - Published on Amazon.com
Amazon Verified Purchase
This film was a fictional depiction of speculative future events and was pretty much right on target with ensuing actual events. The main actors' portrayals of opposing attorneys, judge, and defendant were vivid and believable.
3.0 out of 5 starsWATERSTON AND LIEBMAN ADD SUBSTANCE24 Nov 2013
By loyce - Published on Amazon.com
Amazon Verified Purchase
I am a fan of Liebman and Waterston and enjoy their authenticity especially Waterston. The courtroom scenes bogged down but the female judge held her own so I finished watching the entire film.