Reviews

Buried in the Sand: The Deception of America (2004)

Jennifer D. Wesley

Buried's real value is not as conservative propaganda, but rather, as a distilled example of conservative political spin.


Buried in the Sand: the Deception of America

Director: Rob Cartee
Cast: Mark Taylor
MPAA rating: Not rated
Studio: CHYL Pictures
First date: 2004
US DVD Release Date: 2004-09-21
Weapons of mass destruction notwithstanding and regardless of nationality, religion, or race, we can not bury our heads in the sand and ignore the type of gross inhumanities that have been committed in Iraq for decades. No matter how horrifying it is to watch, we need to see the truth in its entirety to fully comprehend and acknowledge what is essentially a Middle Eastern holocaust. Without question, it is the moral obligation of all nations in a position to do so to effect change
-- Rob Cartee

Buried in the Sand: The Deception of America is instructive. A gruesome, disjointed, infuriating primer on anti-Arab sentiment and policy-making, it's billed as "exclusive, uncensored footage of atrocities [that] gives rare insight why America had a 'moral obligation' to invade Iraq." As such the film is a graphic example of the hay that conservative hard-liners are trying desperately to make into political gold.

The film falls laughingly short of the "documentary journalism" status conferred by the producers in terms of both form and content. Like so much hard-line rhetoric, Buried dresses its "truth" in bogeyman foreboding. The set is a bizarre combination of chain-link fence, a bank of TV monitors, and black box soundstage presumably evoking a kind of bunker ambiance. Host Mark Taylor, a small-time conservative radio jockey, is menacingly lit from one side, so half his face appears in perpetual shadow. Such techniques recall the conspiracy revelations of Alien Autopsy more than the "grim political realism" promised in the press blurb accompanying the DVD.

Briefly prefaced by footage of Nazi Germany and Hitler, the film fades in on Taylor, who informs the audience that what follows is difficult to watch because of its graphic nature. The Hitler frame is an example of the film's only consistent argumentative tactic: loosely associating images of renowned evil with Saddam Hussein and radical, fundamentalist Islam. Representations of "terror" -- Nazis, unidentified mass graves, the aftermath of suicide bombings "in the region," the indoctrination of Muslim children into jihad -- link Saddam Hussein's specific cruelty with a larger mode of atrocity, couched in Judeo-Christian vs. Muslim terms. This echoes the "You're either with us, or against us" rhetoric so prevalent in pronouncements by the post-9/11 Bush Administration.

But the film fails even on this level of propaganda, for it is neither cohesive nor compelling. Screams and grainy footage of severed hands, executions, and beatings are bookended by carefully decontextualized and ellipsis-laden quotations from Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and John Kerry proclaiming Saddam Hussein's tyranny. See? Even liberals once recognized the threat. The film drags these quotations into "justification for the war" territory by cutting to explicit footage of the U.S. invasion of Baghdad.

The move from Saddam Hussein's abuses to U.S. military operations juxtaposes violence with violence in a disturbing way. The rest of the movie does little to answer lingering moral questions about the use of force or the case for war. The jumble of night-visioned military operations and day-lit casualties, the aftermath of a suicide bombing ("somewhere" in the Middle East), Islamic children being "indoctrinated," and an interview with Yasser Arafat serve to draw a line in the sand of the Middle East with Western agendas on one side and Muslim agendas on the other. The desperate investment in Iraqi well-being showcased so prevalently in the beginning of the film has evaporated, replaced by naked U.S. self-interest.

The commentary interspersed among these images repeats the mantra that "terror is bad," but now the message changes shape, broadening from Saddam Hussein and Iraq to Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. Buried performs a classic Bush Administration sleight of hand: Saddam Hussein is evil, radical Islam is evil, and both are a danger to the United States, so preemptive action was not only justified but required. Be very afraid.

But the film cannot support this broadly drawn thesis. Jumping from Saddam Hussein to Palestine to the abuses at Abu Ghraib -- the film turns into a laundry list of responses to largely unidentified contrary claims. Rather than making a cohesive argument about the case for war, Buried targets the "liberal media," "Hollywood," and the "radical left," naming Fahrenheit 9/11, Ted Kennedy, the press coverage of conditions in Iraq pre- and post-Saddam Hussein, and Abu Ghraib as examples of the "deception of America."

As Taylor promised, the film includes graphic imagery. The most obscene example is unedited footage of a series of recent beheadings. I assume the goal here is to demonstrate the level of barbarity of "the enemy" and underscore the necessity for force. But what emerges instead is the filmmakers' investment in spectacle. Like the cut from Saddam Hussein's cruelty to the U.S. invasion, such footage eradicates the complexity of the situation in Iraq. The beheadings of prisoners in Iraq is unconscionable. The use of such footage to advance retroactively a premeditated agenda for war is unforgivable.

The titular "deception" of Buried is the "truth" of Saddam Hussein's threat, concealed by the mainstream media and liberal left. However, the film shows another species of deception, in the Administration's range of rationales for preemptive war. Buried's real value is not as conservative propaganda, but rather, as a distilled example of conservative political spin.

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