The Control Room
An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

        “The Control Room” is Jehane Noujaim’s absorbing documentary about the assignment of war correspondents in Iraq.  Both sobering and unsettling, it is also an uplifting portrait of reasonable men under intense pressure trying hard to get to the truth of things as they report the war to the world.  Unlike “Fahrenheit 9/11” which is one man’s political opinion piece, this movie burrows inside the minds of a group of journalists covering the war as American bombs fall on Baghdad. 

       As the film opens, Iraquis are listening to a live broadcast of President Bush declaring war on their country.  A senior reporter for Al Jazeera says of the middle east , “Something has to shake these rigid societies; wake up, wake up, there is a world around you.”  Another comments that after the failure to find WMD, the Americans focus entirely on the search for Saddam Hussein.  As the bombing increases, U.S. spokesmen point proudly to the fact that they are using “precision bombing” rather than the “carpet bombing” that annihilates civilians.  The powerful graphic footage that follows is an intense cry that war is never justified.  We watch a country being laid waste, its citizens bloodied and suffering and remember that our politicians told us we would be greeted with flowers. 

        Hassan Ibrahim, an Al Jazeerah correspondent, formerly of the BBC asks, “Who is going to stop the United States?”  Answering himself, he replies, “The United States is going to stop the United States.  I have tremendous faith in the U.S. Constitution.”  The dialogue that runs through the film between this deeply intelligent older man and an equally intelligent young American press officer, Lt. Josh Rushing is breathtaking in its rarity.  Two open minds weigh and balance what they see before them.  Apparently Lt. Rushing’s open mind has cost him his job.   The U.S. Military has ordered him not to talk to the press again.    

        In a violation of the rules of war covering foreign correspondents, an American missile attack on an Al Jazeeraah office kills a correspondent we have come to know on camera as Tarek.  After his death, Tarek’s wife makes a public plea, “Where is your conscience?  Where is your humanity?”  Another Iraqui says with great sadness, “The Americans are radicalizing the country.  There won’t be any room for quiet men like me.” 

       Lt. Rushing and Mr. Ibrahim embody the idealism and humanity this war needs if it is ever to be resolved.  The journalists at Central Command, including Al Jazeerah, are a lesson to people everywhere that war correspondents put themselves in constant danger in order to report the truth, as they see it, to the citizens of their countries.  They dig, and talk, and think, trying unfailingly to avoid falling into the trap of spin simplicity.  This powerful film is Ms. Noujaim’s plea to Arabs and Americans to listen carefully to these people who are working – and often dying – in order to bring them the reality of a controversial war. 

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