|FRONTLINE/World: Episode #103|
PBS AIRDATE: Thursday, November 7, at 9 p.m., 60 minutes
As the United Nations prepares to send inspectors back to Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction, FRONTLINE/World reveals the difficulties of distinguishing fact from fiction and truth from propaganda inside Saddam's totalitarian regime.
In FRONTLINE/World, airing Thursday, November 7, at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), correspondent Sam Kiley travels inside Iraq to investigate claims made by Iraqi exiles that Saddam's regime publicly beheads women as part of a nationwide campaign of terror. He finds a country where the media struggle against government intimidation, censorship, and the pervasive fear that prevents most Iraqis from speaking out against Saddam Hussein.
"We've arrived in the middle of a propaganda war," Kiley tells viewers. "...George Bush [says] Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. Saddam says he doesn't. He says he'll prove it by letting journalists like us inspect his weapons program."
As viewers learn, however, Western journalists in Iraq are watched constantly by government "minders" who shadow their every move and every interaction with Iraqi citizens. In "Truth and Lies in Baghdad," Kiley's investigation gets off to a shaky start when his minder refuses to allow him to use an independent Arab translator, making it difficult for the reporter to question Iraqis about the alleged executions.
It's a sign of the sustained campaign by Iraqi officials to strictly control the movements of Western journalists—and through them, the image of Iraq that is presented to the world. Throughout "Truth and Lies in Baghdad," Kiley is accompanied everywhere by his minder who, despite government claims of unfettered access, attempts to prevent Kiley from filming in areas where the beheadings were alleged to have occurred.
Kiley also participates in a government-organized press tour, where foreign journalists are herded from place to place in an attempt to convince the world that Iraq is not building nuclear weapons.
"Iraq has promised that if the U.N. weapons inspectors return, they can go where they like," Kiley says in the program. "The same promise has been made to us [journalists]."
But when Kiley and other journalists are taken to visit an Iraqi phosphate mine—a plant that some have suspected of also mining uranium—Kiley's requests to inspect certain areas of the compound are deflected with vague comments about keeping the group together. His request to interview two female workers he encounters is also denied. And when Kiley attempts to observe some sort of experiment in progress at the mine, he is physically restrained.
Later in the program, the journalist returns to his hotel to find the door to his room propped open—a "crystal clear sign," Kiley says, that the Iraqi government doesn't appreciate the questions he's asking. Kiley then sets up a hidden camera in his room, which records a man, dressed in a hotel uniform, who repeatedly rifles through Kiley's luggage, clothing, and personal belongings.
In Iraq, Kiley finds, the truth is subject to government approval. In "Truth and Lies in Baghdad," viewers hear gunfire and witness footage of what appears to be a nighttime firefight. When Kiley inquires about the incident the following day, however, Iraq's Ministry of Information says it never happened. Several Iraqi officials also vehemently deny the allegations about the beheadings, discounting the charges as American propaganda.
"Because we're at war with America, they launch propaganda against us," says Dr. Abdi Rizak al-Harabi, director of religion for Iraq's Ministry of Religious Affairs. "These stories are all fabricated."
Despite these official denials, his ever-present minder, and the "abject terror" Kiley observes in many Iraqis, FRONTLINE/World manages to speak with several Iraqi citizens who confirm that the beheadings did occur. The confirmation comes shortly before the Iraqi government terminates Kiley's visa and orders him to leave the country.
Also featured: a report from the front lines of Colombia's civil war, where an American-owned oil pipeline is fueling a three-way battle among the Colombian army, left-wing guerrillas, and right-wing paramilitary groups. In "Colombia's Oil War," correspondent Saira Shah investigates the fierce battle over the 500-mile U.S. pipeline, which is a target of constant bombing.
Shah accompanies Colombian soldiers to the site of a leftist guerrilla attack on the pipeline, which is owned by the U.S.-based Occidental Petroleum in conjunction with Ecopetrol, Colombia's state-run oil company. Last year, guerrillas blew up the pipeline more than 170 times, prompting President Bush to approve sending U.S. military advisers to the country to train Colombian soldiers to protect it. The U.S. advisers arrive this month—to be followed by increased U.S. military aid. Colombian army officers tell Shah, however, that the pipeline's length and the surrounding terrain make it virtually impossible to protect from rebel attacks.
Caught in the crossfire over the pipeline are the Colombian people. In "Colombia's Oil War," viewers witness blackened rivers and fields—the result of the latest attack on the pipeline—and meet farmers who say they must abandon their land because the oil spills have poisoned their wells. FRONTLINE/World also investigates claims that the local right-wing paramilitary groups—originally hired by wealthy landowners to protect their interests—have begun a campaign of "social cleansing," executing everyone from homosexuals to prostitutes to human rights workers in cities near the pipeline like Barranca, a charge local law enforcement officials deny.
"People told us Barranca could be as rich as Kuwait," Shah says. "Instead, [people] live in a town where paramilitaries dismember their victims with chainsaws."
Following the broadcast, access the FRONTLINE/World Web site at pbs.org/frontlineworld for compelling interactive features, including original reports from young journalists from around the globe, news articles and features from foreign media, interviews, streaming video, interactive quizzes, and much more.
The FRONTLINE/World Web site recently received an Online Journalism Award for General Excellence from the Online News Association and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
Stephen Talbot is series editor for FRONTLINE/World. KQED executive-in-charge for FRONTLINE/World is Sue Ellen McCann. WGBH executive-in-charge for FRONTLINE/World is Sharon Tiller.
FRONTLINE/World is co-produced by KQED San Francisco and WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS.
Major funding for FRONTLINE/World is provided by PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding is provided by ABB, Ltd., and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
FRONTLINE/World is closed-captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers.
The executive producer for FRONTLINE/World is David Fanning.