The US Military Want To Kill Journalists
9 April, 2003
First the Americans killed
the correspondent of al-Jazeera yesterday and wounded his cameraman.
Then, within four hours, they attacked the Reuters television bureau
in Baghdad, killing one of its cameramen and a cameraman for Spain's
Tele 5 channel and wounding four other members of the Reuters staff.
Was it possible to believe
this was an accident? Or was it possible that the right word for these
killings the first with a jet aircraft, the second with an M1A1
Abrams tank was murder? These were not, of course, the first
journalists to die in the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Terry Lloyd
of ITV was shot dead by American troops in southern Iraq, who apparently
mistook his car for an Iraqi vehicle. His crew are still missing. Michael
Kelly of The Washington Post tragically drowned in a canal. Two journalists
have died in Kurdistan. Two journalists a German and a Spaniard
were killed on Monday night at a US base in Baghdad, with two
Americans, when an Iraqi missile exploded amid them.
And we should not forget
the Iraqi civilians who are being killed and maimed by the hundred and
who unlike their journalist guests cannot leave the war
and fly home. So the facts of yesterday should speak for themselves.
Unfortunately for the Americans, they make it look very like murder.
The US jet turned to rocket
al-Jazeera's office on the banks of the Tigris at 7.45am local time
yesterday. The television station's chief correspondent in Baghdad,
Tariq Ayoub, a Jordanian-Palestinian, was on the roof with his second
cameraman, an Iraqi called Zuheir, reporting a pitched battle near the
bureau between American and Iraqi troops. Mr Ayoub's colleague Maher
Abdullah recalled afterwards that both men saw the plane fire the rocket
as it swooped toward their building, which is close to the Jumhuriya
Bridge upon which two American tanks had just appeared.
"On the screen, there
was this battle and we could see bullets flying and then we heard the
aircraft," Mr Abdullah said.
"The plane was flying
so low that those of us downstairs thought it would land on the roof
that's how close it was. We actually heard the rocket being launched.
It was a direct hit the missile actually exploded against our
electrical generator. Tariq died almost at once. Zuheir was injured."
Now for America's problems
in explaining this little saga. Back in 2001, the United States fired
a cruise missile at al-Jazeera's office in Kabul from which tapes
of Osama bin Laden had been broadcast around the world. No explanation
was ever given for this extraordinary attack on the night before the
city's "liberation"; the Kabul correspondent, Taiseer Alouni,
was unhurt. By the strange coincidence of journalism, Mr Alouni was
in the Baghdad office yesterday to endure the USAF's second attack on
Far more disturbing, however,
is the fact that the al-Jazeera network the freest Arab television
station, which has incurred the fury of both the Americans and the Iraqi
authorities for its live coverage of the war gave the Pentagon
the co-ordinates of its Baghdad office two months ago and received assurances
that the bureau would not be attacked.
Then on Monday, the US State
Department's spokesman in Doha, an Arab-American called Nabil Khouri,
visited al-Jazeera's offices in the city and, according to a source
within the Qatari satellite channel, repeated the Pentagon's assurances.
Within 24 hours, the Americans had fired their missile into the Baghdad
The next assault, on Reuters,
came just before midday when an Abrams tank on the Jamhuriya Bridge
suddenly pointed its gun barrel towards the Palestine Hotel where more
than 200 foreign journalists are staying to cover the war from the Iraqi
side. Sky Television's David Chater noticed the barrel moving. The French
television channel France 3 had a crew in a neighbouring room and videotaped
the tank on the bridge. The tape shows a bubble of fire emerging from
the barrel, the sound of a detonation and then pieces of paintwork falling
past the camera as it vibrates with the impact.
In the Reuters bureau on
the 15th floor, the shell exploded amid the staff. It mortally wounded
a Ukrainian cameraman, Taras Protsyuk, who was also filming the tanks,
and seriously wounded another member of the staff, Paul Pasquale from
Britain, and two other journalists, including Reuters' Lebanese-Palestinian
reporter Samia Nakhoul. On the next floor, Tele 5's cameraman Jose Couso
was badly hurt. Mr Protsyuk died shortly afterwards. His camera and
its tripod were left in the office, which was swamped with the crew's
blood. Mr Couso had a leg amputated but he died half an hour after the
The Americans responded with
what all the evidence proves to be a straightforward lie. General Buford
Blount of the US 3rd Infantry Division whose tanks were on the
bridge announced that his vehicles had come under rocket and
rifle fire from snipers in the Palestine Hotel, that his tank had fired
a single round at the hotel and that the gunfire had then ceased. The
general's statement, however, was untrue.
I was driving on a road between
the tanks and the hotel at the moment the shell was fired and
heard no shooting. The French videotape of the attack runs for more
than four minutes and records absolute silence before the tank's armament
is fired. And there were no snipers in the building. Indeed, the dozens
of journalists and crews living there myself included
have watched like hawks to make sure that no armed men should ever use
the hotel as an assault point.
This is, one should add,
the same General Blount who boasted just over a month ago that his crews
would be using depleted uranium munitions the kind many believe
to be responsible for an explosion of cancers after the 1991 Gulf War
in their tanks. For General Blount to suggest, as he clearly
does, that the Reuters camera crew was in some way involved in shooting
at Americans merely turns a meretricious statement into a libellous
Again, we should remember
that three dead and five wounded journalists do not constitute a massacre
let alone the equivalence of the hundreds of civilians being
maimed by the invasion force. And it is a truth that needs to be remembered
that the Iraqi regime has killed a few journalists of its own over the
years, with tens of thousands of its own people. But something very
dangerous appeared to be getting loose yesterday. General Blount's explanation
was the kind employed by the Israelis after they have killed the innocent.
Is there therefore some message that we reporters are supposed to learn
from all this? Is there some element in the American military that has
come to hate the press and wants to take out journalists based in Baghdad,
to hurt those whom our Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has maliciously
claimed to be working "behind enemy lines". Could it be that
this claim that international correspondents are in effect collaborating
with Mr Blunkett's enemy (most Britons having never supported this war
in the first place) is turning into some kind of a death sentence?
I knew Mr Ayoub. I have broadcast
during the war from the rooftop on which he died. I told him then how
easy a target his Baghdad office would make if the Americans wanted
to destroy its coverage seen across the Arab world of
civilian victims of the bombing. Mr Protsyuk of Reuters often shared
the Palestine Hotel's elevator with me. Samia Nakhoul, who is 42, has
been a friend and colleague since the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war. She
is married to the Financial Times correspondent David Gardner.
Yesterday afternoon, she
lay covered in blood in a Baghdad hospital. And General Blount dared
to imply that this innocent woman and her brave colleagues were snipers.
What, I wonder, does this tell us about the war in