Netherlands 2010, 1h 10min. | USA 2011, 1h 40min. | 2010, 58min.
Myo Myint was a soldier serving for the suppressive military regime in Burma. The documentary Burma Soldier was screened recently at IDFA. In the film, Myint talks about how the soldiers harassed and raped women from ethnic minority groups – as to be expected as one’s “daily meal”. He turned against the regime, helping to organize political protests together with Aung San Suu Kyi. He also established a library with forbidden books. This man, who had already lost one leg and parts of his arms in the military, was now imprisoned for fifteen years. He was put into isolation, tortured, hit so hard that his teeth cracked, and put into a plastic can – excruciatingly painful for an amputee. After serving his sentence he was under surveillance but managed to escape to Thailand, and from there to the US – where he still protests against the Burmese military regime; a regime where a general can use an amount comparing to three health budgets on his daughter’s wedding, as is seen in the film.
A country doesn’t have to be named Burma to be suppressive or use torture.
Another impressive documentary and winner of the Jury Price at IDFA was You Don’t Like the Truth – 4 Days inside Guantánamo, which is based on surveillance videos released from Guantánamo. The interrogated young Canadian man Omar Khadr, who at fifteen was visiting Afghanistan and was waiting with some of his father’s friends in a house when they were attacked by American special soldiers. One American was killed, and Khadr is charged for it. But that sounds very unlikely – the film shows an archive photo of him unarmed, lying almost dead in the dusty ruins.
We follow in the film the psychologically gruelling interrogation over four days by Canadian intelligence cooperating with the US at the American base. His innocence is confirmed by interviews with his cellmate, his lawyer, one Canadian military prosecutor and government officials, a psychiatrist and an investigative journalist. But he had to confess to the charges, to have any hope of coming out of prison within his lifetime.
Khadr was the first person to be charged for war crimes since the Nuremberg trials in the 1940s. With the charge and the time served at Guantánamo he will be in prison for fifteen years – just as Myint was in Burma. When I asked the Canadian director Luc Coté after the screening in Amsterdam, he told me they hadn’t managed to get hold of any of the American soldiers who attacked the building. Why? They don’t exist officially. Khadr had no hope of getting a fair trial – it was obviously a politically motivated process involving secret manoeuvres, which the public would never be permitted to see.
The website WikiLeaks was actually trying to disclose such abuse of power around the globe. They have published one million documents the last four years – on bank fraud, oil scandals, toxic spills, nuclear disasters, corruption, but also the interrogation manual from the above-mentioned place where Khadr was imprisoned, Guantánamo. And lastly, the well-known leakage of 251,287 documents – of which 15,000 were marked secret – from the internal communication system SIRPnet, used by the US Foreign and Defence departments.
In 2009-10, the brave young officer Bradley Manning copied them during his military service in Bagdad; they were accessed by editor-in-chief at WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, who started the campaign to get them out. Manning is now in prison, in isolation 23 hours a day in an unfurnished cell, handcuffed, in chains, and not allowed to work – he is facing a 52-year sentence. In the recent Swedish documentary WikiRebels, shown on several television stations recently and bundled with this issue of DOX, the two journalists Bosse Lindquist and Jesper Huor follow Assange over a six-month period last year.
The main sequence in the film is the American Apache helicopter shooting at civilians in Bagdad in 2007 – an appalling act is shown in the video where we hear the men saying things like “look at those dead bastards” after shooting them – two journalists from Reuters included – with 33 mm heavy tank ammunition targeted from the air. Then they later shoot at a family trying to help the wounded man from Reuters. We see two children sitting in the front of the car, and later we hear another shout from the helicopter that they shouldn’t expect anything else when they bring children into war. As Assange says in the film, the soldiers have fun shooting and show off later in the camp about how many they killed. Just like a video game. In WikiRebels we also see the directors find the children, who actually survived. But showing the video for their whole family was all too much for them – a man falls to his knees, weeping desperately.
In Assange’s intellectual manifesto from 2006, Conspiracy as governance, he quotes Caesar’s “Security gives way to conspiracy.”1 Conspiracy is normally defined as “making secret plans jointly to commit a harmful act”. His next manifesto from 2010 starts with: “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul this unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of statesmanship.”2 Not Assange’s words, but written by President Roosevelt in 1912. With WikiLeaks and similar acts, resistance or change can come from below.
Assange and his many supporters’ last fight is now the mocking of diplomats by revealing their blunt characterisations of each other. This is a way of weakening their legitimacy, but also of disclosing corrupt powers to the public. Of course a lot of the corruption and suppression is already common knowledge internally, but through publication the shame becomes more shameful, and consequently their power is weakened. It’s a conspiracy against conspiracy. And WikiLeaks has a lot of cooperative supporters around the world, working from student apartments, cafés, universities and critical media. The three films show the nature of the abuse of power. I tip my hat to people like Myo Myint, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange – they are, after all, risking a lifetime in prison for disclosing secret information. Why are some of these powers currently allowing up to 90 percent civilians to be killed in various war actions – in Gaza, in Iraq and in Afghanistan? It only fuels hatred for generations. Is that what has now been disclosed, that the intentions of some state intelligence agencies and politicians are so cynical that escalating conflict and harm – conspiracy – becomes a means to escalate their political power?
1 See http://www.mara-stream.org/think-tank/julian-assangeconspiracy-as-governance/
2 See www.thecommentfactory.com/exclusive-the-wikileaksmanifesto-by-julian-assange-3342/