Saturday, January 25, 2014

Control Room

CONTROL ROOM            B                                                   
USA  (84 mi)  2004  d:  Jehane Noujaim

A documentary film piecing together bits of film accumulated by the Al Jazeera television network, whose reporters work alongside all the other American and European news teams from around the world centered at the U.S. Military Central Command headquarters in Qatar during the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, but are unique, as they are the only Arab station.  The film director is an Egyptian-American woman who graduated from Harvard, and most importantly, she puts a human face on the enemy, previously castigated by both Bushes while rallying support for their war efforts, revealing Al Jazeera staff who work hard, question their own actions, who want the best for their families, and who ultimately have dreams, just like everybody else.  What this film shows is the extraordinary layers of lies built into the American and European fabric, having only their own biased television reporting to base their information, with no similar Arabic experiences or cultural references, and few, if any, who have ever heard the news from the Arab point of view.  So while Americans are seeing a sanitized war with few victims, almost never any blood, with missiles that are meant to have precisely accurate targets, minimizing the collateral damage, the Arabs are seeing the destroyed buildings and the bloodied men, women, and children, with plenty of dead bodies and angry families shouting out for revenge. 

All throughout the invasion, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is claiming Saddam Hussein is staging these so-called victims, using Al Jazeera reporters to film phony victims of the Iraqi propaganda machine, calling Al Jazeera “the mouthpiece for Osama bin Laden,” but it turns out it is Rumsfeld that is leading the propaganda campaign of lies and racist distortions, implying an Arab network offering a different view than the conquering Americans couldn’t possibly know how to be truthful or objective.  Also, it is startling to hear President Bush, at the time, demand that American prisoners be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention, as he claims all Iraqi prisoners were, which, after the Abu Ghraib prison revelations, is a pitiful exhibition.  While this is a timely, well edited, but not particularly remarkable film, mostly it’s significant because it provides American viewers with a more balanced view of our own place in history.  What is interesting is how hostile Americans get if someone offers a contrary position and how foolishly gullible the American and European people and press are to the hand-chosen morsels of news that the U.S. military dishes out day by day, spinning their own account of the events, which is reported as gospel, when and how the Americans want it.  But Al Jazeera doesn’t buy it, even before a single shot is fired.  Their relatively inexperienced, unpolished journalists are the only professionals on the scene practicing any degree of journalistic objectivity, as they know from the beginning that no Arab nation would willingly submit to an American military occupation. 

So while Rumsfeld and Bush are indicating this is a liberating force, offering prospects of freedom, the Al Jazeera journalists can see the brutal mistreatment of Arab people for what it is, comparing the American behavior towards Arabs in Iraq to the Israeli treatment of Palestinians on the West Bank.  In both instances people’s homes are bombed, bodies are pulled out bloody or dead, while survivors are rounded up and treated as terrorists, bullied, beaten, and intimidated at the point of a gun, the consequences of which are people only get more and more outraged.  Rumsfeld continuously blames the Al Jazeera network, repeatedly claiming they are telling lies after lies, which is ironic, as the Americans eventually send a missile into the Al Jazeera station in Baghdad killing one of the journalists.  The official American response was to claim shots were being fired from the buildings, causing the planes to attack, as they were being fired upon.  Little, if anything, from the American perspective has turned out to be true, though here Al Jazeera was offering their own spin of events, as it turns out that the Al Jazeera bureau was located next door to a villa used by Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf, Iraq’s information minister who towards the end of the war became known as ‘Comical Ali.’  Located between the buildings was an electrical generator which the U.S. military forces wanted immobilized in order to crank up the pressure on Al-Sahaf and the regime. Al Jazeera conceded later it was probably this equipment which the U.S. had targeted and not the Al Jazeera bureau.  What is perhaps the most startling aspect of this film is that it re-examines history through the fresh lens of hindsight.  Tellingly, one Al Jazeera reporter offers his own personal views, “Eventually, you will have to find a solution that doesn’t include bombing people into submission...Accept democracy or we shoot you.”


  1. It is kind of strange that you don't mention the surprisingly open and flexible attitude of young Marine spokesperson Josh Rushing, which is such a major storyline in the film. Rushing later left the Marines and now works as a correspondent for Al Jazeera English.

    I think this is a great documentary.

  2. That's because I knew you were standing in the wings to point that out. And well worth it, I might add.

    Thanks for your continued support through the years.