Mass Media Role in the United States of America Interventions
American society organised by and for an accelerated capitalism, with almost permanent war state of class interest, erodes a truly open democracy through extensive strategies in thought control. Hence, major United States of America media becomes the main tool for propaganda cultivation and public mobilisation in order to achieve a comfortable climate for the exploitation of other nations. It is highly evidenced in the case of Iraq War - one of the most intensively reported, though, one of the most fictitious wars as well. The American mass media corporations used a number of means such as media filters, embedding systems and military staged events to produce an extremely sanitized view that perfectly fitted Western demands and its patriotic portrayal. Even when the world was encountered with the leakage disclosing tragic photographs from Abu Ghraib prison, where the United States has used tactics such as murder and torture, media still remarkably failed to question government conduct and its justifications. And so, a national crime against the sovereign country has slipped not even unnoticeably, but with a strong public support.
Mass Media Role in the United States of America Interventions
By Gretė Tvarkūnaitė / filmsforaction.org

Mass Media Role in the United States of America Interventions

2016

Introduction

Washington blog (2015) released a year-by-year timeline revealing that the United States of America (U.S.) has been in conflict 222 out of 239 years of its existence and launched 201 out of 248 armed conflicts since the end of WWII. One of the uncomfortable consequences which flows out of it, as the American Journal of Public Health (2014, cited by Barker) notes, is that 85% to 90% of casualties caused by war are civilians. However, the U.S. maintains 700 to 1000 military bases or sites in more than 100 countries and is responsible for 41% of the world’s military spending what, if all military costs are included, annually amounts to $1 trillion.

Western public is probably not aware of these numbers as mass media has always been one of the most important governmental machineries in the production of foreign policies, international relationships and citizens’ worldviews. Journalist John Pilger (2014) states that: “We have war by media; censorship by media; demonology by media; retribution by media; diversion by media - a surreal assembly line of obedient clichés and false assumptions.” Indeed, Western ideology driven by the imperialistic agenda functions through the assumptions made on ubiquitous information without any fear of contradiction. Public perception is being distorted and also rationalized creating an absolutely false ‘new reality’. However, with the increase of new technologies, this technique has been both reinforced and challenged. Internet became a battlefield for the resistance to mass media as images and information that are spread became ever more difficult to control. This difficulty might be seen as a threat to National Security because of its capacity to reveal and question the contradictions of values, policies, actions and consequences. And yet, as modern mass media also produced a new set of news filters, the government still has a great control and tends to successfully withdraw the uncomfortable opposition.

Therefore, it is an urgency to question Western ideology and reveal crimes committed by the authoritarian elite as today we are facing a prospect of another major war. Forasmuch as America has such a long history of armed conflicts, there are some facts to learn in order to understand those ubiquitous visualizations, hidden agendas and myths that surround it more clearly. Therefore, this text will concentrate on the role of mass media in framing U.S. identity and foreign policy primary looking at E. S. Herman[1], N. Chomsky[2], L. Kennedy[3] and J. Pilger[4] critiques on the subject. To illustrate it more clearly, an analysis will explore the situation of journalism in the invasion of Iraq and deplorable consequences of embedding system. The resistance to elite given version in the mass media will also be discussed by investigating the representation of iconic imagery from Abu Ghraib prison disclosing tragic events against humanity.


[1] Professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania and a media analyst with a specialty in corporate and regulatory issues as well as political economy.

[2] Institute Professor Emeritus, linguist, cognitive scientist, historian, logician, social critic, political activist and a major figure in analytic philosophy.

[3] Professor of American Studies at UCD.

[4] Journalist, writer, documentary filmmaker.

 

Chapter 1: Media. Securing United States Vision

 

United States media covers a deep and complex connection to the construction of national identity and its international posture from the mid 19th century onwards. It is its function to inform, entertain and also to instil individuals with certain views, beliefs and codes of behaviour that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In other words, mass media promotes fake objectivity in order to support imperialistic class interests. Therefore, to fulfil this role, a felonious propaganda is required, that is, in fact, rooted in the nature of the Western world and have been debated since its origins.


The origins of journalism in the U.S. are bonded with documenting expansions, external and internal conflicts and the rise of American newspapers that defined the role of the nation and the role of the state. Magazines and newspapers, that became a central information transferor in the 20th century, created a golden age for photojournalism. However, for the representation of conflicts at that time, the word mythical[1] would be much more appropriate than real. For instance, in the interventions of the Latin America since the 1950s, media presence was simply banned when not wanted, as it was in Grenada (1983) or Panama (1989) (Kennedy, 2008). If it was not banned, then - strongly flavoured with the communism threat as it was in Guatemala under J. Arbenz or in Chile under S. Allende democratic governments (Martin & Pilger, 2007). It resulted in legitimately elected authorities being overthrown in most of the Latin American countries and replaced by pro-Washington fascist leaders such as E. R. Montt or A. Pinochet who represented military rule and killed hundreds of thousands of people [2]. And yet, U.S. President Ronald Reagan loudly glorified genocidal dictator E. R. Montt as a “man of great personal integrity and commitment” (1982, Cited by Martin & Pilger 2007). As a result, comfortable representations became ubiquitous and made a huge contribution to the ideologies and convictions perpetuating democratic and hegemonic beliefs of an emergent American order.


[1] Myth is a term that Roland Barthes used to describe ideological/cultural discourses. For instance, the mythic construction of the American Cowboy as a heroic individual.

[2] Philip Agee (CIA Agent 1957-1968) who participated in Latin America interventions commented (2007): “In the CIA we didn’t give a hoot about democracy. It was fine if a Government were elected and would co-operate with us. But if it didn’t, then democracy didn’t mean a thing to us, and I don’t think it means a thing today” (Martin & Pilger 2007).

 

Photographic examples from the Guatemala:

Cornell Capa, 1953. Billboard in Guatemala. Translation of billboard text: President Arbenz delivers on his promise – Campesino: here is your land. Defend it, care for it, cultivate it. 

Unknown, 1954. Arbenz was branded as a communist, humiliated and photographed before forced into exile.

Unknown, May 1982. Bodies of some of the 20 villagers killed near Salacuin, Guatemala. The Guatemalan army blamed leftist guerrillas for this massacre; survivors of other attacks carried out in the same region during this period blamed the army.

 

With the arrival of the digital era, management of information has inevitably changed. The Gulf War was the first war covered by live broadcasts, though, it primarily was the mass media channel CNN, which is famous for its close relationship with the authorities. Furthermore, it was also the first war to be introduced with the prior review and pool coverage system, which was devised by the U.S. Department of Defence, resolving never to let the Vietnam situation happen again[1]. Therefore, the new system included prior review and also required that a military escort accompanies every reporter in the field. This way, media had neither become a more comprehensive nor a more investigative repertoire, but firmly stayed tuned under the U.S. government conduct.


[1] During Vietnam War photojournalism changed into more contradictional representation, revealing the irony of democratic and hegemonic U.S. order. It strongly influenced public support decrease and afterwards the defeat, which resulted in North Vietnam, the communists, reuniting and gaining independence for Vietnam.

 

Photographic examples from the Vietnam War:

AP Photo/Nick Ut, June 8, 1972. Bombs with a mixture of napalm and white phosphorus jelly dropped by Vietnamese AF Skyraider bombers explode amidst homes in suspected Viet Cong (National Liberation Front - a political organization with its own army - that fought the United States and South Vietnamese governments) hiding places.

AP Photo/Nick Ut, June 8, 1972. South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing and the boy in the left lost his eye. 

AP Photo/Nick Ut, June 8, 1972. Television crews and South Vietnamese troops surround 9-year-old Kim Phuc on Route 1 near Trang Bang after she was burned by a misdirected aerial napalm attack. A South Vietnamese plane targeting suspected Viet Cong positions dropped its flaming napalm on the civilian village. 

AP Photo, 1966. Buddhist burns to death in an act of suicide protest against the government’s Catholic regime at the Dieu de Pagoda in Hue, South Vietnam. After the deposal and assassination of Diệm, the temple later became the center of anti-American and anti-war protests by Buddhists and students against the Vietnam War.

AP Photo, October 21, 1967. Anti-war protesters gather by the Reflecting Pool with the Washington Monument in the background, in Washington D.C. 

Figure 1.10: AP Photo, December 1965. Demonstrators in Berkeley, California march against the war in Vietnam.

 

Photographic examples from the Gulf War:

Unknown, 1990. President Bush visiting American troops in Saudi Arabia on Thanksgiving Day.

Turnley, 1991. American soldier, during Gulf War, poses on a destroyed Iraqi tank as oil wells burn in the background, ignited by fleeing Iraqi forces in Kuwait.

Jarecke, K., 1991. US soldiers in Kuwait during the Gulf war.

Unknown, 1991. Gulf War Victory Parade, Manhattan, New York City.

 

Therefore, as the nation has grown, what is not a natural but established, political and murderous progress – journalists have been systematically recording, rationalising and glorifying this growth. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky (1988) describe key factors that shape this media behaviour:

(I) the size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth, and profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms; (~) advertising as the primary income source of the mass media; (3) the reliance of the media on information provided by government, business, and "experts" funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of power; (4) "flak" as a means of disciplining the media; and (5) "anticommunism" as a national religion and control mechanism. These elements interact with and reinforce one another. The raw material of news must pass through successive filters, leaving only the cleansed residue fit to print.

To keep things simpler, ownership of the media recently is more concentrated and more globalised than ever before. It is allocated to the authority of six major worlds’ information companies controlling 90% of U.S. mass media including newspapers, magazines, books, radio, TV stations, movie studios, and much of the web news content. All those companies are prevailed by corporate and banking executives cooperating directly and indirectly with intelligence agencies, and thus, serving both wealthy business and special conservative interests (Solomon, 2014).

Advertising, as a primary mass media company’s income source, occupied all the possible spaces ‘commodifying’ the culture and strengthening the control even more. Typically, large advertising companies, in order not to distract the ‘buying mood’, will not sponsor complex programmes that engage in serious criticism of corporations, the military-industrial complex and government activities, corporate support of and benefits from the Third World tyrannies or such problems of environmental degradation.[1] Hence, this circumstance has resulted in even stronger controversy avoidance, radical decline of investigative analysis and reportage, rise of approved ‘experts’ and greater manageability by power centres and government (Chomsky & Herman, 1988).


[1] For instance, “Public-television station WNET lost its corporate funding from Gulf + Western in I985 after the station showed the documentary "Hungry for Profit," which contains material critical of multinational corporate activities in the Third World. Even before the program was shown, in anticipation of negative corporate reaction, station officials "did all we could to get the program sanitized" (according to one station source). The chief executive of Gulf + Western complained to the station that the program was "virulently anti-business if not anti-American," and that the station’s carrying the program was not the behaviour "of a friend" of the corporation. The London Economist says that "Most people believe that WNET would not make the same mistake again."” (Chomsky & Herman, 1988).

Photographic example of the commercialised war image:

Luis Sinco, November 10th, 2004. Fallujah, Iraq. A photograph of this soldier with a dirty face and cigarette dangling from his lips was picked up by the media and dubbed "The Marlboro Man".

 

Furthermore, all Radio-TV companies rely on the information provided by the authorities requiring licenses and franchises (Chomsky & Herman, 1988). This circumstance determines media’s dependency on the government as legal and even a necessity. Of particular concern is the symbiotic relationship between the military-industrial-media complex. As Normon Solomon (2005) explained a “military-industrial-media complex (…) extends to much of corporate media. (…) Often, media magnates and people on the boards of large media-related corporations enjoy close links - financial and social - with the military industry and Washington’s foreign policy establishment.” Consequently, as all main executives are privileged political and economic elite group members, they are strictly supposed to share perceptions and aspirations reflecting their own class interests and ideology.

For anyone who still dares to represent the uncomfortable truth in the Western world, there is a serious threat to be branded as a ‘communist’[1] or, more recently, a ‘terrorist sympathiser’[2] without any constructive arguments and logical explanation. In fact, none are needed, because when anti-communism or anti-terrorism “fervor is aroused, the demand for serious evidence in support of claims (…) abuses is suspended, and charlatans can thrive as evidential sources” (Chomsky & Herman, 1988). And thus, as the concept of ‘communist’ or ‘terrorist sympathiser’ is easily interpreted, it might be often used as a political-control mechanism against anybody who supports left or labour movements, advocates policies that threaten property interests or fights with the presence of fascism. This is more than predictable, as communism challenges the very roots of Western ideology and superior elite class status while the Middle East is the world’s queen of the black gold. Consequently, both must maintain an image of the ‘pivotal evil’ frightening and mobilising the public against an enemy, and so, elevating the divine power of the United States. Media is obligated to sustain this concept, and if they fail to conform, political cost might be heavy. Therefore “This causes them to behave very much like reactionaries” (Chomsky & Herman, 1988).

Hence, it is appropriate to claim that the 20th- 21st centuries have seen corporate state propaganda creating systematic major conflicts of interest and taking on a truly global initiative. Accordingly, critics constantly blame giant media hegemonies for refusing to spread newsworthy information as it is harmful to their other interests, and thus, merging news and entertainment, what is so called sensationalism. Furthermore, they are targeted as a leading force for the globalisation, or in other words, standardisation and Americanisation of the culture. Nevertheless, media has successfully created a huge transformation that has manifested in all areas of the culture and changed the entire mode of existence by putting humanity into the certain limits of identity, good life, right and wrong. Race, gender, class were separated, personal became political and people’s senses were overwhelmed by the new cult of ‘individualism’, leaving them absent minded consumers and supporters of Western products as well as ideology. As Pilger (2014) put it: “Today, this divine right [meaning U.S. National Security interests] is far more violent and dangerous than anything the Muslim world throws up, though perhaps its greatest triumph is the illusion of free and open information”.


[1]  For instance, R. Nixon administration described democrat J. Arbenz as well as G. W. Bush administration democrat H. Chávez as ‘communists’  because of their anti-capitalistic approaches (Martin & Pilger 2007).

[2] For instance, D. Cameron described J. Corbyn in 2015 as a ‘terrorist sympathiser’ for voting against further Syria bombing (Watt, 2014).

 

Chapter 2: Iraq. Manufacturing Consent with Embedded Spectacle

 

In the wake of war to end all wars[1] Edward Bernays[2] invented a definition ‘public relations’ as an euphemism for propaganda. Bernays (1928, p.9) explained that: “Intelligent manipulation of the masses is an invisible government which is the true ruling power in this country (…). We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested”. And so, when Western government launches foreign interventions media works as a propaganda mill highly cultivating American values such as the respect for human rights, economic development and democracy. This strategy tends to cause a patriotic sentiment that often evolves into the nationalistic ideology.  Thus, it is extremely strong on effect in mobilising the public, even though reality is usually very far from those altruistic aspirations.[3] It becomes particularly clear when looking at the fictitious War on Terror in Iraq, torture at Abu Ghraib prison and current influx into the country of multinational oil firms. This situation clearly reveals actual values of Western government: the control of resources, worldwide power status and global economy that serves major corporations interests. It is therefore appropriate to claim that Western public consent and support to invade a sovereign country was extremely simply, quickly and strongly manufactured. It was mainly achieved by the mass media using government’s provided information in day-to-day news, ‘experts’ and major innovation at the time - embedding system in photo/video/press journalism.

The whole fiction of the War on Terror in Iraq started in 2001. Just hours after the attacks on September 11, Donald Rumsfeld[4] said “My interest is to hit Saddam Hussein at the same time we go after al-Qaida. Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not” (cited in Washington’s Blog, 2012). Ten days after, U.S. President G.W. Bush was informed by a highly classified briefing from U.S. intelligence community, that according to the current and former officials and government records, there are no evidences linking Iraq and Saddam Hussein to the attacks, or Iraq connection to Al Qaeda (Washington’s Blog, 2012). And yet, the Bush administration claimed repeatedly for years that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Even after various commissions also debunked any connection, D. Cheney[5] was still claiming until 2009 (when he finally admitted the truth) that evidence of connection is “overwhelming”, that media was not ‘doing their homework’ in reporting such links and that commissions “probably” did not have information available to him (cited in Washington Blog, 2012). In addition, news coverage gave a much greater weight to the Bush administration’s fabrication about weapons of mass destruction which were based on documents provided by the CIA and the British government. Even though there was a lot of other information available, media simply discounted it and thus, acted as a propagandist extension of strategic government’s goals. In fact, United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter was saying as early as 1998, that all nuclear, biological or chemical facilities in Iraq has been sealed up (cited by Pilger, 2010). Further, U.S. courts forced Hillary Clinton[6] to reveal emails evidencing that T. Blair[7] and G.W. Bush plotted war on Iraq as well as lies about weapons of mass destruction one year before the invasion (Global Research News, 2015). Nevertheless, media still managed to remarkably insure comfortable attitudes towards elite class interests. 2003 polls show that 70% of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11 (Usatoday, 2003). 2006 polls show that 85% of the troops in Iraq believed being under mission “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9/11 attacks” (Nyhan, 2006). Sadly, even in 2013, polls show that the majority of the British public believe casualties in Iraq war reaches less than 10,000, while real number is closer to a million (Chomsky, 2013).


[1] World War one, a war so catastrophic that it became known as ‘The war to end all wars’.

[2] Confidante of president Woodrow Wilson.

[3] For instance, Major Joseph Blair who was a teacher of soldiers at the school of Americas, presented more as a boys’ scout camp, commented on the Doctrine that was taught: “if you want information you use physical abuse, false imprisonment, threats to family members, any method necessary to get what you want or you kill them. If you don’t, you simply assassinate them with one of your death squads” (Martin & Pilger 2007).

[4] United States Secretary of Defence 2001-2006.

[5] Vice President 2001-2009.

[6] United States Senator from New York 2001-2009.

[7] Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 1997-2007.

 

Since mass media can easily and massively increase the frequency and intenseness of government perception people’s opinion is not sovereign. Mark Fishman (1980, cited by Chomsky & Herman, 1988) calls this “the principle of bureaucratic affinity: only other bureaucracies can satisfy the input needs of a news bureaucracy”. Mass media is in constant need of reliable and steady news, and thereby their main focus becomes places where regular press conferences are held, leaks and rumours abound, and credible officials declare their important decisions. The State Department, The White House, The Pentagon are centres for such demand. In Fact, Pentagon holds a public information service which annual spending amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars. They provide the media organizations with the facilities to gather, advance copies of speeches, reports of perspectives and press releases, they schedule and organize press conferences and photography sessions, and ultimately, they employ them. Authors E. Herman and N. Chomsky (1988) note here is that: “Only corporate sector has the resources to produce public information and propaganda on the scale of the Pentagon and other governmental bodies”. And thus, in order to satisfy their main information and income sources, media will impart public with given information “even if they tell whoppers” (Chomsky & Herman, 1988). Furthermore, the government provides media with ‘experts’ in order to rationalise elite given version and ensure its prevalence indisputably. Henry Kissinger[1] (1969, cited by Chomsky & Herman, 1988) has pointed out that in this “age of the experts”, the “constituency” of the experts is “those who have a vested interest in commonly held opinions: elaborating and defining its consensus at a high level has, after all, made him an expert.”


[1] American diplomat and political scientist.

 

The scale of information manipulations extends far beyond media companies’ provision of day-to-day news and experts to such systems as embedding[1]. Donald Rumsfeld[2] endorsed this new system with the Pentagon oversight as a historic experiment. Embedded reporters[3] have to sign a contract declaring what and when they can report, with a promise not to report faces of the dead or injured, and anything that could compromise unit position. In return for this possibility, they are allowed close to the action, which means ‘spectacular’ stories. Moreover, the reporters are given military protection, which means that they are tied to a particular troop unit for the duration of the ‘embed’ for their own security. Some of U.S. editors and journalists cheered the experiment endorsing that it will create a “sense of immediacy and humanity” (O’Regan, 2003, cited by Kennedy, 2008, p.284). However, as Carne Ross[4] in the interview with Pilger commented (2010), journalists “more or less accepted our version of events” regarding the Iraq War. He also added that those who were in line with the government were treated with favouritism and named experts, whereas those who were against – were threatened or eliminated. Furthermore, since reporters were placed in very dangerous circumstances, they appreciated their protectors and often fell into a close relationship with their new comrades. As the system developed combining government imperatives and a set of rules evolved by soldiers, it produced a strongly controlled and sanitized view of war that perfectly fitted demands of Western mass media. For instance, several recent U.S. studies of a variety of photographic imagery of the Iraq War prove that the great majority of images belonged to “a highly restricted pattern of depiction limited largely to a discourse of military technological power and response” (Griffin 2004, cited by Kennedy, 2008, p.283). The overall level of undemocratic press appears in a 2003 study that shows how news disproportionately focused on pro-war sources and left out many anti-war sources (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting).


[1] A definite refinement compered with already existed of prior review and pool coverage system used in the Gulf War.

[2] U.S. Secretary of Defence (1975-1977 and 2001-2006), Counsellor to the President (1969-1973), White House Chief of Staff (1974-1975).

[3] Journalists, TV crews and photographers.

[4] Senior British foreign official.

 

Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, 2003. A study found that in the lead-up to the Iraq War, most sources were overwhelmingly in favor of the invasion.

 

Photographic examples from the embedded photographer:

Embedded photographer V. Laforet, March 10, 2003. Members of the crew pause near an F-14 Tomcat aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln as the sun set in the Persian Gulf.

Embedded photographer V. Laforet, November 3, 2003. Lieutenant commander and members of his VF-31 squad enjoyed the sunlight in their inflatable pool aside their F-14 Tomcats on the deck of the carrier in the Persian Gulf.

 

Of particular concern is the military’s management of the media that extents to war events being staged for cameras where photography and video become co-opted as a part of the military force. For instance, the opening attack in Iraq War, where the bloody fireworks display was supposed to threaten Iraq into surrender on 20th March 2003, was followed by ‘shock and awe’[1] giant echo chamber. There were airstrikes bombarding the capital Baghdad, whereas reporters, photographers and TV crews were deliberately placed into the Palestine Hotel on the other side of Tigris River, for the best view of the spectacle in order to broadcast U.S. military prowess to the rest of the world. The staging was replicated again, just in a much greater manner on 9th April 2003, symbolising the fall of Hussein government. Pilger (2010) commented:

“The apogee was the victorious entry into Baghdad, and the TV pictures of crowds cheering the felling of a statue of Saddam Hussein. Behind this façade, an American Psyops team successfully manipulated what an ignored US army report describes as a “media circus (with) almost as many reporters as Iraqis.””[2]


[1] Shock and awe (technically known as rapid dominance) is a military doctrine based on the use of overwhelming power and spectacular displays of force to paralyze the enemy's perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight. The doctrine was written by Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade in 1996 and is a product of the National Defense University of the United States. Term was used by many news coverages of Baghdad bombing.

[2] The iconic moment, that many people believed to be spontaneous, actually was managed and staged by U.S. Marines, one of the military psychological operation units and mass media. Psychological team used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqis to assist the U.S. military in removing Saddam Hussein’s statue while cameras reported the Iraqis welcoming Americans and holding up V-signs. In addition, the show of destruction was sensationalised to an extreme level by symbolically draping an American flag over the statue’s face, and thus showing not only the prowess, but the U.S. superiority as well.

 

Photographic examples of the military staged events:

Unknown, March 19, 2003. Attacks on Baghdad.

AP Photo/Jero me Delay, April 9, 2003. U.S. Marine cover the face of a statue of Saddam Hussein with an American flag before toppling the statue in downtown Baghdad, Iraq. Moments later the American flag was removed.

 

Yet, there also are some journalists who are less reticent and admit the sheer magnitude of embedding system privilege disadvantages. For instance, Amr Al-Mounaiery[1] said, “After this war, I realized that we in the media are the soldiers of politics. (…) I am proud that Abu Dhabi TV showed all sides, everything. You can see CNN showed only part of the war – their favorite part.” (cited by Hahn, J. 2004). Vincent Laforet[2] (2003), also commented: “My main concern was that I was producing images that were glorifying war too much. (…) I was afraid that I was being drawn into producing a public relations essay” (cited by Kennedy, 2008, p.284). Yet, Michael Kamber[3] (2008, cited by Stallabrass, 2008) described the situation most precisely:

“Today in Iraq there is so many things we can’t photograph anymore. Car bombings and suicide bombings are now off limits, it’s actually illegal to photograph those scenes. We can’t photograph wounded soldiers without their consent. We can’t photograph dead soldiers, coffins of dead soldiers… We can’t photograph battle-damaged vehicles, we can’t photograph hospitals, and morgues are off limits now. So pretty much everything that gives evidence that there is a war going on is almost impossible to photograph.”


[1] Abu Dhabi TV correspondent.

[2] Embedded photographer for New York Times.

[3] Photojournalist.

 

In fact, Charles Lynch[1], while commenting on American techniques of censorship and PR in WWII (1982), claimed already that media’s role is to create the impression of a just and perfect America and to make a mass industrialized warfare possible. He also stated: “We were a propaganda arm of our governments. At the start the censors enforced that, but by the end we were our own censors. We were cheerleaders” (cited by Louw, 2010, p.147).


[1] Correspondent.

 

It is valuable to finally hear acknowledgments from the embedded reporters, but it is extraordinary to see those who attempt to remain independent, even though they might not be published or even become a target. For instance, Dahr Jamail (2004) reported on the attacks on Fallujah city emphasizing that thousands were put to death, 60% of the city destroyed and, most importantly, white phosphorus bombs used against civilians what U.S. dared to deny for months (Democrasynow, 2005). Nevertheless, none of his information appeared in the American mass media. Furthermore, network Al-Jazeera, which is attempting to expose the brutality of the British and American invasions, had suffered bombings targeting their offices in Kabul, Afghanistan (2001) and Baghdad, Iraq (2003). Rageh Ommar in the interview with Pilger (2010) claims that they were “without doubt and categorically” targeted by the U.S. military “to shut them up and possibly kill them”. On the slaughter, after a year since invasion to Iraq started, Lt. Col Rick Long[1] was asked in the conference of the University of California (2004), why U.S. is embedding journalists within the military. The reply happened to be “Frankly, our job is to win the war. Part of that is information warfare. So we are going to attempt to dominate the information environment (…) Overall, we were very happy with the outcome” (cited by Kahn, 2004).


[1] The former head of media relations for the U.S. Marine Corps and manager of media boot camp in Quantico, Virginia, that prepared journalists for their assignments.

 

It is therefore appropriate that this governmental propaganda machine allows elite interests to triumph and prevail as a commonly held opinion. Such as in the case of the Iraq War where the elite version of events was eventually debunked, but the majority of people from the Western countries still have little idea of traumatic crimes committed by their government. Undoubtedly, it is the result of media failing to give a comprehensive coverage and lacking critical analyses as well as independence. Some journalists[1] argue that if more of them would question and investigate, if more would do their job – we would not have invaded Iraq (Pilger, 2010). However, in such a dangerous time as it is now, when people are subjected to control, to surveillance of their habits and routines, to lies and manipulations, the only hope left for trustful and vital information are leakages.


[1] Such as Charles Lewis, Dan Rather or David Rose.

 

Chapter 3: Leakages. Modern Phenomenon

 

George Orwell (1949) in his book 1984 invented a worldwide famous expression “Big Brother is watching you”. Today, with the help of new technologies like camera, mobile phone and internet, Big Brother might suffer a blowback and be watched as well. A few famous examples of glorious truth moments might be activities by Wikileaks and such people as Julian Assange[1], Edward Snowden[2] or Chelsea Manning[3]. In the case of the Iraq War, the truth time came on April 2004 and was carried out independently even by the mass media. On that day, the world was faced with the horrifying release of torture photographs disclosing tragic events against humanity. Images were implemented by the US military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison, where detainees were held mostly for opposing the US military occupation, and so, were humiliated, physically and sexually tortured, or even killed. And thus, such leakages are extraordinary as they provided and will provide a great base for critical, change seeking debates while cameras -discursive evidences. Nevertheless, in such deceit with its accelerating danger, truth telling is a very rare revolutionary act.


[1] Julian Assange is founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks who lives now in Ecuadorian embassy in London that granted him political asylum.

[2] Edward Snowden is former CIA employee who leaked huge amount of classified information from US and UK at 2013, revealing numerous global surveillance programs mostly run by NSA and Five Eyes in cooperation with telecommunication companies and European governments. Now he lives in Russia that granted him political asylum.

[3] Chelsea Manning is a former U.S. intelligence analyst, who criticised embedding system for leaving people with no way to evaluate the conduct of American officials and leaked a large set of sensitive documents at 2010, that were related to Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. In 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

 

More than 1800 images that extremely challenge U.S. social identity as a morally upright nation, have been digitally produced in Abu Ghraib prison.  Many of them spread across the Internet, regardless U.S. government efforts to prohibit their publication. And so, the administration of George W. Bush denied an involvement and tried to portray it as an isolated incident. Nevertheless, after multiple investigations, Red Cross, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch claimed that torture at Abu Ghraib was not isolated, but part of a wider brutal treatment pattern at American overseas detention centres. It was highly evidenced that the authorization for the abuse had come from the military and the highest levels of the U.S. government when documents, usually known as the Torture Memos, were leaked a few years later. These documents accredited certain enhanced interrogation techniques, including torture and abuse of foreign detainees, and were prepared shortly before the Iraq invasion by the U.S. Department of Justice as a top-secret program, code-named Copper Green. It was approved by the Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, the same man who endorsed the embedded system with the Pentagon oversight. He commented later (2004) on Abu Ghraib events saying that: “People are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photos and passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon” (Kennedy 2008, p. 287). Afterwards, he banned soldiers’ cameras and phones in military compounds in Iraq adding that a total ban throughout the US military is in the works (Mirzoeff, 2006).

It quickly appeared that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch raised warnings about events at Abu Ghraib prison as well as Iraqis had extensive information even before visual records became available. However, Western media simply disregarded oral testimony as not credible. At the same time, all kinds of visual images were freely circulated within the prison, used as screensavers and even emailed to family members and friends of officials as an expression of pride. For instance, video footage, showing American guards having sex with women inmates, was shown off to other military police. To implement the torture, American officials also used dogs against naked prisoners, attached electric wires to their body, covered them with phosphoric acid, forced them to eat pork and drink alcohol, beat them, threaten with rape and sexually humiliated while taking photographs of all this as souvenirs (Apel, 2005; Mirzoeff, 2006).

 

Photographic examples taken by the US soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison:

Unknown, n.d. A hooded and wired Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghraib prison who reportedly was told that he would be electrocuted if he fell off a box.

  

Unknown, n.d. Prisoner tortured to death packed in ice and S. Harman showing thumbs-up at Abu Ghraib prison.

 

Unknown, n.d. A baton-wielding US soldier appears to be ordering a naked detainee
covered in a "brown substance" to walk a straight line with his ankles handcuffed at Abu Ghraib prison. 

Unknown, n.d. An Iraqi prisoner and American military dog handlers. Other photographs show the Iraqi on the ground, bleeding at Abu Ghraib prison.

Unknown, n.d.  L. England with a cigarette dangling from her mouth giving a thumbs-up sign while pointing at the genitals of a naked and hooded young Iraqi who has been ordered to masturbate at Abu Ghraib prison. 

Unknown, n.d. L. England dragging a prisoner across the ground.

Unknown, n.d. The prisoner at Abu Ghraib. 

Unknown, n.d. The prisoner's back riddled with bullet holes from a shotgun.

Unknown, n.d. The prisoner at Abu Ghraib. 

Unknown, July 20, 2003. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with Brigadier general Janice Karpinski at Abu Ghraib prison.

 

In fact, the imperial body understands itself within pornographic scenarios of power and is best represented that way. Aristocracy has always had its salacious sights, proving their superiority since the beginning of politics in the Greek times where prosperity depended on slavery. And so, America has its long history of subaltern bodies suffering for the pleasure of their dominant groups. Above all the examples, Abu Ghraib photographs have most similarities with lynching photographs[1], particularly in the visible pleasure experienced by the torturers. As Abu Ghraib prison officials sent torture photographs to their friends and family, lynching photographs were produced as postcards and spread across the country (Bennett, Lawrence & Livingston, 2006). However, lynching was an open event while Abu Ghraib photographs were never supposed to be seen by the public. As N. Mirzoeff (2006) notes here, as a result of the development of modernity, the democratisation of culture produced a distinct category of pornography into which Abu Ghraib photographs fall. Category, where democracy is limited in regard to access to visual imagery of erotic global power, and only the imperial hierarchy has the permission to look.


[1] From the late XIX century till 1960s lynching (executions) took place in America as enforcement of white Anglo-American supremacy, mostly against African-American but also Mexican and Chinese men.

Photographic example of lynching postcards:

Unknown, 1920. A postcard showing the Duluth, Minnesota lynching. 

 

Yet, Abu Ghraib photographs also served a larger political function as a further tool of torture. Images were thoughtfully constructed, considering Arab cultural beliefs and shown to prisoners after in order to humiliate them even more. For instance, a photograph of human pyramid showing Charles Graner thumbs-up and Sabrina Harman widely smiling while posing behind the pile of naked and hooded men. Each man was undressed, beaten and then placed into the pyramid and the word “RAPIST” was written on the leg of one of the prisoners. "We thought it looked funny, so pictures were taken," England (one of the guards) told investigators (2004) (cited by Apel, 2005, p.96). The notorious pyramid photograph later was deliberately used as a screensaver on a computer at the prison Internet café evidencing pervert Americas understanding of itself within pornographic scenarios of power (Mirzoeff, 2006).

Photographic examples of human pyramids:

Unknown, n.d. C. Graner showing thumbs-up and S. Harman widely smiling while posing with their masterpiece – human pyramid – in Abu Ghraib prison.

Unknown, n.d. C. Graner and L. England showing thumbs-up next to the human pyramid in Abu Ghraib prison.

 

In Army field manual 34-52, titled Intelligence Interrogation (1992), the first principle is that “an individual’s value system is easier to bypass immediately after undergoing a significant trauma experience” (sec 3-1). “Fear-Up (Harsh)” technique can be used to “convince the source he does indeed have something to fear” and “no option but to cooperate” (sec. 3-16), or “Pride and Ego down” technique can be used to destroy “the source’s sense of personal worth. Any source who shows any real or imagined inferiority or weakness about himself (…) can easily be broken with this approach technique” (sec. 3-18). And so, both soldiers and FBI agents engaged in torture at Abu Ghraib considered themselves right and working within interrogation methods of Pride and Ego down technique (Apel, 2005; Mirzoeff, 2006). As Hardt and Negri (2004) put it (cited by Mirzoeff, 2006, p.26): “Torture is one central point of contact between police action and war; the torture techniques used in the name of police prevention take on all the characteristics of military action”.

The War Crimes Act determines the violation of Geneva Convections by engaging in inhumane treatment, torture or murder, whether civilian or military, as a federal crime. In addition, it applies not only to those who directly participated in these acts but also to those who order it and those who know about it but failed attempt stopping it. The penalty might be life imprisonment or even death. However, the Bush administration considered themselves above this law, and shamefully, they were right. Without any fear, the government demanded that the interrogators find evidence of an Iraq and al-Qaida connection by using a systematic torture program to obtain false confessions. “I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link,” Senator Levin said in a conference call with reporters (2009). “They made out links where they didn’t exist” (cited in Washington Blog, 2014). For instance, officials claimed that prisoner Zubaydah, who was suspected of being a high-ranking al-Qaida leader, told them about existent links between Saddam and O. bin Laden as well as a plot to attack Washington with a ‘dirty bomb’. Nevertheless, even the CIA now recognizes both claims as false. In addition, the commander of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Janis Karpinski, estimates that 90% of detainees in the prison were actually innocent (Washingtons Blog, 2014).

Donald Rumsfeld (March, 2003) while concerning the lack of evidence linking Iraq's government to the supply of terrorist groups with weapons of mass destruction engaged in a little bit of amateur philosophy:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know (Cited by Žižek, 2005).

However, there are people who preserve their understanding and are aware of the Western government conduct. Many of them are activists working towards social justice and such leakages provide them vital arguments for the analysis. One of them is Žižek[1] who commented (2004) on Rumsfeld philosophy by perfectly summing all Iraq War spectacle up:

What he forgot to add was the crucial fourth term: the "unknown knowns", things we don't know that we know - which is precisely the Freudian unconscious. If Rumsfeld thought that the main dangers in the confrontation with Iraq were the "unknown unknowns", the threats from Saddam we did not even suspect, the Abu Ghraib scandal shows where the main dangers actually are in the "unknown knowns", the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values. To unearth these "unknown knowns" is the task of an intellectual.


[1] Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London.

To conclude, in the mass media, much of the torture remains as invisible as does the war from which it is a metonym. Initially, CBS deliberately held its’ Abu Ghraib story for two weeks because of the Bush administration request. After, despite all the available sources and evidences, media failed to challenge the administration’s claim that it was an isolated case of iniquitous abuse, committed wholly by the low-level soldiers. On 2004 May 15, the Defence Department issued this punctuating statement: ‘‘No responsible official of the Department of Defence approved any program that could conceivably have been intended to result in such abuses’’ (cited from Bennett, Lawrence & Livingston, 2006, p.480). Torture frame had its quick demise in the mass media and no senior figure has yet been held to account for the criminal activity. In addition, during the subsequent election campaigns, the Abu Ghraib issue was not even mentioned, and so, John Howard was re-elected in the Australia, George W. Bush in the America and Tony Blair for the third time in the Britain. Therefore, it is appropriate to claim that level to which media has its independence deprives its role as a ‘watchdog’, that is vital to democratic theory, and instead, enables it as a ‘guard dog’ of Western political establishment. Yet, it was proven throughout our history, with such people as Martin Luther King, that with enough courage, it is possible to implement even the most deniable but humanly social justice. And thus, it is not to forget, that leakages or comprehensive photo/video/press journalism, when in the hands of intellectuals, could still make a huge change.

 

Conclusion

 

American civilization can be characterised as nation that is equipped with vast amounts of weaponry and technological power but that is underpinned by a sense of alienation and the cult of ‘individualism.’ It is perhaps inevitable that this selfishness perpetuates a desire for conquest and destruction as the only possible outcome. And thus, state of war of class interests is almost permanent in the United States and propaganda is no longer an “invisible government” as Edward Bernays (1928, p.9) called it. Therefore, to the most powerful Western world rulers any alternative inference with the dominant discourse of free-market globalisation is intolerable. Just as Iraq’s actual crime was not the oppressive nature of its government, but Saddam Hussein’s increasingly independent stance that conflicted with American foreign policy in the region. The role of the mass media within this process of exploitation and oppression is not to be an independent information spreader, but a systematic and highly political propagandist power, promoting lies that lead us to these wars without any fear of contradiction. As long as a highly unequal and unfair social and economic system remains, dominant elites will have to justify themselves. Therefore, traditional media will remain sanitized by using filters of ownership, advertising, reliance on government, flak and manipulation of anticommunism and antiterrorism definitions as well as embedding system. In the information age, major media has the main role in fixing discourses, interpretations and, most importantly, the definition of what is newsworthy. As such, their behaviour promotes a particular perspective that serves an increasingly isolated global elite at the expense of a more collective sense of a shared existence. In conjunction, media institutions have also morphed into global corporations whose unspoken function is to make vast profits for their shareholders. In the face of such global dominance, alternative media struggles to survive and such leakages as imagery from Abu Ghraib prison seems almost invisible. The logic here is straightforward: a society organised by and for an accelerated capitalism, erodes a truly open democracy, through extensive strategies in thought control. Therefore, as Noam Chomsky (1989, p.8) said: “Citizens of the democratic societies should undertake a course of intellectual self defence to protect themselves from manipulation and control, and to lay the basis for meaningful democracy” while leakages will continue to provide them a great base for critical debates and cameras - discursive evidences. 

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

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