Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Social Sciences, Media and Communication


The United States-led 'war on terror' has resulted in high levels of civilian casualties and human suffering. The consequences of the military actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan since 2001 might normally be the subject of outrage, not just in the target countries, but elsewhere including citizens in the US and other countries whose governments support the 'war on terror'. However this has largely not occurred because arguably, the US government, supported by the mainstream media, has used a range of techniques that alter perceptions of the war and its effect on civilians in the target countries. On the basis of four case studies where civilian casualties and suffering have occurred as a direct result of US-led military action in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, a pattern emerges showing the use of specific tactics that hide the human consequences of the 'war on terror' from Western audiences. These tactics, outlined in the backfire model as minimising outrage over an injustice, have been used by mainstream media organisations and government and military spokespersons. This is revealed by an analysis of mainstream media accounts, and official accounts released by the US Department of Defence and US State Department in relation to:

l.The bombing campaign in Afghanistan from October to December 2001

2. The first siege of Fallujah in April 2004

3. The Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad in 2007

4.The increasing use of unmanned drones in Pakistan's north-western tribal areas

These official and mainstream media versions are compared with accounts of the same events published by academics, independent journalists, non-government organisations and peace workers. In each case it is shown how the official accounts and mainstream media articles obscure or hide the human consequences of Western military actions. By using tactics to minimise outrage over these four cases of injustice, the US government, supported by a compliant mainstream media, are effectively operating to limit opposition to the 'war on terror'. The ongoing use of these tactics, combined with the increasing use of private military contractors and unmanned drones, will contribute to facilitating a state of perpetual war that is likely to extend beyond the so called 'war on terror'.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.