Unplugging the War

by Laura Snedeker

Because the Iraq War isn’t shrouded in quite enough secrecy, the Pentagon wishes to remind its men and women in uniform that loose lips…blow up Humvees.

The U.S. Army has set new guidelines for soldiers and contractors who write military blogs about the situation in Iraq, out of concerns that soldiers might inadvertently reveal sensitive information, such as details of firefights or reviews of body armor.

Officially banning internet communications might raise some eyebrows in Washington about Army secrecy, so the Army has just made it impossible for soldiers to publish blogs or comment on internet forums without the approval of their commanding officers. Because very few of the overextended officers stuck in Iraq want to spend time censoring their subordinates’ writing, many will probably ban blogging altogether.

The progression of the Pentagon’s press restrictions points to increasing panic and paranoia over the direction of the war, which the public increasingly sees as a hopelessly muddled disaster. First the military enforced a ban on publishing photos of the flag-draped coffins of American soldiers, what the Pentagon feared would be this war’s version of the nightly body count. Then the wounded were brought in under cover of the night when the Pentagon and White House realized that the thousands of maimed soldiers did nothing to support their claim of a quick military victory.

Now the Army has convinced itself that U.S. soldiers might accidentally aid the enemy, as if they weren’t aware of the personal danger of revealing sensitive information. With the apparent failure of the so-called “surge” and the commanding general in charge of operations in northern Iraq already calling for more troops, the Pentagon has become desperate to censor anything and everything that might suggest that things aren’t going as well as hoped.

The real reason for censoring soldiers’ and contractors’ blogs has nothing to do with operational security and everything to do with preventing the revelation of another Haditha or Abu Ghraib scandal. Once out, that kind of information travels fast, especially when one of the official reasons for continuing the Iraq War is the establishment of a democracy that respects human rights and the rule of law.

In the Army’s frenzy to prevent the publication of any information, it has silenced some of the war’s strongest advocates. Even if some commanders do allow their soldiers to continue blogging, their stories won’t have the same effect if readers suspect that they’re being fed regurgitated Pentagon talking points, especially if soldiers are pressured to keep in line with the official story of the day.

The U.S. has a bright pupil in the Iraqi government: The Interior Ministry has banned photographers from bomb sites, allegedly out of concern for preserving evidence and protecting the rights of victims. Are photojournalists really that destructive and disrespectful, or does the ministry want time to remove some of the bodies before pictures of the carnage make their way around the globe?

(Editor's Note: The Pentagon has also announced a new policy to block troops from the following websites: MySpace; YouTube; Pandora; ifilm; BlackPlanet; Photobucket; Metacafe; Hi5; Live365; 1.FM; StupidVideos; and Filecabi.Net. To see a Doonesbury cartoon related to this subject, please check here.)

(The graphic is from radicalgraphics.org, which offers its material for free.)

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