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ABOUT THE AUTHOR John Pilger is one of the world's most renowned and distinguished investigative journalists and documentary film-makers. Twice a winner of Britain's highest honour, that of Journalist of the Year, he writes for newspapera around the world and for Britain's New Statesman magazine. His latest book is Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and its Triumphs (Random House UK)
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23. November 2 , 2006
On 14 November, Bridget Ash wrote to the BBC’s Today programme asking why the invasion of Iraq was described merely as “a conflict”. She could not recall other bloody invasions reduced to “a conflict”. She received this reply:
22. November 2 , 2006
On 17 October, President Bush signed a bill that legalised torture and kidnapping and effectively repealed the Bill of Rights and habeas corpus. The CIA can now legally abduct people and “render” them to secret prisons in countries where they are likely to be tortured. Evidence extracted under torture is now permissible in “military commissions”; people can be sentenced to death based on testimony beaten out of witnesses. You are now guilty until confirmed guilty. And you are a “terrorist” if you commit what George Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, called “thoughtcrimes”. Bush has revived the prerogatives of the Tudor and Stuart monarchs: the power of unrestricted lawlessness. “America can be proud,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the bill’s promoters, who stood with other congressmen, clapping as Bush signed away the American constitution and the essence of American democracy.
21. October 12, 2006
In a show trial whose theatrical climax was clearly timed to promote George W Bush in the American midterm elections, Saddam Hussein was convicted and sentenced to hang. Drivel about “end of an era” and “a new start for Iraq” was promoted by the usual false moral accountants, who uttered not a word about bringing the tyrant’s accomplices to justice. Why are these accomplices not being charged with aiding and abetting crimes against humanity? Why isn’t George Bush Snr being charged?
20. September 15, 2006
The great Chilean balladeer Victor Jara, who was tortured to death by the regime of General Pinochet 33 years ago, wrote a song that mocks those who see themselves as rational and liberal, yet so often retreat into the arms of authority, no matter its dishonesty and brutality to others.
19. September 15, 2006
When I began working as a journalist, there was something called “slow news”. We would refer to “slow news days” when “nothing happened” – apart from, that is, triumphs and tragedies in faraway places where most of humanity lived. These were rarely reported, or the tragedies were dismissed as acts of nature, regardless of evidence to the contrary. The news value of whole societies was measured by their relationship with “us” in the west and their degree of compliance with, or hostility to, our authority. If they didn't measure up, they were slow news.
18. September 8, 2006
My first documentary for television was The Quiet Mutiny, made in 1970 for Granada. It was an unusual film, laced with irony and farce, rather like a factual Catch-22, and shot in a gentle, almost lyrical style by George Jesse Turner. The story was something of a scoop: America’s huge army in Vietnam was disintegrating as angry conscripts brought their rebellion at home to the battlefields of Vietnam. The film’s evidence of soldiers shooting their officers and refusing to fight caused a furore among the guardians of official truth. The American ambassador to Britain, Walter Annenberg, a crony of President Richard Nixon, phoned Sir Robert Fraser, director of the Independent Television Authority (ITA). Although he had not seen the film, Sir Robert was apoplectic. Summoning Granada executives, he banged his desk and described me as “a bloody dangerous subversive” who was “anti-American”. This puzzled Lord Bernstein, Granada’s liber tarian founder, who protested that The Quiet Mutiny had received high praise from the public and, far from being anti-American, had shown only sympathy for the despair of young GIs caught up in a hopeless war. When I flew to New York and showed it to Mike Wallace, the star reporter of CBS’s 60 Minutes, he agreed. “Real shame we can’t show it here,” he said.
17. August 30, 2006
Here in the west, we have much to learn from resistance movements in dangerous places and their tactics of informed direct action. In researching a new film, I have been watching documentary archive from the 1980s, the era of Ronald Reagan and his “secret war” against Central America. What is striking is the relentless lying. A department of lying was set up under Reagan with the coy name, “office of public diplomacy”. Its purpose was to dispense “white” and “black” propaganda – lies – and to smear journalists who told the truth. Almost everything Reagan himself said on the subject was false. Time and again, he warned Americans of an “imminent threat” from the tiny impoverished nations that occupy the isthmus between the two continents of the western hemisphere. “Central America is too close and its strategic stakes are too high for us to ignore the danger of governments seizing power with military ties to the Soviet Union,” he said. Nicaragua was “a Soviet base” and “communism is about to take over the Caribbean”. The United States, said the president, “is engaged in a war on terrorism, a war for freedom”.
16. August 17, 2006
If the alleged plot to attack airliners flying from London is true – remember the lies that led to the invasion of Iraq, and to the raid on a “terrorist cell” in east London – then one person ultimately is to blame, as he was on 7 July last year. They were Blair’s bombs then; who doesn’t believe that 52 Londoners would be alive today had the Prime Minister refused to join Bush in his piratical attack on Iraq? A parliamentary committee has said as much, as have MI5, the Foreign Office, Chatham House and the polls.
15. July 27, 2006
The National Museum of American History is part of the celebrated Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Surrounded by mock Graeco-Roman edifices with their soaring Corinthian columns, rampant eagles and chiselled profundities, it is at the centre of Empire, though the word itself is engraved nowhere. This is understandable, as the likes of Hitler and Mussolini were proud imperialists, too: on a “great mission to rid the world of evil”, to borrow from President Bush.
14. June 22, 2006
In my 1994 film Death of a Nation there is a scene on board an aircraft flying between northern Australia and the island of Timor. A party is in progress; two men in suits are toasting each other in champagne. “This is an historically unique moment,” effuses Gareth Evans, Australia’s foreign affairs minister, “that is truly uniquely historical.” He and his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, were celebrating the signing of the Timor Gap Treaty, which would allow Australia to exploit the oil and gas reserves in the seabed off East Timor. The ultimate prize, as Evans put it, was “zillions” of dollars.
13. June 15, 2006
Arthur Miller wrote, “Few of us can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied.”
12. May 28, 2006
The long, wide, bleak streets of cobblestones and tufts of petrified grass reach for the sacred mountain Illimani, whose pyramid of snow is like a watchtower. There was almost no life here when I first came to Bolivia as a young reporter – only the freezing airport and its inviting oxygen tent; now almost a million people live in El Alto, the highest city in the world, the creation of modern capitalism.
11. May 18, 2006
I watched the BBC Ten O’Clock News (May 17). Having just returned from an assignment in faraway places, it was, as ever, salutary to see how Britain’s state broadcaster presents news to millions of people who do not enjoy the privilege I, and the BBC’s representatives, share that of being allowed to go and find out what and why things happen. Neither the “what” nor the “why” was evident in this bulletin; indeed, it wasn’t so much news as a series of pronouncements by the spokespeople of the spokespeople, to paraphrase Orwell or Brecht.
10. May 13, 2006
I have spent the past three weeks filming in the hillside barrios of Caracas, in streets and breeze-block houses that defy gravity and torrential rain and emerge at night like fireflies in the fog. Caracas is said to be one of the world’s toughest cities, yet I have known no fear; the poorest have welcomed my colleagues and me with a warmth characteristic of ordinary Venezuelans but also with the unmistakable confidence of a people who know that change is possible and who, in their everyday lives, are reclaiming noble concepts long emptied of their meaning in the west: “reform”, “popular democracy”, “equity”, “social justice” and, yes, “freedom”.
9. May 7, 2006
The lifts in the New York Hilton played CNN on a small screen you could not avoid watching. Iraq was top of the news; pronouncements about a “civil war” and “sectarian violence” were repeated incessantly. It was as if the US invasion had never happened and the killing of tens of thousands of civilians by the Americans was a surreal fiction. The Iraqis were mindless Arabs, haunted by religion, ethnic strife and the need to blow themselves up. Unctuous puppet politicians were paraded with no hint that their exercise yard was inside an American fortress.
8. April 24, 2006
During the 1970s, I filmed secretly in Czechoslovakia, then a Stalinist dictatorship. The dissident novelist Zdenek Urbánek told me, “In one respect, we are more fortunate than you in the west. We believe nothing of what we read in the newspapers and watch on television, nothing of the official truth. Unlike you, we have learned to read between the lines, because real truth is always subversive."
7. April 17, 2006
People ask: Can this be happening in Britain? Surely not. A centuries-old democratic constitution cannot be swept away. Basic human rights cannot be made abstract Those who once comforted themselves that a Labour government would never commit such an epic crime in Iraq might now abandon a last delusion, that their freedom is inviolable. If they knew.
6. March 23, 2006
The war lovers I have known in real wars have usually been harmless, except to themselves. They were attracted to Vietnam and Cambodia, where drugs were plentiful. Bosnia, with its roulette of death, was another favorite. A few would say they were there “to tell the world”; the honest ones would say they loved it. “War is fun!” one of them had scratched on his arm. He stood on a land mine.
5. March 9, 2006
In 1993, I and four others travelled clandestinely across East Timor to gather evidence of the genocide committed by the Indonesian dictatorship. Such was the depth of silence about this tiny country that the only map I could find before I set out was one with blank spaces stamped “Relief Data Incomplete”. Yet few places had been as defiled and abused by murderous forces. Not even Pol Pot had succeeded in despatching, proportionally, as many people as the Indonesian tyrant Suharto had done in collusion with the “international community”.
4. February 28, 2006
The other day, one of my favourite cinemas closed down. The boards went up on the art-deco Valhalla in Sydney, one of the world’s best at putting out powerful, political documentaries. The lack of fuss might have seemed surprising in a city whose iconic Opera House is said to embody modern Australia’s pride in the arts. On the contrary, the closure reflected a more general shutting down.
3. February 10, 2006
Has Tony Blair, our minuscule Caesar, finally crossed his Rubicon? Having subverted the laws of the civilised world and brought carnage to a defenceless people and bloodshed to his own, having lied and lied and used the death of a hundredth British soldier in Iraq to indulge his profane self-pity, is he about to collude in one more crime before he goes?
2. January 23, 2006
Shortly after Christmas, the Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer died in his mansion overlooking Sydney Harbour, guarded by large, salivating dogs. In Britain, he was remembered as the man who brought hoopla and money to cricket. Here, in Australia, his death provided a glimpse of the changes imposed on societies that once were proud to call themselves social democracies.
1. January 2, 2006
On Christmas Eve, I dropped in on Brian Haw, whose hunched, pacing figure was just visible through the freezing fog. For four-and-a-half years, Brian has camped in Parliament Square with a graphic display of photographs that show the terror and suffering imposed on Iraqi children by British policies. The effectiveness of his action was demonstrated last April when the Blair government banned any expression of opposition within a kilometre of parliament. The high court subsequently ruled that, because his presence preceded the ban, Brian was an exception.
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