The Banned Books of Guantánamo

'Hidden Agendas' by John Pilger

The author says his book "defines a modern version of fascism, of which Guantánamo is a dark beacon".

by John Pilger & Amy McQuire
10 November 2014, 10:00am

John Pilger on his own book:
Hidden Agendas sets out to explain the nature of a rapacious power that never speaks its true name – that garlands itself with terms like "democracy" and regards itself as so exceptional that, unlike the rest of us, it is beyond the law. This defines a modern version of fascism, of which Guantánamo is a dark beacon.

Amy McQuire on Hidden Agendas:
​It's ironic that in an age of information it is now harder than ever to establish the truth. It's distorted and manipulated by governments and their collaborators in the mainstream media; buried in propaganda that is so sophisticated the public can barely distinguish the parameters of the lies.

It is little wonder then that the rare works of journalism that seek to shine a light on state-sanctioned untruths can't be found in the darkest corners of the world. And there are not many places darker than Guantánamo Bay – where John Pilger's Hidden Agendas is on the banned books list. To be banned in a place like Guantánamo illustrates the threat the book poses to power. It is the embodiment of dissent in a place intent on crushing it.

Hidden Agendas deals directly with power, propaganda and censorship – a toxic trinity that allows a human rights abuse like Guantánamo to exist in the first place.
Pilger has often quoted the German propagandist Leni Riefenstahl, whose films glorified the Nazis; on the "submissive void" in the German population that allowed her messages to take hold. Modern propaganda is promoted by these silences.

Pilger's work is the very antithesis to this propaganda. His power is in his truth-telling – from the shores of his own country, Australia, where Aboriginal people suffer third world conditions in a first world nation, to Pol Pot's murderous regime in Cambodia, to the horrors of the senseless Vietnam War. He's a campaigner for truth for the oppressed in places like Palestine and East Timor and a translator for the "unpeople" – the scores of lives stamped as invaluable, marked as collateral damage in war, dehumanised to an extent where they are deemed unworthy of justice.

Those in Guantánamo, detained for years without charge, can surely be classified as "unpeople", too. The Australian case of Mamdoub Habib – who was released without charge in 2005 alleging horrendous atrocities while in the "care" of the US military – is just one example of this. The treatment of David Hicks was another.

For me, the most disturbing fact on re-reading Hidden Agendas is that history has taught us nothing. The first chapter on the Gulf War, and the sheer extent of the media's complicity reminds me of the importance of memory as the Western world enters a new war in Iraq, fanned by an accommodating media. Remembering is not something those in "rapacious power" benefit from.

Pilger writes of the media during the Gulf War: "To report the real reasons why children are dying in Iraq, even to recognise the extent of their suffering, is to bracket Western governments with dictatorships and totalitarian regimes. Thus the victims become unmentionable. They become, wrote Mark Curtis, unpeople: human beings who impede the pursuit of high policy and whose rights, often lives, therefore become irrelevant. As Unpeople, they are not news."

Pilger's work champions humanity, justice and truth, which are just as likely to be found at Guantánamo Bay as his exceptional Hidden Agendas.

Amy McQuire is an Aboriginal journalist for New Matilda based in Sydney, Australia. She worked as a researcher on John Pilger's most recent film Utopia. Header image by Marta Parszeniew