‘Breaking The Silence: Truth And Lies In The War On Terror’ (2003) was screened six months after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and two years after the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. The film dissects the truth and lies behind the ‘War on Terror’, investigating the discrepancies between American and British justification for ‘war’ and the facts on the ground in Afghanistan and Washington DC.
The film opens with a harrowing series of photographs showing the carnage inflicted on Iraqis by the United States and British military forces in 2003. In the background, President George W Bush declares America “will bring to the Iraq people food, medicine, supplies and freedom… we have shown Freedom’s power and in this great conflict we will see Freedom’s victory” while British Prime Minister Tony Blair claims the war in Iraq is a “fight for freedom” and “a fight for justice”.
Pilger explains that US actions have nothing to do with fighting terrorism but are instead part of an opened-ended war for global dominance and control of valuable oil resources in the Middle East. The real danger facing humanity, he says, is the increasingly aggressive military action of American imperialism and the state terrorism orchestrated by the White House. He asks: “What are the real aims of this war and who are the most threatening terrorists? Who is responsible for far greater acts of violence than those committed by the fanatics of Al-Qaeda, crimes that have claimed many more lives than September 11th and always in poor, devastated, faraway places? “This film”, he says, “is about the rise and rise of rapacious imperial power and a terrorism that never speaks its name – because it is our terrorism.”
He visits Washington DC to conduct a series of probing interviews with senior members of the US Administration. Defence Undersecretary Douglas Feith flatly denies that his country supplied weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein during the early 1980s. However, evidence shows that the US encouraged the former Iraqi dictator to wage war against Iran and provided him with material and logistical support. This included chemical and biological weapons and advice on how to use them. When Pilger attempts to discuss the estimated 10,000 Iraqis killed in the 2003 invasion an off-camera military official intervenes and orders an end to the interview.
Undersecretary of State John Bolton tells Pilger that the US has done “more to create the conditions for individual freedom than any other country in the world”. Again Pilger asks Bolton about Iraq casualties. His answer: “I think Americans, like most people, are mostly concerned about their own country. I don’t know how many Iraqi civilians were killed. But I can assure you that the number is the absolute minimum that is possible in modern warfare.”
William Kristol, American neo-conservative and editor of The Weekly Standard, tells Pilger: “The problem with America is not that we go… marauding around the world imposing ourselves, [it] is that we’ve been too slow to get involved in conflicts.” When informed that the United States has been involved in 72 separate interventions in foreign countries since World War Two, Kristol dismisses this figure as “ludicrous” as the full list of countries where the US has, indirectly or directly, overthrown governments, manipulated elections and attacked popular movements since 1945 scrolls down the screen.
Damning archive footage shows contradictory speeches by US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice. In a lengthy address to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, Powell solemnly declares that Iraq is in possession of vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and is involved in an elaborate campaign to conceal weapons materials and manufacturing facilities. However, two years earlier Powell and Condoleeza Rice claim the opposite. Speaking in Cairo on February 24, 2001, seven months before 9/11, Powell categorically declares: “He [Saddam Hussein] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours.” Rice repeats this in July 2001 when she tells US television that the Iraqi military has not been rebuilt since the 1991 conflict.
Pilger travels to Afghanistan to witness the devastation. Among those interviewed is Orifa, an Afghan woman who lost eight members of her family including six children, when the US airforce dropped a 500-pound bomb on her mud-brick home in 2001.
Footage shows President Bush telling Congress that America was “a friend of the Afghan people”. But as Pilger points out, few countries in the world have been helped less by the US. Only 3 percent of all aid given to Afghanistan is used for reconstruction. Kabul, the capital, is a maze of destroyed buildings and infrastructure, with US cluster bombs still not cleared from parts of the city and hundreds of families living in ruined and abandoned buildings. “The scenes reminded me of what confronted me when I arrived in Cambodia following the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge,” said Pilger.
The film also points to Washington’s long history of supporting Islamic fundamentalist and other terror groups in the Middle East. In mid-1979, six months before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Carter administration authorised $500 million to help establish the Mujahedin. For many years Osama bin Laden was regarded as an ally by London and Washington, both of which provided finance and political backing. Pilger says: “The American people were completely unaware that their government, together with the British secret service, MI6, had begun training and funding Islamic extremists, including Osama bin Laden. Out of this came the Taliban, Al Qaeda and September 11th.”
In 1996, the Clinton administration established friendly relations with the Taliban government in order to secure its backing for a US oil pipeline from Central Asia through Afghanistan. Taliban officials were flown to the US, where they were given red carpet treatment. Rare, grainy footage illustrate Pilger’s words. However, says Pilger, “By the time George W Bush came to power, the link between Al Qaeda and the Taliban had become an embarrassment, and September 11th gave Bush an opportunity to get rid of them. Today, Afghanistan is run by a regime installed by the Americans and the pipeline deal is going ahead.”
Pilger concludes: “We need not accept any of this if we recognise that there are now two superpowers. One is the regime in Washington the other is public opinion now stirring all over the world. Make no mistake it is an epic struggle. The alternative is not just conquest of far away countries; it is the conquest of us, of our minds, our humanity and our self-respect. If we remain silent, victory over us is assured.”
‘Breaking the Silence: Truth And Lies In The War On Terror’ was a Carlton Television production for ITV first broadcast on ITV1, 22 September 2003. Directors: John Pilger and Steve Connelly. Producer: Chris Martin.
Awards: The Chris Statuette in the War & Peace division, Chris Awards, Columbus International Film & Video Festival, Ohio, 2004.