An experienced British officer serving in Iraq
has written to the BBC describing the invasion as "illegal, immoral, and
unwinnable," which, he says, is "the overwhelming feeling of many
of my peers." In a letter to the BBC's Newsnight and MediaLens.org
he accuses the media's "embedded coverage with the U.S. Army" of failing
to question "the intentions and continuing effects of the U.S.-led invasion
and occupation." He says most British soldiers regard their tours as "loathsome,"
during which they "reluctantly [provide] target practice for insurgents,
senselessly hemorrhaging casualties and squandering soldiers' lives, as part
of Bush's vain attempt to delay the inevitable Anglo-U.S. rout until after the
next U.S. election." He appeals to journalists not to swallow "the
official line/White House propaganda."
In 1970, I made a film in Vietnam called The Quiet Mutiny in which
GIs spoke out about their hatred of that war and its "official line/White
House propaganda." The experiences in Iraq and Vietnam are both very different
and strikingly similar. There was much less "embedded coverage" in
Vietnam, although there was censorship by omission, which is standard practice
What is different about Iraq is the willingness of usually obedient British
soldiers to speak their minds, from Gen. Richard Dannatt, Britain's current
military chief, who said that the presence of his troops in Iraq "exacerbates
the security problem," to Gen. Michael Rose who has called for Tony Blair
to be impeached for taking Britain to war "on false grounds"
remarks that are mild compared with the blogs of squaddies.
What is also different is the growing awareness in the British forces and the
public of how "the official line" is played through the media. This
can be quite crude: for example, when a BBC defense correspondent in Iraq described
the aim of the Anglo-American invasion as "bring[ing] democracy and human
rights" to Iraq. The director of BBC Television, Helen Boaden, backed him
up with a sheaf of quotations from Blair that this was indeed the aim, implying
that Blair's notorious word was enough.
More often than not, censorship by omission is employed: for example, by omitting
the fact that almost 80 percent of attacks are directed against the occupation
forces (source: the Pentagon) so as to give the impression that the occupiers
are doing their best to separate "warring tribes" and are crisis managers
rather than the cause of the crisis.
There is a last-ditch sense about this kind of propaganda. Seymour Hersh said
"[In April, the Bush administration] made a decision that because of
the totally dwindling support for the war in Iraq, they would go back to the
al-Qaeda card, although there's no empirical basis. Most of the pros will tell
you the foreign fighters are a couple of per cent and they're sort of leaderless
there's no attempt to suggest there's any significant coordination of
these groups, but the press keeps going gaga about al-Qaeda
amazing to me."
Gaga day at the London Guardian was May 22. "Iran's secret plan
for summer offensive to force U.S. out of Iraq," said the front-page banner
headline. "Iran is secretly forging ties with al-Qaeda elements and Sunni
Arab militias in Iraq," wrote Simon Tisdall from Washington, "in preparation
for a summer showdown with coalition intended to tip a wavering U.S. Congress
into voting for full military withdrawal, U.S. officials say." The entire
tale was based on anonymous U.S. official sources. No attempt was made to substantiate
their "firm evidence" or explain the illogic of their claims. No journalistic
skepticism was even hinted, which is amazing considering the web of proven lies
spun from Washington over Iraq.
Moreover, it had a curious tone of something-must-be-done insistence, reminiscent
of Judith Miller's scandalous reports in the New York Times claiming
that Saddam was about to launch his weapons of mass destruction and beckoning
Bush to invade. Tisdall in effect offered the same invitation; I can remember
few more irresponsible pieces of journalism. The British public and the people
of Iran deserve better.