“Light ’em all up,” comes the voice on the radio as we see footage from an Apache gunship over Baghdad in 2007. A group of men are then mown down by machine gun fire. “Nice,” continues the voice, impressed at the carnage. This footage was never before shown on TV.
This is the war we don’t see – the daily violence of the “war on terror”. Instead we are served a diet of false stories about weapons of mass destruction and imminent terrorist attacks, repeated on loop 24 hours a day and awarded an unquestioning reverence.
One of the most staggering things about John Pilger’s new film is the people he interviews. The BBC’s Rageh Omaar was in Baghdad at the start of the Iraq war, where he reported the joy of Iraqis at their “liberation”. Omaar admits that the BBC’s compliance in the lies of Washington and London was part of the media’s use as cheerleader of the conflict. “I didn’t really do my job properly,” he says candidly.
Pilger also speaks to Dan Rather, who was the CBS anchor for 23 years. Despite being known for his earlier investigative journalism, he is here reminded about an appearance he made on the David Letterman talk show, where he said, “George Bush is the president and he makes the decisions and, you know, as just one American, wherever he wants me to line up just tell me where and he’ll make the call.” But now he echoes Omaar’s sentiment – that he was part of a web of deceit. Had the media done its job “we could have avoided war”, he says.
Pilger highlights the mutual back-scratching between lobby journalists clinging to their anonymous sources like limpets – broadcasting every lie without critique – garnished with only token opposition to offer the illusion of impartiality. He also hears stories of direct pressure from states such as Israel, and the embedding of journalists who sign away their right to report the truth.
In typical Pilger style, the lies are not only systematically dismantled, but then thrown back in the faces of the perpetrators. It’s satisfying to see the liars and their accomplices held to account – you almost feel sorry for the BBC head of newsgathering, Fran Unsworth, who squirms and babbles her excuses after being confronted with evidence of the corporation’s pro-Israel bias.
This is also a refreshing tribute to the independent journalists who risk their lives to report the truth. Making an appearance are Dahr Jamail, who blogged from Iraq during the war, and photojournalist Guy Smallman, who reported the horrors of the “good war” in Afghanistan (and who you may recognise from his photo credits in this magazine). Also featured is a timely interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, whose grasp of the pure viciousness of imperialism illustrates just why the US is so desperate to shut him up.
What’s most frustrating about The War You Don’t See is the fact that it isn’t being played on a constant loop on the news channels as atonement for their complicity in inflicting untold misery around the world and then turning a blind eye to the consequences.
A new book by Paul O’Brien
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