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August 7, 2020

War crimes

Opinion

August 7, 2020

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the detonation of US nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9) during World War II. The death toll of the two atomic assaults has been estimated at over 225,000 people, with many of them killed instantly, while others died later from radiation exposure.

In the aftermath of the bombing of Japan, and for decades afterward, US authorities suppressed the military footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With government propaganda and censorship, the public was kept in dark about the scale of damage and human suffering inflicted. August's US nuclear strike turned Japanese soil into a toxic disarray where no life would grow for another 75 years. Contrary to their declared target (the Japanese Army headquarters), the bomb blast seared people to death: women, children and elderly, and those who weren’t in a uniform, indiscriminately causing long-term health effects in those who survived the blast.

British investigative journalist Robert Fisk once said, “War is a total failure of the human spirit”. The fallout of the atomic bomb represents the fall of humanity and loss of its dignity. It has not only taught people all over the world about the horrors of nuclear weapons, but also emphasized the crucial role of the media in preventing terrible human errors during a time of war.

In recent years, under the Trump administration, the free press has become severely threatened. On numerous occasions, President Trump has expressed outrage toward “leakers”, and media organizations using such leaks to disclose classified information. With the US government’s prosecution of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, the hostility of the Trump Administration toward the media has now escalated into criminalization of journalism.

Assange has been indicted on 17 counts under the Espionage Act of 1917 and one charge of conspiring with a source to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for his reporting on the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the torture at Guantanamo Bay. Assange is being held on remand in Belmarsh Prison, solely on the basis of a US extradition request. He would face 175 years in prison if convicted.

Assange’s extradition is recognized by free speech groups as the most important press freedom case of the 21st century. What is this prosecution of a publisher really about? Here, a story of an Australian journalist who exposed the brutal truth of war at the end of WWII can provide a historical context and help us better understand the significance of this case.

Wilfred Burchett has become known as the first Western journalist to enter Hiroshima after the city was bombed, where he reported from one of the few hospitals operating. In the story headlined “The Atomic Plague”, Burchett wrote, “Hiroshima looks as if a monster steamroller had passed over it and squashed it out of existence”. The Melbourne war correspondent indicated that civilians were suffering from more than big blisters with their hair falling out.

Burchett’s dispatch – often referred to as the “Scoop of the Century” – was denied by the US administration.

Excerpted from: 'From Bombing of Hiroshima to Collateral Murder; War Crimes of Empire and Prosecution of Free Press'.

Commondreams.org