The Pentagon Targets the Press (and Other Civilians)

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A
controversy over the U.S. military's killing of journalists in Iraq
has forced the resignation of the Cable News Network's chief news
executive, Eason Jordan, who has been with CNN since 1982. In January,
as a panelist at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Jordan
said he thought several such journalists had been targeted. He soon
backed off and apologized, saying they were killed "accidentally."
(AP 2-12-05.)

Jordan
was right the first time, evidence indicates. That the U.S. military
has targeted news media is a fact beyond dispute – and such
actions are war crimes.

During
the Clinton-NATO war on Yugoslavia in 1999, Radio Television Serbia
in Belgrade was bombed and sixteen editorial, technical, and office
personnel died. In an impromptu interview by Jeremy Scahill last
year, the general in charge of that war, Wesley Clark, admitted
that the bombing was intentional. (Pacifica Radio, Jan. 26, 2004.)

One
week into the current war in Iraq, the Iraqi radio and television
headquarters in Baghdad were bombed. Casualties were not reported.
The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders futilely called for an
impartial international investigation. Robert Menard, its secretary
general, said that "a media outlet cannot be a military target
under international law…." He called attacks on any civilians,
including journalists, war crimes.

At
least a dozen media people are known to have died from violence
involving the U.S. military in Iraq. The incidents are described
below. The first four cases appear relatively clear-cut,
although the military admits no wrongdoing in any case.


Five deaths, six incidents, no "accidents"

  • An
    air raid on the Al-Jazeera TV offices in Baghdad killed the
    journalist Tareq Ayoub and wounded a colleague on April 8, 2003.
    The network had shown civilian victims of U.S. bombings. Big
    banners marked "TV" hung outside the building. Six
    days earlier, the Basra Sheraton Hotel, whose only guests were
    an Al-Jazeera team, received four direct artillery hits, without
    casualties, according to the Arabic TV news channel. And in
    November 2001, U.S. bombs destroyed Al-Jazeera's office in Kabul,
    Afghanistan, also without casualties. Before all three incidents,
    the network had notified U.S. authorities of the respective
    locations, a spokesman said.
  • Within
    three hours after the Baghdad bombing, a tank fired at the Palestine
    Hotel there and fatally wounded two cameramen: Taras Protsyuk,
    a Ukranian, of Reuters; and Jose Couso, a Spaniard, of the Telecinco
    network. The French Press Agency reported next day that
    footage by France 3 television "shows a US tank targeting
    the journalists' hotel and waiting at least two minutes before
    firing." The Department of Defense claimed the shooting
    was self-defense. Reporters Without Borders said that all the
    facts indicated "exactly the opposite." The International
    Federation of Journalists (IFJ), based in Brussels, accused
    the Pentagon of a "cynical whitewash." Robert Fisk
    of the UK newspaper Independent asked if it was possible
    to believe that the twin Baghdad attacks were accidents. "Or
    was it possible that the right word for these killings … was
    murder?"
  • Tank
    fire also killed the Palestinian cameraman Mazen Dana of Reuters
    outside of Abu Ghraib prison on August 18, 2003. The U.S.
    Army claimed that soldiers mistook his camera for a weapon.
    But colleagues with him said otherwise. The Guardian, UK,
    next day quoted a Reuters soundman, Nael al-Shyoukhi, saying
    the soldiers "saw us and they knew about our identities
    and our mission…. We were noted and seen clearly." They
    had filmed the prison and were about to go when a convoy led
    by a tank arrived; Dana stepped out of the car to film again,
    walked a bit and was shot. IFJ noted that it happened in broad
    daylight and that the camera team had made contact with soldiers
    to explain its mission and received permission to film the prison.
  • Dhia
    Najim, an Iraqi freelance cameraman working for Reuters, in
    Ramadi, west of Baghdad, was shot to death, evidently by a U.S.
    sniper, on Nov. 1, 2004. He had been filming clashes between
    marines and foes, but exchanges had ended when he was felled
    by a single shot. Najim's colleagues and family said a U.S.
    sniper killed him. Military authorities denied it. Reuters noted
    that photographs taken two days earlier showed marine snipers
    taking positions in Ramadi. The news agency called for an investigation.

Anti-media
acts – or just routine slaughter?

Among
the first fallen news men after the war began was Terry Lloyd, a
correspondent for the UK's Independent Television News (ITN). Initially
he was reported killed by crossfire on March 22, 2003, near Basra.
The Daily Mirror (9-10-03) said U.S. marines admitted to
ITN investigators having fired on Lloyd's two Jeeps marked "TV."
But the paper interviewed an Iraqi businessman who said that Lloyd,
suffering only a shoulder wound, was killed by machine-gun fire
from a U.S. helicopter while the man was driving him and some Iraqi
soldiers to a hospital in a minibus. His colleagues, cameraman Fred
Nerac and translator Hussein Othman, were believed to have been
captured and slain by an Iraqi militia.

Another
unsettled incident involved Bourhan Mohammad al-Louhaybi, an ABC
News cameraman, killed by a shot to the head as he covered an exchange
of fire between armed Iraqis and American forces in Fallujah on
March 26, 2004.

Four
media men were shot to death last year by U.S. troops in two unexplained
attacks on cars, on March 18 at a Baghdad checkpoint and on April
19 on a road in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

Victims
in the former attack were Ali Abdel-Aziz, cameraman, and Ali al-Khatib,
correspondent, for Al-Arabiya satellite news channel. Next day,
at a Baghdad press conference for Secretary of State Colin Powell,
an Arab journalist demanded an open investigation of that incident
and security for journalists working in Iraq; then he and some 20
colleagues walked out. Mohsin Abdel Hamid, member of the U.S.-appointed
Iraqi Governing Council, called the shooting "clear aggression
by the occupation forces against the media." (Online NewsHour,
3-19-04.)

The
latter victims were Asad Kadhim, correspondent for Al-Iraqiya, U.S.-funded
TV, and his driver, Hussein Saleh. A wounded cameraman, Jassem Kamel,
told Al-Iraquiya that they had done interviews in a police station
and driven for some 500 meters when they were fired on. U.S. authorities
called it an "accidental shooting" but said the soldiers
who fired acted within the "rules of engagement." IFJ
blamed a pattern of negligence by the invading forces. (Inter Press
Service, 4-20-04.)

It
is not certain whether the pair of incidents represented a deliberate
targeting of news media or what seems to be a standard procedure
in Iraq to blast all vehicles that fail to stop or slow down when
U.S. soldiers fire "warning shots" – and some vehicles
that do slow down. The victims are invariably innocent civilians.
That practice was reported in The Times (UK, 3-30-03),
The Washington Post (4-1-03), Le Monde (4-12-03),
and the Sacramento Bee (5-16-04).

Another
victim from Al-Arabiya TV was a Palestinian cub reporter, 26, one
of 13 people killed when a U.S. military helicopter fired into a
crowd of civilians near a burning Army armored vehicle in Baghdad.
The military said it had tried to scatter looters, but witnesses
to the contrary, including a Reuters cameraman who filmed the scene,
said the crowd had been peaceful. At Al-Arabiya's office, employees
wept as they watched the shooting on television. A portrait hung
on the door with the inscription, "Martyr Mazin Tumaisi, who
was killed by the American forces on September 12th 2004."
His photo joined photos of the two colleagues killed in March. Laith
Ahmed, operations manager, tearfully related that Tumaisi had called
twice that day with reports, then called for help: "I am injured
in my leg and head." He died in Karama Hospital. (The Washington
Post, 9-13-04.)

Al-Arabiya
was victimized yet again on Oct. 30, 2004, when a bombing at its
Baghdad office killed seven people, including five employees. An
obscure group of jihadists avowed responsibility. Two days later,
the Najim killing brought the toll of media fatalities since the
invasion to 62, according to IFJ's count.

"All
sides in Iraq seem to regard independent journalism itself as the
enemy," IFJ's general secretary, Aidan White, said at a London
forum. He demanded that the U.S. military investigate each of its
media killings and bring to justice those responsible for "reckless
or murderous action."

War
chiefs should read their own manual

The
Geneva Conventions' Protocol I, Article 79, says, "Journalists
engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflicts
shall be considered civilians…. They shall be protected as such
under the Conventions and this Protocol, provided they take no action
adversely affecting their status as civilians."

The
1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, of which
the above is a part, prohibits any military attacks directed at
civilians or indiscriminate attacks on both civilians and military
targets. Violation is considered a war crime. Although the basic
Geneva Conventions – which prohibit, among other acts, the
murder or torture of civilians or war prisoners – are U.S.
treaties in full effect, the protocol was signed but not ratified
by the U.S. (never coming before the Senate). However, Amnesty International
and others contend that it has become part of customary international
law. In fact, the U.S. Army Field Manual (FM 27–10)
incorporates some of its principles under "The Law of Land
Warfare," e.g. (40, 41):

Customary
international law prohibits the launching of attacks (including
bombardment) against either the civilian population as such or
individual civilians as such…. Loss of life and damage to property
incidental to attacks must not be excessive in relation to the
concrete and direct military advantage expected to be gained.

The
manual also states, paraphrasing The Hague Convention on rules of
land warfare (1907): "Cities, towns, villages, dwellings, or
buildings which may be classified as military objectives, but which
are undefended … are not permissible objects of attack."
Attacks on hotels occupied by media people are clear violations.
Of course, most of the attacks on cities, towns, villages, dwellings,
or buildings by the U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia,
Indochina, Korea, and, for that matter, Germany and Japan, have
also been violations of Hague.

A
1996 statute (U.S. Code, Title 18, Section 2441) makes any fatal
violation of Hague or Geneva a capital "war crime."

February
18, 2005

Paul W. Lovinger [send him
mail
], author and journalist, is secretary of the nonpartisan,
San Francisco-based War and Law
League
, which he founded in 1998. It seeks the rule of law in
U.S. foreign affairs.

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