The US and al-Qaeda tried spin, threats, lies and censorship to win the propaganda war, but did anyone succeed?
Since then, the US and al-Qaeda have competed furiously to win ‘hearts and minds’ with elaborate media strategies. Spin, threats, lies, censorship, the killing of journalists; how far has each side been prepared to go to win the propaganda war?
In the ‘war on terror’ the exploitation of images was to become a matter of life and death, as both the US and al-Qaeda bombarded the world with media designed to win people over to their side.
It started with 9/11 itself: an act of terror staged as a global media event and the catalyst for a decade of propaganda war.
But al-Qaeda’s canny use of 9/11 imagery, which included saving footage of the attackers for release at a later date so as to maximise publicity, gave way to serious errors in judgement as the group’s use of beheadings not only terrorised viewers but also alienated one-time sympathisers.
The US, for its part, did not perform any better with Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib becoming prime examples of how to lose a war.
And so, the image war goes on.
On this image war no other news organization more despised than Al Jazeera which was targeted by the U.S. and its allies among them was cameraman Sami al-Hajj
An al-Jazeera journalist was held at Guantánamo for six years partly in order to be interrogated about the Arabic news network, the files disclose. Sami al-Hajj, a Sudanese cameraman, was detained in Pakistan after working for the network in Afghanistan after 9/11, and flown to the prison camp where he was allegedly beaten and sexually assaulted.
His file makes clear that one of the reasons he was sent to Guantánamo was “to provide information on … the al-Jazeera news network’s training programme, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan, including the network’s acquisition of a video of UBL [Osama bin Laden] and a subsequent interview with UBL”.