Rebellion in the British Army

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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 he accuses
the media’s "embedded coverage with the US Army" of failing
to question "the intentions and continuing effects of the US-led
invasion and occupation." He says most British soldiers regard
their tours as "loathsome," during which they "reluctantly
[provide] target practice for insurgents, senselessly haemorrhaging
casualties and squandering soldiers’ lives, as part of Bush’s vain
attempt to delay the inevitable Anglo-US rout until after the next
US 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 today.

What is different
about Iraq is the willingness of usually obedient British soldiers
to speak their minds, from General Richard Dannatt, Britain’s current
military chief, who said that the presence of his troops in Iraq
"exacerbates the security problem," to General 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 defence 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 per cent 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

There is a
last-ditch sense about this kind of propaganda. Seymour Hersh said
recently, "[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 co-ordination of these
groups, but the press keeps going ga-ga about al-Qaeda . . . it’s
just amazing to me."

Ga-ga day at
the London Guardian was 22 May. "Iran’s secret plan
for summer offensive to force US 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 US Congress into voting for
full military withdrawal, US officials say." The entire tale
was based on anonymous US official sources. No attempt was made
to substantiate their "firm evidence" or explain the illogic
of their claims. No journalistic scepticism 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.

6, 2007

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
, is
published by Jonathan Cape in June. This article was first published
in the New Statesman.

John Pilger 2007

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