Filmmaker seeks to change attitudes about America’s wars

Laura Poitras speaking at PopTech 2010. Photo: Kris Krüg

CAMDEN, Maine — Laura Poitras is searching for a “game changer.”

The elections Tuesday proved that, despite trillions in war spending and fresh casualties on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are paying little attention to foreign affairs. Exit polls found that only one in 10 voters considered the war in Afghanistan their top priority, and politicians — including President Obama — excised any mention of the conflict from their stump speeches.

Poitras, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker who spent months documenting the grim details of life under occupation in Iraq, has lately been considering the question of what, exactly, will get Americans to rethink the way they engage the rest of the world. In an interview here at the Pop Tech conference, where she discussed her most recent film “The Oath,” about two former aides to Osama bin Laden, Poitras considered how American attitudes toward the wars have changed over time.

“I’ve been constantly wondering, ‘What’s the game-changer?’” Poitras said. “I still remember when the Abu Ghraib photographs hit the front page, and you almost fainted. I mean, it was sort of catastrophic. Simply shocking.”

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Chinese Twitter users support Nobel winner, despite censors

Authorities in China moved swiftly on Friday to block news of the Nobel Committee’s decision to award the 2010 Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, a jailed pro-democracy activist and literary critic currently serving an 11-year sentence in a northern Chinese prison.

Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper reported that live coverage of the event by CNN and the BBC was blacked out by government censors, and there was no mention of Liu or the Nobel Prize on sina.com, the country’s popular search engine. Even text messages containing Liu’s name seem to have been blocked.

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Officials confirm arrest of rebel leader for mass rapes in Congo

Members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda openly man a roadblock in North Kivu, Congo in 2007. Photo: AP/Themba Hadebe

Updated | 8:23 p.m. United Nations officials confirmed Wednesday that they had captured one of the men responsible for a stunning series of mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo earlier this year, after initially expressing doubts over the rebel leader’s identity.

The U.N. Mission for the Stabilization of the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) said Tuesday that peacekeepers had arrested Lieutenant Colonel Sadoke Kikonda Mayele, a senior leader of the Mai-Mai militia group, and transferred him to the custody of the Congolese army. But a U.N. spokesman later told Agence France-Presse that new information suggested the suspect was “not the real” Mayele.

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What’s Al Jazeera’s problem?

Photo: Al Jazeera

Since its launch in 2006, Al Jazeera English has expanded into more than 190 million households in more than 100 different countries, including most of Europe and even Israel. But its sister station, Al Jazeera Arabic, became notorious in the U.S. after broadcasting communiques from Osama bin Laden in the wake of 9/11, and the network has never managed to break free of that reputation and into the U.S. market. Perhaps because it’s something of a forbidden fruit, the network is an endless source of fascination for the American media. Need to Know sat down with Al Jazeera English host Riz Khan at the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit in New York to ask the BBC and CNN-veteran if there’s really anything to be afraid of.

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Former Iraq correspondent: CNN refused to air ‘war crime’

Michael Ware speaking at "A View from the Ground in Iraq" in 2008. Photo: Center for American Progress

Michael Ware, the former CNN correspondent who covered the Iraq war for more than six years, has been hailed as a “journalistic hero” and called a “prisoner of war” for the time he spent in (and around) war-torn Baghdad. As he told Men’s Journal in 2008, Ware was briefly kidnapped in 2004 by Iraqi insurgents, who had planned on filming his execution with his own camera until a friend intervened. Since December of last year, he has been recuperating from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Now, Ware is the subject of a new documentary series on Australian television, and as part of that series, he has revealed new details of his reportage in Iraq, including an incident in 2007 in which CNN executives refused to air footage of what Ware calls “a small war crime,” according to Australia’s Brisbane Times. Ware says a teenager in a remote Iraqi village run by insurgents, carrying a weapon for protection, approached a house where Ware and several U.S. soldiers were staying.

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Finding an optimist in the Middle East peace process

U.S.-mediated talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials moved to Jerusalem on Wednesday, a symbolic gesture designed to lend credibility to the budding peace process. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t seem to have worked. Islamic militants are still lobbing mortars, and Israeli jets are still bombing tunnels. An expiration date on a settlement moratorium looms, and there seems to be little hope for a breakthrough.

Perhaps the most dispiriting aspect of the negotiations is the apparent lack of faith in the Obama administration among foreign diplomats and observers. As one exasperated reporter asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a briefing en route to Egypt on Tuesday: “Is there anything new that you’re putting on the table that will make a difference this time?”

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As peace talks begin, the Hamas question remains unresolved

Not too long ago, after a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla killed nine activists and sparked international outrage, Need to Know spoke with some veterans of the Middle East peace process who had been asking the question: What should the world do about Hamas? The Islamic militant organization won elections in Gaza in 2008, and consolidated its hold on the region in 2009, when the opposing Palestinian political faction, Fatah, withdrew from the territory.

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