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“The Press Will Once Again Serve Primarily as the Mouthpiece for the Government”: As Journalists Prepare to “Embed” with U.S. Troops to Cover War on Iraq, We Talk with Veteran War Correspondents

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The Pentagon recently announced guidelines for “embedding” reporters among troops in the upcoming war with Iraq. Last month, the Pentagon held a briefing for more than 50 bureau chiefs in Washington, D.C., to lay out guidelines for how journalists will cover the new war on Iraq. Under the plan, select reporters would live side by side with combat troops on the battlefront.

Reporters and photographers have been receiving special field training. Over the last few months they have been climbing ropes, riding in helicopters, crawling on their bellies, lifting weights and trekking for miles during rugged training offered by the Pentagon at places like Georgia’s Fort Benning and Virginia’s Quantico Marine Corps Base.

We’ll spend the rest of the hour with two veteran war correspondents: Chris Hedges of The New York Times and Robert Fisk of the London Independent.

Hedges’ new book is War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. The book was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. And it was chosen by the Los Angeles Times as one of the top 10 nonfiction books of the year.

Hedges has experienced war zones from Central America to Iraq, from the Sudan to Sarajevo. He has been imprisoned and shot at. He’s unearthed mass graves and witnessed the effects of torture and death squads on victims of war around the world. He joins us in our studio.

We are also joined on the phone from Lebanon by Robert Fisk. He is the Middle East correspondent for the British daily newspaper, The Independent, and has been based in Beirut, Lebanon, for 26 years. His recent book is Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon.

Fisk wrote this week in The Independent: “The boys from CNN, CBS, ABC and The New York Times will be 'embedded' among the US marines and infantry. The degree of censorship hasn’t quite been worked out. But it doesn’t matter how much the Pentagon cuts from the reporters’ dispatches. A new CNN system of 'script approval' — the iniquitous instruction to reporters that they have to send all their copy to anonymous officials in Atlanta to ensure it is suitably sanitised — suggests that the Pentagon and the Department of State have nothing to worry about.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Pentagon has announced its guidelines for, quote, “embedding” reporters among troops in the upcoming war with Iraq, if in fact an invasion takes place. Last month, the Pentagon held a briefing for more than 50 bureau chiefs in Washington, D.C., to lay out guidelines for how journalists will cover the new war with Iraq. Under the plan, select reporters will live side by side with combat troops on the battlefront. Reporters and photographers have been receiving special field training. Over the last few months they have been climbing ropes, riding in helicopters, crawling on their bellies, lifting weights, trekking for miles during rugged training offered by the Pentagon at places like Georgia’s Fort Benning and Virginia’s Quantico Marine Corps Base.

Today we’re going to talk with two veteran war correspondents: Chris Hedges of The New York Times and Robert Fisk of The Independent. He’s based in Beirut. Robert Fisk wrote for The Independent on Tuesday, saying, quote, “The boys from CNN, CBS, ABC and The New York Times will be 'embedded' among the US marines and infantry. The degree of censorship hasn’t quite been worked out. But it doesn’t matter how much the Pentagon cuts from the reporters’ dispatches. A new CNN system of 'script approval'—the iniquitous instruction to reporters that they have to send all their copy to anonymous officials in Atlanta to ensure it is suitably sanitised—suggests that the Pentagon and the Department of State have nothing to worry about.”

Another rule of the Pentagon’s embedding policy, while less restrictive than a press pool, will prevent journalists from having their own vehicles. Chris Hedges, a veteran war correspondent and New York Times reporter, disagrees. He says the first thing he would do, for covering war, would be to get a jeep. But Chris Hedges joins us in the studio, so he can tell us for himself what he has to say.

Welcome to Democracy Now! to Christopher Hedges.

CHRIS HEDGES: Thanks, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: And to Robert Fisk in Beirut.

ROBERT FISK: Hi. And hi to Chris.

CHRIS HEDGES: Hey, Robert.

ROBERT FISK: How are you doing, Uncle Chris?


AMY GOODMAN: Well, Chris, talk about that jeep and what you see right now about the—this term “embedding” of journalists.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, we have to look back at the Persian Gulf War, where the press was completely managed. I mean, the coverage was absolutely shameful. But it was so restrictive that the military did not realize that it had hampered its own ability to get its message out. And so, now we see some 500 reporters, quote-unquote, “embedded” in units. But, of course, they won’t have access to transportation. They won’t be able to travel to sites without the cooperation of the military. Indeed, the—it will be the decision of the military as to where they go and what they see. And you can be sure, as in every conflict, that if things go terribly wrong or if things are terribly embarrassing, the press won’t be anywhere nearby.

And I—you know, Robert and I saw this in the Persian Gulf War. I’d just cite an example, for instance, when the Iraqis invaded the border town of Khafji before the war started, and the Saudi military forces fled without firing a shot, clambering onto every vehicle possible, including fire trucks, and sped out of town. It was the U.S. Marines and a Qatari tank battalion, who turned out, I found, to be all Pakistani mercenaries, who went in and fought back. Yet, in the press briefings in Riyadh and Dhahran, the world was sold the lie that the Saudis were defending their homeland, when in fact they were not. And those few reporters, such as myself, who did get into Khafji who were not part of the pool system, when we reported this, they had to backtrack and say that it was a combined effort. But in the course of the fighting, they brought the press bus up, you know, five miles, 10 miles down the road so the TV crews could do their backdrop with the smoke, and essentially disseminated lies.

And that’s not going to be any different. I mean, most—the problem in wartime is that most reporters don’t want to go anywhere near the fighting. And that small percentage of reporters who do, you know, Robert being a good example, are, by this administration, going to be pretty ruthlessly stomped out. So it is going to be completely stage-managed. And I find the level of trust on the part of the media staggering. If we go back and look at the kinds of things, the kind of contempt that Rumsfeld has for the press, the notion that somehow the press is going to have unfettered access and be able to report with any kind of objectivity or independence is ludicrous.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk, do the same rules apply to reporters from other countries?

ROBERT FISK: Well, even worse rules, by and large, if you’re not an American or you’re not a Brit, and even the Brits don’t count very much, so don’t count on the great love affair between Mr. Blair, our own dear prime minister, and Mr. Bush. No, we’re not going to get a look in.

I should go back to the battle of Khafji for a moment, with Uncle Chris there. I should point out that I got into Khafji during the fighting, and I was arrested by the U.S. Marines for not being on the pool, because a reporter from CBS betrayed me to the Marines and said, “He should be arrested and sent back to Dhahran, because he’s not from the pool.” I was actually prevented from carrying on with my duties as foreign correspondent by a staff correspondent for CBS who betrayed me to the U.S. military by saying that I was not on the pool and I should be sent back. And I was indeed arrested and sent back to Dhahran. I got back to Khafji the next day. It wasn’t too difficult. But it was interesting to see the degree to which a U.S. reporter, working as a staff correspondent on a U.S. network, was prepared to destroy my ability to do my job as a journalist because he valued his connections and his own loyalty to the military in front of his duties and obligations as a journalist.

Well, this—a little bit different here. If there’s going to be a war, which I’m sure there will be, unfortunately, there will be a considerable number of journalists, I think, in Baghdad. I don’t know what freedom of movement they’ll have. And let’s not get romantic about the Iraqi government’s desire to have the truth told in the press. They’ll be wanting to get what they can get into the press, not what we’ll want to write. But there will be a very heavy press presence in Baghdad. What will be interesting to learn is the degree to which, when they file their copy, for example, as is bound to happen, as always done, when an American missile kills civilians, whether that story will run on the air and will get into the newspapers without the Americans being given equal time. In other words—and this is a big problem with CNN at the moment because of its so-called approval system—whether you can get script approval from the editors in Atlanta or New York to run a story before the American military have seen it and been given the opportunity to comment. And that is what this war will be about.

And I think Chris is absolutely right: We are not going to see the truth, because at the end of the day the big networks are going to go along with the system, which means the government, which they have always cozied up to and which they will continue to do, because even when we’re not reporting from, quote, “the front line,” quote-unquote—and Chris is quite right, most of our colleagues, the last thing they want to see is the front line—will have the Pentagon correspondent, the State Department correspondent, operating as what the French call “fonctionnaires,” functionaries of government, effectively as mouthpieces for power.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk, we have to break for stations to identify themselves, with Chris Hedges. We’ll be back in one minute.


AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we talk about the embedding of journalists among the military troops, embedding, or in bed with—I’m not sure what the proper term should be. Our guests are Robert Fisk, The Independent newspaper—he’s been based in Britain for more than 30 years. He has a new book out, which—well, it’s an old book that he has revised and updated, called Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon. And we’re joined in our studio by Chris Hedges. He is a reporter for The New York Times. His book is called War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. This book has been cited by many. Chris Hedges’ book was a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award and was chosen by the L.A. Times as one of the top 10 nonfiction books of the year. Chris Hedges, you wanted to respond to what Robert Fisk was saying?

CHRIS HEDGES: I just—I think Robert brought up a very good point that I don’t want to let escape our listeners, and that is that the vast majority of the press in wartime is part of the problem. If you look at the Persian Gulf War, you had large numbers of reporters who came into the region with no linguistic ability, no understanding of the region they were covering, and, more importantly, no experience as independent foreign correspondents and especially war reporters. What did they do? They got down on their knees, and they begged the Pentagon to start giving them briefings, which is what they did. And the more briefings, the better. They very much felt that they were part of the effort. And you see this now with these Boy Scout jamboree trips that the military is organizing. Not only is it getting the military tremendous press, but it’s giving reporters this sort of false sense of bonding, this sense that, you know, they’re part of the war effort. And this is just insidious. So that what you end up with is not only a compliant press, but a press that feels that it is—it has a duty to sustain morale, it has a duty to further the war effort, not to report things that are terribly embarrassing. And the weight, the collective weight of that—and I’m, you know, unfortunately, probably talking about 80 to 90 percent of the press and nearly all of the broadcast, certainly commercial, media—makes it extremely difficult for those of us that refuse to operate within the system.

And as Robert pointed out, I also had an experience where my own colleagues spotted me and turned on me. And when I came out of Khafji, I was not picked up by the U.S. Marines; I was picked up by the Saudi military police. I was with two French photographers. And we were beaten. And it was the only time I’ve really been severely beaten in two decades as a foreign correspondent.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain more what happened.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, we came out of Khafji, and—

AMY GOODMAN: And Khafji is, again?

CHRIS HEDGES: Khafji was the border town that the Iraqis invaded. And, of course, the lie was being disseminated that the Saudis were defending their own country, when in fact the Saudis had no stomach for a fight and fled. This was highly embarrassing to the administration, and, of course, you can imagine, even more embarrassing to the Saudis. So they didn’t want it reported. And, you know, in the briefings that were being given in Riyadh and Dhahran, it was completely mendacious. They were talking about, you know, Saudis defending their homeland and spilling their blood on Saudi soil, and it was a lie. It was a complete fabrication. So that when a few of us—Robert, myself and a few others—who did not operate in the pool systems, who operated independently—and let me also add that the pool systems were administered by the press. They could not have functioned without the direct participation of the press. And if the press had not run them, they wouldn’t have existed. So that when I was picked up, the Saudis were furious, and they knew very well that—and especially since I came from The New York Times—that this lie would be exposed. And we were—I and the two photographers were not—we were finally—they were picking us up and throwing into the sides of a jeep and throwing us on the ground and this kind of stuff. So—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you report that?

CHRIS HEDGES: Yes. And I think when we look now at Afghanistan, with the incident with Doug Struck, The Washington Post correspondent who was investigating civilian casualties from American bombing, he was stopped at gunpoint. He was threatened. And—


CHRIS HEDGES: By the U.S. military. And—

AMY GOODMAN: And explain exactly what happened there.

CHRIS HEDGES: He was going into a town, and he was, at gunpoint, forced back and threatened. And—

AMY GOODMAN: And what was the rationale of the U.S. military?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, at the time, according to Doug, who was there, there was no rationale. Later, the Pentagon of course said it was for his own security, which is always the line that they’re going to feed you to make sure you’re channeled into the reporting—channeled into the areas that they want you to be channeled into.

AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t they threaten to shoot him?

CHRIS HEDGES: Yes, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: So they were going to shoot him for his own security.

CHRIS HEDGES: Yeah. Well, the Pentagon’s version and Doug’s version, of course, are not surprisingly quite at odds. I’ll go with Doug’s. He was there, and he’s a great reporter. But I think it’s important to realize that this small percentage of reporters who will try and break free, who will try and get—give us an accurate picture of what’s going on, are going to come under tremendous pressure, perhaps even more pressure than those of us who were in the Persian Gulf War, because this is not a war in a desert. This is going to end up being a war in an urban area, with potentially large numbers of civilian casualties. So there—if it gets messy and dirty and goes wrong—and unfortunately there are a lot of ways this war can go wrong—there’s going to be a lot to cover up.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk—I wanted to play for Robert Fisk and Chris Hedges and our audience a bit more of George Bush explaining the rationale why—and I also think it’s very important to point out that there’s been an entire shift in the language now. There is no more a discussion about will there be war. The other day we reported The Washington Post headline about a foreign diplomat saying the message that the U.S. is giving out now, that the U.S. government is giving out to try to get votes for the U.N. Security Council resolution, is not whether or not war will happen—it will—it’s whether or not they will participate in a post-war Iraq, which means—and we know about the billion dollars they’re already giving out in contracts to companies like Dick Cheney’s Halliburton or Bechtel, but there’s no more discussion about will there be war, which, by the way, makes the very few antiwar voices in the mainstream media irrelevant, because they’re saying, “Oh, that was yesterday’s story. The war has happened”—though it hasn’t—and we are now talking about a post-Saddam Iraq. And that is the language that was used last night by President Bush. He talks about why they’re going into Iraq.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Old patterns of conflict in the Middle East can be broken, if all concerned will let go of bitterness and hatred and violence, and get on with the serious work of economic development and political reform and reconciliation. America will seize every opportunity in pursuit of peace. And the end of the present regime in Iraq would create such an opportunity.

In confronting Iraq, the United States is also showing our commitment to effective international institutions. We’re a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We helped to create the Security Council. We believe in the Security Council so much that we want its words to have meaning.

The global threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction cannot be confronted by one nation alone. The world needs today and will need tomorrow international bodies with the authority and the will to stop the spread of terror and chemical and biological and nuclear weapons. A threat to all must be answered by all. High-minded pronouncements against proliferation mean little, unless the strongest nations are willing to stand behind them and use force, if necessary. After all, the United Nations was created, as Winston Churchill said, to make sure that the force of right will, in the ultimate issue, be protected by the right of force.

AMY GOODMAN: George Bush speaking last night at the American Enterprise Institute. Robert Fisk, first, your response?

ROBERT FISK: Poor old Winston Churchill. You know, he’s trotted out by your country every bloody day to justify what President Bush is doing. I’ve listened to some guy from the Brookings Institute the other day totally misquoting Churchill when he was trying to justify America’s former support for Saddam Hussein: “Sometimes it’s necessary to make a pact with the devil.” Churchill never said that. Poor old Winston Churchill. And indeed, one might almost have sympathy for the other side. The way in which American presidents—and indeed, let me add, Iraqi presidents—are trotting out the bloody Second World War over and over again—Tariq Aziz mentioned the Second World War when he spoke to the pope in Rome. Saddam Hussein talked about Britain’s fighting against the Germans in the Second World War when he met Tony Benn in Baghdad. We’ve had Bush pronouncing himself as Churchill during the period of the appeasers not being prepared to accept, etc., etc., the dictators. You know, Hitler died in a bunker in 1945, and the Second World War is over. And the man who lives in Baghdad is not Hitler. He’s not Stalin. He’s a tinpot little dictator. And believe me, Mr. Bush is not Winston Churchill. He definitely is not. And if he was anywhere near FDR, Roosevelt, who once said—if I may try to get my accent right for north New York state—”American boys will never fight in a European war.” That’s what Roosevelt once said. But at least Roosevelt was a Titan on the stage.

The problem is that there are little people—Saddam, Bush, Blair—little men strutting like pathetic Shakespearean actors on the stage, trying to urge us all on to war, without any personal experience—I suppose actually Saddam does have some personal experience, but with the rest of the people, and the exception of Colin Powell, no personal experience of war at all. War is not primarily about defeat or victory; it’s about death. And this is not dealt with by any of the people who are leading us on, whether it be Mr. Blair, who’s only experience of war is television, or whether it be Mr. Bush, who declined to serve his country and joined the Texas Air Guard, or whatever it was called. You know, in three days, in—I think it was February of 1945, in a great battle in—called the Seelow Heights, on the Oder River, between the Russians and the Germans, 30,000 men died in three days. And we’re still digging up the corpses at the rate of 1,000 a day. Do these little men, these pygmies, realize what they’re talking about when they speak about war?

AMY GOODMAN: Christopher Hedges?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, this is—I mean, Robert has got it. What is war? War is, at its core, death. And patriotism, flag waving, the celebration of our own military prowess, what is that? It is necrophilia. And that’s exactly why I wrote the book. War is a poison. And I’m not a pacifist. At times, war is inevitable. Just like a cancer patient, we must ingest a poison to fight off a disease. But it’s still a poison. And if we don’t understand it, if we don’t understand what it can do to us as societies, what it can do to us as individuals, it can kill us just as swiftly as that disease itself.

And Robert, I think, puts his finger on it completely. We have lost touch with the essence of war, with what it is. We understood, after our defeat in Vietnam, the horror that war is, the atrocity, our own capacity for evil. We asked questions about ourselves that we had not asked before as a country, as a nation. We had to grapple with things that had been done in our name that were war crimes. But this has all been dissipated, through the Reagan administration, culminating with the Persian Gulf War, where, of course, death in the Persian Gulf War was hidden from public view. We—the press was not allowed to cover the bodies coming back at Dover because war isn’t about death, as it’s presented by the state and the press; war is about self-aggrandizement. It’s about—it’s about nobility. It’s about all these abstract terms like “patriotism” and “glory” that, after 30 seconds of combat, are rended hollow and ridiculous. And Robert puts his finger exactly on it. We, as a country, and those who are leading us have lost touch with what war is, what war’s essence is and how it can pervert and distort and destroy us, just as once we begin the destruction of the other.

AMY GOODMAN: You write in your book, Chris Hedges, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, “During conflicts, these hidden burial places are spoken of in hushed and nervous whispers. As wars wind to a close the killers make frantic and often futile efforts to hide their crimes. They bulldoze fields where bodies are buried, as they did in Srebrenica, dynamite mine shafts where bodies were dumped, or dissolve the corpses in acid. But the industrial-scale killing of the twentieth century makes such erasure difficult. And years later there often is a dogged and methodical effort, usually by lonely dissidents, to uncover the past. These statisticians wield with index cards the fate of despots, the return of historical memory and, finally, hope.” What about that? What about the mass graves and what happens after? And we know it from the Persian Gulf War with the Highway of Death.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, what happens in—a lot of this is about language, and a lot of it is about the recovery of language, the recovery of a narrative. In wartime, people speak in the language in which they’re given, in the jingos and clichés handed to them by the state and parroted by the media: “Showdown with Iraq,” “Countdown with Iraq,” “shock and awe.” I mean, I teach a class of very bright kids at Columbia Journalism School, and I went in the other day, and I said, “Can someone explain to me what 'shock and awe' is?” And, of course, I’m referring to that first 48-hour period where they will drop 3,000 precision-guided weapons on Baghdad. What is shock and awe? And there was silence. And it’s—shock and awe is the indiscriminate murder of civilians, as if, you know, we’re going to be shocked and awed as these sort of weapons come heading for us. We’re not going to be shocked and awed; we’re going to be dead. And it’s those euphemisms that make it difficult—and I’m not picking on the students; it’s difficult for everyone—to think clearly about what’s happening. All of the—the whole notion of the war on terror, when you begin speaking in the language in which they hand you, it becomes very hard to think, and we become like the people we’re arrayed against. There’s a kind of frightening parody, or a mirroring, of this two-dimensional way that they speak and we speak.

And peace is about the recovery of a narrative, a narrative by which both victim and victimizers, oppressed and oppressors, can speak a common language. We saw this in South Africa with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Yes, the killers and the torturers for the apartheid regime were given amnesty, but not before they exposed their crimes. And it gave South Africans a common language, a common narrative by which they can speak. And until you get that common narrative, you cannot have peace. There is no peace in Bosnia. There’s only the absence of war, because you have in the schools, the Croat schools and the Serb-run schools and the Muslim schools, different histories being taught about current—about recent events, including this last war. So, it is these statisticians that you talk to. These lonely dissidents are giving us back the language by which we can speak. And until we have that language back, there is no peace.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break. We’re going to come back. And talking about that common language, we’re going to talk about Israel and Palestine. We’ll hear what Bush has to say and then get response from Robert Fisk and Christopher Hedges—Robert Fisk of The Independent newspaper, based in Beirut; Christopher Hedges of The New York Times. His new book, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We go back to George W. Bush in his address to the American Enterprise Institute last night.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state. The passing of Saddam Hussein’s regime will deprive terrorist networks of a wealthy patron that pays for terrorist training and offers rewards to families of suicide bombers. And other regimes will be given a clear warning that support for terror will not be tolerated. Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders, true leaders who strive for peace, true leaders who faithfully serve the people.

A Palestinian state must be a reformed and peaceful state that abandons forever the use of terror. For its part, the new government of Israel, as the terror threat is removed and security improves, will be expected to support the creation of a viable—a viable Palestinian state and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement. As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the Occupied Territories must end. And the Arab states will be expected to meet their responsibilities to oppose terrorism, to support the emergence of a peaceful and democratic Palestine and state clearly they will live in peace with Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: George Bush addressing the American Enterprise Institute last night. I don’t know. Is it the first time, Robert Fisk of The Independent in Beirut, that a president used the word “Palestine” recently?

ROBERT FISK: No, it’s not. What it is is the umpteenth time we’ve heard a president use the word “viable.” Oh, what it is to have a viable state! What is a viable state? I looked it up in Webster’s now: “viable”—since that’s your great dictionary—”capable of surviving outside the mother’s womb without an artificial support.” I’m not sure whether the mother is supposed to be the United States or Israel here.

Look, the whole point is, this government, at present, the new government of Israel, is pressing ahead with settlements on a scale never seen before, with a minority party that is totally dedicated to the absence of any peace process with the Palestinians as part of the government. This speech by Bush is effectively a lie. It bears no relation at all to the facts on the ground. He says the Palestinians must choose true leaders. True leaders. Arafat was elected. Indeed, he was probably elected by a rather more convincing majority than the president of the United States who made these words—or wrote them, but he didn’t actually write them, of course, did he? You know, to choose new leaders. We’d all love to have a lovely Arab democracy. I think everyone would, although we don’t actually want Arab democracy, because if we had democracy, it might turn out to be even more anti-American than some of the so-called Arab states are already. Look, the real problem here is that there is no viable Palestinian state to be had, because the degree and depth of settlements across the West Bank and Gaza are such that there will never be a viable Palestinian state. If this was meant to convince the Arabs that they should calm down and shut up as usual, because America wants to invade Iraq, it won’t wash. It is simply not true.

One of the big things we’re finding with this war, whether it be the mendacious comments of Secretary Powell, where he suggests that one photograph and another photograph shows the Iraqis cleaning some site without pointing out that the pictures were taken weeks apart, or whether it be the mendacity of our own dear prime minister, Tony Blair, producing an intelligence document that appears mostly to have been made up—and, indeed, admittedly made up of a crib from a post-graduate thesis in California—people are being lied to. The other day, President Bush made a statement at an American military base, where he said, “These people came and attacked us in 2001, and now we’re going to get them back.” But the people that America is going to hit back on are not the people that did September the 11th, 2001. In other words, what we’re getting is an American program, indeed an American-Israeli program, for the crushing of Iraq, which has no relationship at all with what happened with the crimes against humanity, international crimes against humanity, which occurred on September the 11th, 2001.

And this lie is not being exposed and held up by the American media as it should be. I think Chris will agree with me. It certainly is not being questioned in any serious way in Congress or the Senate. There are a few brave senators, I know, speaking out, saying, “Hold on a minute,” but I think they’re rather hedging their bets rather than wanting to, you know, tell the truth.

In Britain, we now have the situation, for example, where most British people’s views are represented by President Chirac of France and Chancellor Schroeder of Germany. They’re not represented anymore by Tony Blair. Most people in Spain are represented by Schroeder and Chirac, certainly not by their prime minister. And the same applies in Italy. What is happening in Europe at the moment is the cutting up of democracy for the benefit of America’s and Israel’s war aims in the Middle East. This is an outrage. And this is not being pointed out. This is not being talked about. It is not being discussed or debated or reported in the American media.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Christopher Hedges, what about that? You work for the paper of record. You work for The New York Times. I think your book takes a very different view: War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. But it is not only the coverage of peace protests that people have been extremely upset about, and the Times has responded to in very unusual ways, like doing a piece again three days later, redoing a piece of the first major march on Washington. But it’s not only about whether they’re going to show up at a peace protest; it’s about the daily drumbeat coverage on the front pages of the paper and who is quoted as sources and where those antiwar voices are on the front pages that determine public opinion, at least of the policy elite. What about that coverage? And what role does someone like you, who clearly takes an extremely different view, play?

CHRIS HEDGES: Within the paper? A very minor one. The problem is—and I think, again, I’m going to go back to what Robert said—that none of the mainstream media has really asked that fundamental question, which is: Why are we going to war? And this is, as Robert pointed out, a war that has nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11. I spent most of the year after 9/11 covering al-Qaeda in Europe for The New York Times, and North Africa and the Middle East. And there are no verifiable links between al-Qaeda and Iraq. This is a war about empire. It’s a war about the control of resources.

AMY GOODMAN: As long as you don’t say oil, because—

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, oil. It’s about oil. Of course it is.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m joking, but I’m—last night, the president, he did not say the word “oil” once, except when referring to the Oil-for-Food program, but talked about natural resources.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, there—you know, I read—I read everything on Iraq and was reading in The New York Times two or three days ago, and buried in the bottom of one story they were asking an administration official about the oil fields. And this official called them “the spoils of war.” And, you know, that comment sort of leapt off the page for me.

This is very much about the expansion of American empire through the use of military power. And that’s why—you know, I understand the first Persian Gulf War. We certainly betrayed all of the promises that we made to especially our Muslim allies in that war after the war, and including the Palestinians. But he invaded Kuwait. It was an aggressive act. You know, there’s some indication that he would have gone on to Saudi Arabia. We squandered an opportunity after that war, just as we squandered an opportunity after 9/11. Having been in Europe and the Middle East, we had garnered a great deal of sympathy and understanding, and instead we folded in on ourselves as a nation, we exalted ourselves, we denigrated the other, and we built an alliance with Vladimir Putin and Ariel Sharon, two of the biggest, you know, killers on the planet. And that’s how much of the world sees us. Certainly one-fifth of the world looks at us through the prism of Chechnya and Palestine. And we don’t look very good. So this kind of myopia and self-exaltation that followed 9/11 has only further isolated us, not only from the rest of the world, but from reality itself. And that, unfortunately, is reflected in the coverage of the war.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Jeremy Scahill’s piece, our correspondent in Baghdad, talking about the role of the nonprofit, the NGOs, and how they have been working with the Pentagon, getting money from the Pentagon, and now they’re being told to give the satellite coordinates of all of the civilian sites, not just where they are, in the area, in Baghdad. Now, is that—let me ask Robert Fisk first—do you think, to save them or to target them? Let’s not forget what happened to the Red Cross in Afghanistan outside Kabul, not once, but twice, with the Red Cross symbol on its roof, did the U.S. bomb the Red Cross.

ROBERT FISK: They also, you may remember, bombed the office of Al Jazeera in Kabul just before the fall of the capital when the Taliban fled. My motto is always: Don’t give to any intelligence or military organization, whether it be Iraqi, American, British, Israeli, Russian or any other kind, any information ever under any circumstances. So that’s my reply to your question. Don’t tell the Pentagon. Don’t tell the Iraqi Mahabharat. Don’t tell the Russian, you know, equivalent of the KGB. Don’t tell MI6. Don’t tell these bastards a bloody thing. We should be making sure that we protect ourselves and the innocents and the civilians as much as possible. Under no circumstances do we have any business giving intelligence organizations coordinates of any kind ever under any circumstances.

CHRIS HEDGES: Let me also add—I mean, Robert of course is right. But let’s also—

ROBERT FISK: Thank you, Chris.

CHRIS HEDGES: I’ll find something you’re wrong on before the end of the show. The—

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve got one minute.

CHRIS HEDGES: You know, I mean, we have to also acknowledge the complete corruption of most aid agencies. Where do they get their money from? They rely on contracts from AID.

ROBERT FISK: Yeah, that’s right, absolutely, absolutely.

CHRIS HEDGES: And we have situations now in Africa and everywhere else where these aid agencies have become an extension of U.S. policy. And this is not benign. I mean, you know, they decide who gets fed and who doesn’t, where they go and where they don’t. David Rieff wrote a book about this which is worth looking at, where he talks—A Bed for the Night, where he talks exactly about this issue. So, over the past few years, we have seen the aid agencies essentially become a tool of American policy. And that’s why you have aid agencies sitting around now flush with government contracts, for which they now rely to—for their very sustenance, planning how to set up distribution and food centers in a post-war Iraq. That makes them part of the war effort. That makes them culpable. And whatever blood is spilled, they have it on their hands.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk, last 10 seconds?

ROBERT FISK: Wow, 10 seconds. Is it too late to stop a war? I think it is. I think this war was absolutely preordained. I don’t think the United Nations, unfortunately, is anything more than a curtain which will be drawn backwards and forwards—

AMY GOODMAN: So you mean you think the peace movement—

ROBERT FISK: —across basically another theater [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: So you think the peace—

ROBERT FISK: That’s all I can say.

AMY GOODMAN: You think the peace movement has no role?

ROBERT FISK: I think that the United Nations is being used by President Bush as the League of Nations was used by the major powers after the First World War, that Bush, while on the one hand is saying we mustn’t let the U.N. become the League of Nations, is treating the U.N. in exactly the same way that the major powers treated the League of Nations and destroyed it before the Second World War.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, I have to say thank you both very much. Robert Fisk in Beirut, Lebanon, with The Independent newspaper, his book, Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon. Chris Hedges in our studio, with The New York Times, his new book, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.

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