More Dissent, More Censorship

A quarter of a million people jammed the streets of the capital this past weekend, as Mr. Bush conveniently found himself visiting the US Northern Command’s HQ in Colorado Springs.

While veterans from the current debacle in Iraq and scores of military families who oppose the Bush Junta joined the throngs of protestors in Washington DC to express their dissent, there were other goings-on related to Iraq while Bush had his photo-op in Colorado.

A contractor I know working in Iraq wrote me recently. He gives me periodic updates about how life is on the base where he works in support of the military. He wrote:

“Another convoy hit hard-3 drivers killed and many others wounded- I don’t know if it’s my friends yet. They don’t like to advertise these kinds of things much around here because they cause the exit planes to fill up – the only problem is, there are more plane loads waiting in Houston [to come here]. The gullible waiting for their chance at the tarnished brass ring. [Me and my friends] agree this countries’ policies of oil have led us down the path of Armageddon.”

At least 1,917 US soldiers have died in Iraq now, 16 just in the last week. At least 10 times that number have been wounded for life, both physically and psychologically.

Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that so many people marched in the capital this weekend, nor that so many of them are veterans and family members who have simply had enough of this. The people I spoke with at the demonstration expressed feelings of anger and impatience towards this so-called administration.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise, either, to have seen a sign in the demo with a little pretzel drawn on it which read, “Give the pretzel another chance!”

The recent news of a few brave soldiers from the 82nd Airborne speaking out (on condition of anonymity in a Human Rights Watch report) about how they “vented their frustration by systematically torturing Iraqi detainees from 2003 into 2004, hitting them with baseball bats and dousing them with chemicals” may have shocked some people here in the US. However, it isn’t news to soldiers in Iraq, of course, or for Iraqis for that matter.

A soldier currently in Iraq who works as a medic wrote me a few days ago:

“I do sick-call for the detainees. Right now, I think they have mechanics guarding the detainees. I’ve talked to them a couple of times and they’ve made comments like “if they were detained, they are probably bad…” A couple of times I’ve pointed out that: 1) they might very well be innocent and 2) that they are still human. The guards seemed to really acknowledge that. But it’s almost like everyone knows the emperor is naked, but are trying to cling to the idea that he is wearing new clothes. When someone points out that he might be naked, it gives them the freedom to acknowledge that as well. The real travesty, I think, is the American people. With no exposure to Iraqis, all they see on the news is that we are killing the bad guys, and they don’t see the refugee camps, or how we trash cities (collateral damage seems a nice phrase, because it’s not their homes which are being destroyed. Not the sons and daughters of their friends who are being killed.) They don’t see the casual way most soldiers feel about destroying property. All they see is what they are told, and unless it’s stamped with a corporations seal, it lacks legitimacy in their eyes and it gets relegated to an “extremist position.””

My friends’ opinion of the misleading of the American people by the corporate media about the horrific reality in Iraq applies in other countries as well. Bush Administration pressure on the media is not limited to within the US.

In a previous weblog, I wrote about how a newspaper in Turkey had been pressured by the US Embassy to run fewer news stories about Iraq from journalists like myself, Robert Fisk and Naomi Klein.

Last night, here in DC, I spoke with Stelios Kouloglou, a journalist with Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation in Greece. His program on the public television station has won several awards for investigative journalism and remains extremely popular in his country.

On the one year anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, April of 2004, his station broadcast a documentary he produced entitled, “25 Lies to Sell the War,” a title which needs no explanation to anyone who is not fully encapsulated in denial.

“I found out through a leak that the US embassy in Greece was applying political pressure to our government in order for them to pressure my television station for running my documentary,” he told me at his hotel.

“It became clear, after your election in ’04 when Bush stayed in office, that his administration became much more aggressive,” he explained. “The US embassy began asking for our program to be discontinued. They were telling this not just to our program spokesperson, but directly to our government! Their protest took a much more official character, and they did not even attempt to conceal this.”

Being a journalist for 25 years and having covered the war in Yugoslavia as well as having worked in Moscow during Perestroika, he said this type of overt political pressure to be a first for him.

“I’ve never experienced political pressure like this, not even in Russia when I was being critical of Gorbachev, nor in Yugoslavia when I was being extremely critical of Milosevic,” he added.

More recently and a bit closer to home here in the US, Doug Ireland writes:

“The internationally renowned correspondent for The Independent – the great British journalist [and citizen] Robert Fisk – has been banned from entering the United States. Fisk has been covering war zones for decades, but is above all known for his incisive reporting from the Middle East for more than 20 years. His critical coverage of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, and the continuing occupation that has followed it, has repeatedly exposed US and British government disinformation campaigns. He also has exposed how the bulk of the press reports from Iraq have been “hotel journalism” – a phrase Fisk coined.”

He continues:

“The daily New Mexican reports that “U.S. immigration officials refused Tuesday [20 September] to allow Robert Fisk, longtime Middle East correspondent for the London newspaper, The Independent, to board a plane from Toronto to Denver. Fisk was on his way to Santa Fe for a sold-out appearance in the Lannan Foundation’s readings-and-conversations series on Wednesday night. According to Christie Mazuera Davis, a Lannan program officer, Fisk was told that his papers were not in order. Davis made last-minute arrangements Wednesday for Amy Goodman, host of Pacifica Radios daily news show, Democracy Now!, to interview Fisk via satellite from a television station in Toronto…” A recording of this satellite interview will soon be available on the Lannan Foundation’s website.”

As we prepared to leave his hotel last night, my colleague Stelios Kouloglou half-jokingly offered, “You can come visit Greece anytime, whether for vacation or for political asylum.”

I only half-laughed as I shook his hand.