Is Killing Part of Pentagon Press Policy?
Date: Thursday, April 10 @ 22:40:37 UTC
The Pentagon has held up its practice of "embedding" journalists with
military units as proof of a new media-friendly policy. On April 8,
however, U.S. military forces launched what appeared to be deliberate
attacks on independent journalists covering the war, killing three and
injuring four others.
In one incident, a U.S. tank fired an explosive shell at the Palestine
Hotel, where most non-embedded international reporters in Baghdad are
based. Two journalists, Taras Protsyuk of the British news agency Reuters
and Jose Cousa of the Spanish network Telecino, were killed; three other
journalists were injured. The tank, which was parked nearby, appeared to
carefully select its target, according to journalists in the hotel,
raising and aiming its gun turret some two minutes before firing a single
Journalists who witnessed the attack unequivocally rejected Pentagon
claims that the tank had been fired on from the hotel. "I never heard a
single shot coming from any of the area around here, certainly not from
the hotel," David Chater of British Sky TV told Reuters (4/8/03).
Footage shot by French TV recorded quiet in the area immediately before
the attack (London Independent, 4/9/03).
Earlier in the day, the U.S. launched separate but near-simultaneous
attacks on the Baghdad offices of Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV, two
Arabic-language news networks that have been broadcasting graphic footage
of the human cost of the war. Both outlets had informed the Pentagon of
their exact locations, according to a statement from the Committee to
Protect Journalists. As with the hotel attack, Pentagon officials claimed
that U.S. forces had come under fire from the press offices, charges that
were rejected by the targeted reporters.
The airstrike against Al Jazeera killed one of the channel's main
correspondents in Iraq, Tareq Ayoub, and injured another journalist,
prompting Al Jazeera to try to pull its remaining reporters out of Baghdad
for fear of their safety (BBC, 4/9/03). Personnel at Abu Dhabi TV escaped
injury from an attack with small-arms fire.
Al Jazeera, which the Bush administration has criticized for airing
footage of American POWs, has been attacked several times by U.S. and
British forces during the war in Iraq. Its offices in Basra were shelled
on April 2, and its camera crew in that city fired on by British tanks on
March 29. A car clearly marked as belonging to Al Jazeera was shot at by
U.S. soldiers on April 7 (Reporters Without Borders, 4/8/03).
International journalists and press freedom groups condemned the U.S.
attacks on the press corps in Baghdad. "We can only conclude that the
U.S. Army deliberately and without warning targeted journalists,"
Reporters Without Borders declared (4/8/03). "We believe these attacks
violate the Geneva Conventions," wrote the Committee to Protect
Journalists in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (4/8/03),
referring to the protection journalists receive under the laws of war.
The attacks on journalists "look very much like murder," Robert Fisk of
the London Independent reported (4/9/03).
But the Pentagon, while expressing regret over the loss of life, rejected
the idea that its forces did anything wrong, and appeared to place blame
on the press corps for being in Baghdad in the first place: "We've had
conversations over the last couple of days, news organizations eager to
get their people unilaterally into Baghdad," said Pentagon spokesperson
Victoria Clarke (Associated Press, 4/9/03). "We are saying it is not a
safe place; you should not be there."
Kate Adie, a British war correspondent during the 1991 Gulf War, told
Irish radio prior to the war (RTE Radio1, 3/9/03; GuluFuture.com, 3/10/03)
that she had received an even more direct threat from the U.S. military:
"I was told by a senior officer in the Pentagon, that if uplinks-- that
is, the television signals out of... Baghdad, for example-- were detected
by any planes...of the military above Baghdad... they'd be fired down on.
Even if they were journalists.... He said: ' Well...they know this....
They've been warned.' This is threatening freedom of information, before
you even get to a war."
Clarke's claim that "we go out of our way to help and protect journalists"
is belied by the U.S.'s pattern of deliberately targeting "enemy"
broadcast operations. In the Kosovo War, the U.S. attacked the offices of
state-owned Radio-Television Serbia, in what Amnesty International called
a "direct attack on a civilian object" which "therefore constitutes a war
crime." On March 25, the U.S. began airstrikes on government-run Iraqi
TV, in what the International Federation of Journalists (Reuters, 3/26/03)
suggested might also be a Geneva Convention violation, since it the U.S.
was "targeting a television network simply because they don't like the
message it gives out."
Al Jazeera has also been targeted prior to the Iraq War. During the U.S.
invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Al Jazeera's Kabul offices were destroyed
by a U.S. missile. In a report by the BBC's Nik Gowing (4/8/02), Rear
Admiral Craig Quigley, the U.S. deputy assistant defense secretary for
public affairs, claimed that the compound was being used by Al Qaeda-- a
charge the news outlet strongly denied-- and that this made it a
"legitimate target." The U.S.'s evidence? Al Jazeera's use of a
satellite uplink and its regular contacts with Taliban officials--
perfectly normal activities for a news outlet.
Quigley also made the improbable claim that the U.S. had not known the
compound was Al Jazeera's office, and asserted that in any case, such
information was "not relevant" to the decision to destroy it. "The U.S.
military," concluded Gowing, "makes no effort to distinguish between
legitimate satellite uplinks for broadcast news communications and the
identifiable radio or satellite communications belonging to 'the enemy.'"
Whether the U.S. is deliberately targeting independent media, or is simply
not taking care to avoid attacking obvious media targets, the failure to
respect the protection afforded journalists under the Geneva Conventions
is deeply troubling. Unfettered reporting from the battlefield is
essential to bear witness to the realities of war.