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Breaking the Silence: Truth and Lies in the War on Terror (2003)

A critical documentary about the war on terror since 9-11.

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The documentary investigates George W Bush's "war on terror". In "liberated" Afghanistan, America has its military base and pipeline access, while the people have the warlords who are, says one women, "in many ways worse than the Taliban". In Washington, a series of remarkable interviews includes senior Bush officials and former intelligence officers. In the week that the Hutton inquiry into the death of the British scientist Dr David Kelly releases its report, a former senior CIA official tells Pilger that the whole issue of weapons of mass destruction was "95 per cent charade". Written by Ørnås

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22 September 2003 (Australia)  »

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Fascinating but judgemental documentary (spoilers)
3 February 2004 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

John Pilger is a world-renowned journalist, writer and film-maker. Throughout his life and works, he has been mainly concerned with the effects of great power on ordinary people across the continents. The man has credentials. He's discussed the genocidal reign of Pol Pot in Cambodia, the illegal invasion of East Timor, he lived through and reported the Vietnam War, and has raised awareness of the repressed Aborigine peoples in his native Australia.

One of Pilger's great strengths is his tendency to divulge information and views that differ from the what we usually hear in the mainstream media. What he often has to say jars to the bone, making him essential viewing or reading for everyone interested in international politics. He might best be described as a populist figure, always siding with the people and caring little for the views and positions of businessmen politicians.

It is worth reading Pilger's books, the most recent of which is "The New Rulers of the World" (2002) and his many published articles for journals and magazines, especially "The New Statesman". These go into much greater depth and are far better sourced than his TV work. Sadly this documentary plays as much to Pilger's weaknesses as a reporter as it plays to his strengths.

At first the title for this documentary might seem a bit odd. There is hardly been any silence over the so-called "War On Terror" with public debate and protest over recurring military action being especially rife. But silence for Pilger is about what is not seen or heard, or is not seen or heard enough.

As Pilger says in his documentary, he has spent much of his life in places of upheaval and it is in these environments that he is in his element. Pilger is very good at outlining the plight of peoples in Central Asia, especially Afghanistan. His focusing on one Afghan woman, Orifa, plays on guilt a little bit but does portray Afghans in more depth than is usually seen in the news.

Pilger is also good at showing the plight of US political prisoners randomly rounded up and imprisoned without any legal or civil rights. This is contrasted with the prison commander's relaxed and everyday attitude towards his prisoners that politely conceals what is really happening to them. Another good moment is Pilger elaborating on American history of US military intervention into other countries to serve its own interests. This is especially relevant with the recent war on Iraq.

Whereas Pilger is very good at showing what is wrong with the "War On Terror" and its ill effects on the rest of the world, he becomes judgemental when interviewing people (academics, politicians and civilians) who try to explain it. When Pilger is interviewing someone whose views tally with his own, he lets them speak freely. However, when Pilger's talking to someone it's clear he doesn't like (usually a politician) he as good as rams accusations right down their throats. He's not completely at fault for doing this, as the politicians he interviews give sometimes vague responses to his probing questions and his interviews are now and again cut short. What Pilger would be better off doing is carefully questioning each interviewee, then backing each interview up with evidence that either supports or refutes what they say. Unbelievably, he does not do this, rendering this part of his documentary uneven.

Having said all that, it is worth watching to see the effects of the war on terror on the peoples of Afghanistan. These people, their voices rarely heard in the British media, certainly deserve our sympathy and respect.

It will be interesting to see, in print or on screen, what Pilger makes of the occupation of the Iraq, the Hutton report and the only just announced inquiry into WMD intelligence. In spite of his flaws, Pilger is a riveting reporter and whatever he has to say will be interesting and insightful.


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