War of Lies, 89 minutes, directed by Matthias Bittner; North American premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs film festival April 29th, 2015
(T)ERROR, 84 minutes, directed by Lyric Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe; 84 minutes; international premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs film festival May 3rd 2015
By Barrie Zwicker (Special to Truth and Shadows)
Before the screening of War of Lies, the film’s German director, Matthias Bittner, was called to the stage and introduced. He said very little, mainly cryptically that “in Germany this film will never be broadcast in a festival – even a student festival – or in a cinema.”
Someone in the audience asked: “Why?”
Bittner didn’t answer. Instead, he shrugged his shoulders and quickly left the stage, pointedly looking at the audience, as if to say: “You decide – after you see the film.”
What the audience saw is that War of Lies exposes, from the inside, that the war on Iraq was based on lies, and that the German security forces were instrumentally involved. From this the audience could infer that this politically embarrassing fact is the reason the German establishment will do all it can to squelch the film.
Bittner’s answer might also apply to (T)ERROR, not in respect to German audiences of course, but more generally. For instance, compare the number of cinema goers who saw American Sniper to the number who eventually will see (T)ERROR.
The two documentaries have in common that they reveal, in intimate detail, the lives and slippery values of core actors employed by and/or manipulated by state “security agencies” in the manufacture of war-generating illusions. These shadowy figures normally never come within shouting distance of any documentary producer’s camera.
The central strength of (T)ERROR is its magnificent uniqueness in this respect. The producers were able to film an undercover FBI agent in real time as he went about the entrapment and betrayal of the FBI’s pre-selected target. No re-enactments here. The film carries on to a year after the victim was sent to prison for eight years, based on a technicality that qualifies as an illusion.
The central illusion treated in War of Lies, on the other hand, is the memorable lying broadcast from the United Nations by Secretary of State Colin Powell in which he assured the world that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, namely mobile biological warfare labs, which were non-existent. Bittner’s dogged sleuthing enabled him to find a man the establishment had given a new identity.
Myrocia Watamaniuk’s fair sketch of the film, from the Hot Docs website, only sets the stage:
Is Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi simply a proud Iraqi who helped rid the world of Saddam Hussein, or a brilliant con artist whose story about chemical weapons led the US to invade Iraq? Filmmaker Matthias Bittner sits down with the shadowy man himself in this confessional-cum-controversial thriller.
Escaping his native Iraq in 1999 to Germany, Janabi claimed to have been a chemical engineer working for the Iraqi military industrial complex when—according to Janabi—the German secret service sealed his fate. Stating that they too wanted to depose Hussein, Janabi eagerly gave details in exchange for asylum.
But after 9/11, his questionable file—ironically code-named “Curveball”—was passed on to the Americans, and to Janabi’s own alleged disbelief, his “information” green-lit Iraq’s invasion.
But who was really using whom? Could one desperate man’s story have really snowed two secret service agencies and snowballed into the largest military debacle of the 21st century?
Bittner’s film holds one’s attention totally even though it’s based on one extended interview interspersed with extremely well-chosen B roll.
“Curveball” was manipulated, and admits that he was. But was he more willing to be manipulated than he lets on – even to himself?
If one had to choose one word to describe the facts, characters and possibilities in War of Lies it would have to be nuance.
At the centre of the very non-nuanced questions Bittner puts to Janabi is the issue of accountability. Curveball’s “evidence” of Iraq’s “mobile biological warfare labs” was trotted out at the UN by Colin Powell, and by George Bush and Condi Rice and many other American “leaders” as the “smoking gun” that justified the bloody American invasion of Iraq.
Bittner shows Janabi footage of the gruesome human toll unleashed on Iraq and asks Janabi if it was worth it, in order to depose Saddam Hussein. Janabi says that it was, but also that he did not intend the war to be unleashed, and so it is not his responsibility.
He could not have known, he says, that when he produced his “evidence” of Iraq’s biological warfare capacity (that did not exist) 30 months or so before the invasion, that this “evidence” would have been emblazoned on the world stage, to be followed by his being outed by name, requiring that he be given a new identity.
Toward the end Janabi finally relents and agrees he does bear some responsibility for the horrors of the Iraq war. I got the impression that had the filmmaker not found him, Janabi would have been able to retain his self-created stance of relative, if not complete, innocence.
At the end I got the impression that Bittner got to know Janabi better than Janabi knows himself. In the course of the interviews I think Janabi is forced to rethink what he thinks of himself.
In the Q&A after the screening Bittner concludes, rightly I think: “In part he [Janabi] is responsible [for war on Iraq]. [But] he’s not the main problem. If not him, it would have been someone else.”
Someone else, some document, some satellite images, some secret cache of something, to trot out at the UN, the Americans always find justifications, however weak or usually fake, to launch their wars.
And what came across as almost a footnote struck me as rather central. Janabi’s main handler in Germany, whom he knew as “Dr. Paul,” turned out to be CIA.
In (T)ERROR, a pair of illusions are revealed for what they are: two essentially innocent men sent to prison for many years each to feed the narrative of “home grown terrorism.”
In these cases, as in all the hundreds of strikingly similar ones across the USA, the mainstream media were deeply complicit in failing to be skeptical, failing to investigate, failing to follow up, failing to ask questions – while nevertheless parroting the party line of political figures and security officials.
There are persons in this documentary you trust – such as Marlene, mother of Tariq Shah, who is unjustly serving a 13-year prison term. Others you wonder about – such as Khalifah al-Akili, unjustly serving an eight-year prison term. To trust others, such as Saeed Torres, you’d be taking your life in your hands. Torres, whose FBI code name was “Shariff,” was the informant instrumental in having Shah, and arguably al-Akili, sent to the slammer for those long stretches.
But everyone in this documentary – and that includes Torres – would qualify as Pope-consecrated saints compared to the FBI as an institution.
Torres, a black New York Muslim and former revolutionary, was drawn to become an FBI slimebag for money. Serious money. As we join him in his current assignment in Pittsburgh, his pay is to be US$200,000.
The term “false flag operation” is not used in the film. The preferred term seems to be “sting” for the minimum of 158 cases, and counting, since 9/11, in which the FBI targets victims such as Shah and al-Akili, consigning them to them to the U.S. prison complex gulag while generating (if they could be purchased) billions of dollars’ worth of headlines to hoodwink the public into believing the “war on terror” is anything more than a cruel mirage.
The uniqueness of (T)ERROR is achieved because Torres did not inform his FBI superiors that he knew co-director Cabral. The two had met years before, as they lived in the same brownstone. After Torres came out to her as an informant, he agreed to share his story, again without informing his superiors.
At some point al-Akili begins to post on his Facebook page that he suspects the FBI is targeting him. Cabral and partner Sutcliffe seized this opportunity to approach him. They soon find themselves interviewing al-Akili at the same time they are documenting “Shariff” interacting with al-Akili. Informant and target remain unaware the filmmakers are talking to the other.
Cabral and Sutcliffe also contact Steve Downs, executive director of National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms. Downs contributes observations that may be critical to the future of “stings” in Canada.
Of particular interest is the outcome of the current trial in B.C.’s Supreme Court of Christopher Nuttall and Amanda Korody. The duo of human wreckage allegedly perpetrated the so-called “Canada Day plot” of 2013 that involved pressure cooker canisters outside the B.C. Legislature. Their trial has weeks if not months to go until sentencing (barring the unlikely scenario in which charges against them will be thrown out on the basis that they were entrapped).
Here’s what Downs told Amy Goodman on her program Democracy Now! about what constitutes entrapment, at least south of the border:
“Well, we have to face the reality that although there is technically an entrapment defense, it really no longer exists. I should say that most Western countries, particularly in Europe, do not permit entrapment by the government. I mean, it’s obvious that the government should not be in the business of creating crimes for their own citizens. They should be protecting their citizens.
In the United States, there was case law that set up an entrapment defense very early on. But over the years, an exception was created for anybody who was predisposed. That would be particularly in drug cases. If you had prior drug arrests or prior drug convictions that could … be used to show that you were predisposed to commit this kind of crime. The government could then go in and do an entrapment in the sense of a buy or a sell arrangement. And so, that kind of case law went on for a while.
And then it was expanded to say, “Well, what does it really mean to be predisposed?” And the Supreme Court created another exception by saying, well, predisposed also would include a ready response by the government. In other words, even if you’d never been involved in anything before, if the government offered you something that was illegal, and you immediately accepted it or enthusiastically accepted it, that would be a ready response, which would indicate that you were predisposed.
That ready response exception has grown, under the war on terror, into an exception that is so big that it has completely swallowed up the rule. There really is no entrapment defense anymore, because … the only way you can escape from the ready response doctrine is to withdraw from the plot. If you withdraw from the plot, there is no crime, so there’s nothing to charge. If you go through with the plot, then they will say, “Well, that was a ready response.” And the courts have tended to uphold that. So, my sense of it is, right now, although the law is still a little bit in flux, that the entrapment defense really doesn’t exist in the United States anymore. It’s more a theory than in practice.
Does it exist in Canadian law? And are we talking pre-Bill C-51 or post-Bill C-51? In the case currently before the B.C. Supreme Court, a reading of the 22 newspaper reports of the trial to date by Vancouver Sun reporter Ian Mulgrew supports, for this reviewer at least, a conclusion that the couple was entrapped. It might as well have been an FBI op.
For this writer the key question regarding the eventual outcome of the Nuttall-Korody trial will be: did the court find the couple was entrapped? And if so, will the couple escape conviction on all charges?
Just one sidelight to the trial so far is this question: How many Mounties were involved in setting up the couple? Answer: 240.