Soldiers decry use of footage in `9/11'

Two men oppose use of clips featuring them in Moore film

July 24, 2004|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

Afew days after Michael Moore's blockbuster documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 opened in theaters, a friend approached Roy Mitchell with a strange look on his face.

Mitchell, an Army staff sergeant, is a patient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where he is recovering from the loss of his left leg in an explosion in Afghanistan. As the friend approached him that day, he studied Mitchell's face, then told him something that shocked him.

"You're in that 9/11 movie," he said, then added: "Man, it doesn't make you look good."

It was the first Mitchell knew that Moore's controversial documentary, which has played to record-setting audiences, had used film of him to help make its case against President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.

"I'm in it," he said. "And I didn't know until it opened."

In a brief film clip taken from an interview he did with the British television network Channel 4 in February, Mitchell appears in the physical-training room of Walter Reed, where he shared the following words about wounded soldiers:

"The ones that are covered are the KIAs - the 'Killed in Action.' I'm not taking anything away from those soldiers. They deserve that coverage. But there is also us. To say we're forgotten, that would be going just a little bit too far to say we're forgotten, but I'd say we are the missed soldiers of the Army."

Mitchell does not deny making the remarks. But he vehemently objects to filmmaker Moore's using them - without his knowledge - in a film he thinks undermines the military's mission in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he risked his life.

"The president is the commander in chief of our military," Mitchell said. "I don't want to have my face in a film that's anti-Bush, or anti-military."

Mitchell, of course, is far from the only critic of Moore's latest film, which despite its success has been condemned by some as more propaganda than documentary, and has been taken to task for alleged factual lapses. Moore, who has vigorously defended his film against such criticism, could not be reached through the film's publicists to discuss Mitchell's complaint.

Mitchell has not seen Fahrenheit 9/11 in its entirety, but he said that he's seen enough to disagree with its message and with Moore's use of his comments.

"The way they lead into my spot in the movie insinuates that I'm talking bad about the military," Mitchell said.

In the film, images of dead Iraqis precede his clip. Following it are the remarks of another Marine who vows never to return to Iraq.

Mitchell, a father of two from Batesville, Ind., lost his leg and suffered serious burns when his vehicle was struck by an explosive device in Shkin, Afghanistan. Still, he hopes he'll be able to serve at least 12 more years in the military. But now he fears that fallout from the film could stand in his way.

"If anyone on those medical boards sees my face and recognizes I was in the film, they could use it to determine my future," he said. "I don't need to be associated with that."

A spokeswoman in the public affairs office of Fort Drum, N.Y., where Mitchell's 10th Mountain Division is based, said someone on the staff is "looking into" the matter but that the sergeant's appearance in the film should not affect his career advancement.

However, the spokeswoman, Master Sgt. Sharon K. Opeka, expressed little sympathy for Mitchell's plight.

"That's television," Opeka said. "And if you do an interview for one channel, it's their property and they can do what they want with it. Probably he was not thinking about this at the time."

Apparently, Mitchell is not the only soldier to make an unwitting appearance in the movie, which is on the verge of earning $100 million at the box office.

The July 15 issue of The Enterprise, a Massachusetts newspaper, reported that Army reservist Peter Damon - also recuperating at Walter Reed after losing parts of both arms in an explosion in Iraq - was "surprised" to learn that an interview he gave to NBC this year is shown in the film.

John Gonsalves, the founder of Homes for Our Troops - a Massachusetts organization that builds homes for disabled soldiers - is constructing a new house for Damon and his wife, with whom he has talked extensively about the film.

"To do a movie that's clearly anti-war and totally against the Bush administration, and to put these guys in it without their knowledge, is morally wrong, and maybe even legally," said Gonsalves.

While he continues his physical training at Walter Reed, Mitchell said, he intends to take his opposition to the clip as far as possible. He said he plans to meet with an attorney next week to discuss possible legal recourse.

"I'm going to do everything I can to let them know I don't want to be associated with the film," he said.

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