Sources: http://www.truthout.org, Feb. 28, 2005, Title: “Dead Messengers: How the U.S. Military Threatens Journalists,” Author: Steve Weissman; http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/022405A.shtml, Title: “Media Repression in ‘Liberated’ Land,” InterPress Service, November 18, 2004, Author: Dahr Jamail;http://www.ipsnews.net/interna.asp?idnews=26333
Faculty Evaluator: Elizabeth Burch, Ph.D.
Student Researcher: Michelle Jesolva
According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)1, 2004 was the deadliest year for reporters since 1980, when records began to be kept. Over a 12-month span, 129 media workers were killed and 49 of those deaths occurred in the Iraqi conflict. According to independent journalist Dahr Jamail, journalists are increasingly being detained and threatened by the U.S.-installed interim government in Iraq. When the only safety for a reporter is being embedded with the U.S. military, the reported stories tend to have a positive spin. Non-embedded reporters suffer the great risk of being identified as enemy targets by the military.
The most blatant attack on journalists occurred the morning of April 8, 2004, when the Third Infantry fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad killing cameramen Jose Couso and Taras Protsyuk and injuring three others. The hotel served as headquarters for some 100 reporters and other media workers. The Pentagon officials knew that the Palestine Hotel was full of journalists and had assured the Associated Press that the U.S. would not target the building. According to Truthout, the Army had refused to release the records of its investigation. The Committee to Protect Journalists, created in 1981 in order to protect colleagues abroad from governments and others who have no use for free and independent media, filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act to force the Army to release its results. The sanitized copy of the releasable results showed nothing more than a Commander inquiry.
Unsatisfied with the U.S. military’s investigation, Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that works to improve the legal and physical safety of journalists worldwide, conducted their own investigation. They gathered evidence from journalists in the Palestine Hotel at the time of the attacks. These were eye witness accounts that the military neglected to include in their report. The Reporters Without Borders report also provided information disclosed by others embedded within the U.S. Army, including the U.S. military soldiers and officers directly involved in the attack. The report stated that the U.S. officials first lied about what had happened during the Palestine Hotel attack and then, in an official statement four months later, exonerated the U.S. Army from any mistake of error in judgment. The investigation found that the soldiers in the field did not know that the hotel was full of journalists. Olga Rodriguez, a journalist present at the Palestine Hotel during the attack, stated on KPFA’s Democracy Now! that the soldiers and tanks were present at the hotel 36 hours before the firing and that they had even communicated with the soldiers.
There have been several other unusual journalist attacks, including:
‰ March 22, 2003: Terry Lloyd, a reporter for British TV station ITN, was killed when his convoy crossed into Iraq from Kuwait. French cameraman Frederic Nerac and Lebanese interpreter Hussein Osman, both in the convoy, disappeared at the same time.2
‰ June, 2003: According to Dahr Jamail, within days of the ‘handover’ of power to an interim Iraqi government in 2003, al-Jazeera had been accused of inaccurate reporting and was banned for one month from reporting out of Iraq. The ban was later extended to “indefinitely” and the interim government announced that any al-Jazeera journalist found reporting in Iraq would be detained. Corentin Fleury, a French freelance photographer, and his interpreter Bahktiyar Abdulla Hadad, were detained by the U.S. military when they were leaving Fallujah before the siege of the city began. They were both held in a military detention facility outside of the city and were questioned about the photos that were taken of bomb-stricken Fallujah. Fleury was released after five days but his interpreter, Bahktiyar Abdulla Hadad, remained.
‰ April 8, 2004: The same day of the attack on the Palestine Hotel, Truthout writes, the U.S. bombed the Baghdad offices of Abu Dhabi TV and Al-Jazeera while they were preparing to broadcast, killing Al-Jazeera correspondent Tariq Ayyoub. August 17, 2004: Mazen Dana was killed while filming (with permission) a prison, guarded by the U.S. military in a Baghdad suburb. According to Truthout’s Steve Weissman, the Pentagon issued a statement one month later claiming that the troops had acted within the rules of engagement.3
‰ March 4, 2005: Nicola Calipari, one of Italyís highest ranking intelligence officials, was shot dead by U.S. troops. He was driving with Italian journalist Guiliana Sgrena, who had just been released from captivity and was on her way to Baghdad’s airport. Sgrena survived the attack. She stated in an interview with Amy Goodman on KPFA’s Democracy Now! that the troops “shot at us without any advertising, any intention, any attempt to stop us before” and they appeared to have shot the back of the car.4
In all cases, little investigation has been conducted, no findings have been released and all soldiers involved have been exonerated.
At the World Economic Forum, on a panel titled: “Will Democracy Survive the Media?,” Eason Jordan, a CNN news chief, commented that the U.S. commanders encourage hostility toward the media and fail to protect journalists, especially those who choose not to embed themselves under military control. According to Truthout, during a discussion about the number of journalists killed during the Iraq war, Jordan stated that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by U.S. troops, but had been targeted. Jordan also insisted that U.S. soldiers had deliberately shot at journalists. After the forum, Jordan recanted the statements and was forced to resign his job of 23 years at CNN.
As a matter of military doctrine, the U.S. military dominates, at all costs, every element of battle, including our perception of what they do. The need for control leads the Pentagon to urge journalists to embed themselves within the military, where they can go where they are told and film and tell stories only from a pro-American point of view. The Pentagon offers embedded journalists a great deal of protection. As the Pentagon sees it, non-embedded eyes and ears do not have any military significance, and unless Congress and the American people stop them, the military will continue to target independent journalists. Admirals and generals see the world one way, reporters another; the clash leads to the deaths of too many journalists.
Update by Steve Weissman: When Truthout boss Marc Ash asked me earlier this year to look into the Pentagon’s killing of journalists, many reporters believed that the military was purposely targeting them. But, as I quickly found, the crime was more systemic and in many ways worse. As far as anyone has yet proved, no commanding officer ever ordered a subordinate to fire on journalists as such. Not at Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel in April 2003. Not at the Baghdad checkpoint where soldiers wounded Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena and killed her Secret Service protector in March 2005. Andnot anywhere else in Iraq or Afghanistan.
How, then, did the U.S. military end up killing journalists?
It started with a simple decision-the Pentagon’s absolute refusal to take any responsibility for the lives of journalists who chose to work independently rather than embed themselves in a British or American military unit. Despite repeated requests from Reuters and other major news organizations, Pentagon officials still refuse to take the steps needed to reduce the threat to independent journalists:
1. The military must be forced to respect the work that independent journalists do, protect them where possible, and train soldiers to recognize the obvious differences between rocket launchers and TV cameras.
2. Commanders need to pass on information about the whereabouts of journalists with a direct order not to shoot at them.
3. When soldiers do kill journalists, the Pentagon needs to hold them responsible, something that no military investigation has yet done.
4. When the military tries to forcibly exclude journalists and otherwise prevent “hostile information” about its operations, such as its destruction of Falujah, Congress and the media need to step in and force the Pentagon to back off.
One other problem needs urgent attention. Military intelligence regularly monitors the uplink equipment that reporters use to transmit their stories and communicate by satellite phone. But, as the BBC’s Nik Gowing discovered, the electronic intelligence mavens make no effort to distinguish between journalistic communications and those of enemy forces. All the sensing devices do is look for electronic traffic between the monitored uplinks and known enemies.
In Gowing’s view, this led the Americans to order a rocket attack on the Kabul office of the Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera, whose journalists kept regular contact with the Taliban as part of their journalistic coverage.
To date, neither Congress nor the military have done what they need to do to protect unembedded journalists and the information they provide. More shamefully, the mass media continues to underplay the story.
But, for those who want it, reliable information is easily available, either from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters without Borders, or the International Federation of Journalists.
2. “Missing ITN Crew May Have Come Under ‘Friendly Fire,’” http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,919832,00.html, March 23, 2003.
3. Democracy Now! March 23, 2005, Wounded Spanish Journalist Olga Rodriguez describes the U.S. Attack on the Palestine Hotel that killed two of her colleagues.
4. Democracy Now! April 27, 2005, Giuliana Sgrena Blasts U.S. Cover Up, Calls for U.S. and Italy to leave Iraq.
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