I do fault the CPA and the coalition for having done its best to keep bad news away from the public, and there’s been a number of ways they’ve done that. There is now this notorious writ that no American coffins can be photographed; Bush’s decision never to appear at the funeral of a soldier. This, in addition to the daily playing down of bad news, from Bush all the way down to the field command level, over a very crucial period of time, has confused the public, made journalists’ jobs much more difficult, and to a certain degree I regard this huge propaganda effort as also pernicious and having been extremely dangerous to us.
Because, for instance, months before people began writing about how dangerous the Baghdad airport highway was, the Americans and the Brits — I’m speaking of the military — stopped using the road. They stopped using the road. They didn’t announce it; they choppered to and from the Green Zone. Did they admit openly that that road had become Suicide Alley? There was one particular series of months, I think it was the fall of 2004, in which there had been forty-four suicide bombings along the road, just that little stretch of road.
A few months before Marla [Ruzicka, an aid worker and activist] was killed [April 16, 2005], there was a willfulness about the way Baghdad, the war, Iraq was being presented, the security situation, which I think also led a great number of people to Iraq who were subsequently kidnapped and killed, who should have known better but didn’t, because of the nature of the place [and] the idea that “Oh, only six out of the sixteen provinces are dangerous,” that kind of language. I think that this made it very difficult.
It was cognitive dissonance to sit in those press briefings, and it became funny, because inevitably there’d be a new reporter at the press briefing of the day who’d — we’d hear the spin and how everything was terrific and they’d repaired water plants and restored power and so on, and then the newcomer would put up his hand and say, “’Scuse me, but what I’m seeing out on the streets has nothing to do with what you’re describing and I’m wondering if you could explain the discrepancy” [laughing]. And everybody in the press corps would smile because it really was the fresh eye, the freshly realized, the total disconnect, you know?
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In Fallujah [the Americans had] dropped some bombs [in late February 2004], some five-hundred-pound bombs showing the Iraqis that they were still here. I think they call it “dissuasive fire” or something like that. And we went to this little house just outside Fallujah, and we met these people — the bomb had landed fairly close to their house. It hadn’t hit anything, it just landed in the desert, and the people said, “Our neighbor, his wife had a miscarriage from the shock of the bomb. What were they bombing? We’re innocent people, just peasant farmers.” You know, they were very confused about why this bomb had been dropped. Apparently, as far as I could tell, it had been dropped to dissuade the guerrillas from chancing their arms — because they had just attacked a police station a week before or something. So it was a show of force.
And I went back to the Green Zone and [Lieutenant] General [Ricardo] Sanchez [commander of coalition ground forces] was doing a press conference, and I had this completely surreal exchange with him. I said, “I’ve just been out in Fallujah and you’ve bombed a field, a woman’s had a miscarriage, what were you trying to do?” And he said, “We hit what we were aiming at.” And I said, “What were you aiming at?” And he said, “What we hit.” And I started laughing and everyone started laughing at this bizarre exchange, and I think he thought they were laughing with him. But I think they were laughing at this bizarre rhetoric of the Green Zone that had no relation really to what was going on around.