Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Changing Hearts and Minds

When an organization - a media organization or any other - has a point of view you don't like, what do you do? In BushCo's America?

Did you guess 'blow them the fuck up'? Give yourself a pat on the back!

Britain has warned media organizations they are breaking the law if they publish details of a leaked document said to show U.S.
President George W. Bush wanted to bomb Arabic television station Al Jazeera.

Now, I'm not sure just which 'station' they mean here - Al-Jazeera's offices in Baghdad and especially in Kabul have already been attacked by U.S. forces, and its reporters have been attacked and several have been killed. In any case, I wonder if Air America will be next..

An update: Attaturk makes note of an interesting coincedence, and the Sunday Times provides further details.


Blogger Management said...

32 minutes ago

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has warned media organizations they are breaking the law if they publish details of a leaked document said to show U.S.
President George W. Bush wanted to bomb Arabic television station Al Jazeera.

The government's top lawyer warned editors in a note after the Daily Mirror newspaper reported on Tuesday that a secret British government memo said British Prime Minister
Tony Blair had talked Bush out of bombing the broadcaster in April last year.

Several British newspapers reported the attorney general's note on Wednesday and repeated the Mirror's allegations, which the White House said were "so outlandish" they did not merit a response. Blair's office declined to comment.

Al Jazeera, which has repeatedly denied U.S. accusations it sides with insurgents in
Iraq, called on Britain and the United States to state quickly whether the report was accurate.

"If the report is correct then this would be both shocking and worrisome not only to Al Jazeera but to media organizations across the world," the Qatar-based station said in a statement.

The story would also be a shock for Qatar, a small Gulf state which cultivates good relations with Washington.

The Mirror said the memo came from Blair's Downing Street office and turned up in May last year at the local office of Tony Clarke, then a member of parliament for the town of Northampton. Clarke handed the document back to the government.

Leo O'Connor, who used to work for Clarke, and civil servant David Keogh were charged last Thursday under Britain's Official Secrets Act with making a "damaging disclosure of a document relating to international relations."


The Mirror said Bush told Blair at a White House summit on April 16 last year that he wanted to target Al Jazeera. The summit took place as U.S. forces in Iraq were launching a major assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.

The paper quoted an unnamed government official suggesting Bush's threat was a joke but added another unidentified source saying the U.S. president was serious.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response."

The attorney general told media that publishing the contents of a document which is known to have been unlawfully disclosed by a civil servant was a breach of the Official Secrets Act.

Kevin Maguire, the Mirror's associate editor, said government officials had given no indication of any legal problems with the story when contacted before publication.

"We were astonished, 24 hours later, to be threatened with the Official Secrets Act and to be requested to give various undertakings to avoid being injuncted," he told BBC radio.

Al Jazeera said that, if true, the story would raise serious doubts about the U.S. administration's version of previous incidents involving the station's journalists and offices.

In 2001, the station's Kabul office was hit by U.S. bombs and in 2003 Al Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayyoub was killed in a U.S. strike on its Baghdad office. The United States has denied deliberately targeting the station.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Memo warning 'attack on press freedom'

John Plunkett
Wednesday November 23, 2005

The National Union of Journalists today accused the government of a "double attack on the freedom of the press and freedom of information" after it issued a reminder to editors about the provisions of the Official Secrets Act.

The attorney general threatened newspapers with the act and the Contempt of Court Act in the context of an allegedly leaked memo, relating to a dispute between Tony Blair and George Bush over the conduct of military operations in Iraq.

This intervention by the attorney general followed the publication of a front page story in the Daily Mirror yesterday under the headline "Bush plot to bomb his ally", in which the paper claimed the memo revealed that the US president last year planned to attack the Qatar headquarters of Arabic news broadcaster al-Jazeera.

"This is a heavy-handed attempt to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is a double attack on the freedom of the press and freedom of information," said the NUJ secretary, Jeremy Dear.

"These sort of attempts to stifle uncomfortable revelations printed in a newspaper, which is only carrying out its proper duty to inform the British public, does the government of what is supposed to be a democracy no credit whatsoever.

"What we need in this country is free and open debate and a proper political dialogue over important issues of this sort, not a knee-jerk panic reaction."

The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, warned that publication of further details from the document would be a breach under section five of the Official Secrets Act.

In its news story on the attorney general's warning today, the Daily Mirror said it had "essentially agreed to comply".

· To contact the MediaGuardian newsdesk email or phone 020 7239 9857

· If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly "for publication".

12:48 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Baghdad closer to collapse
Army, Marine tanks and troops lay waste to ministries, capture air base, repel Iraqi counterattack
JOURNALISTS KILLED: Questions raised over deaths from U.S. fire
- Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Click to View

Baghdad -- Three journalists were killed and at least half a dozen wounded by American forces in Baghdad in three separate incidents on Tuesday, prompting questions as to whether at least one of the attacks was deliberate.

The victims included a reporter for the Arab television channel Al-Jazeera, who was killed by U.S. fire as he was preparing a live broadcast from the network's office. Two cameramen later died in the Palestine Hotel, the principal headquarters for foreign journalists here, when an American tank fired a round into the building.

The casualties occurred in locations that were well-known to the Pentagon, and a prominent U.S. media watchdog group asked whether -- in at least the case involving the Al-Jazeera reporter, Tariq Ayoub -- the American military might be deliberately targeting journalists.

The assertion was denied by U.S. Central Command, but Nabil Khoury, an Arabic-speaking State Department official who arrived in the region this week to make the U.S. case for the war to Arab audiences, admitted that Ayoub's death would make his job harder.

"The level of mistrust and lack of confidence has been high, and this incident only makes matters worse," he said. "There will be a presumption of guilt."

Al-Jazeera is the Arab world's most widely watched channel, and it uses an aggressive, American-style reporting style to help shape public opinion in a region where stale, government-controlled media predominate.

But its unabashed pro-Arab views and critical coverage of U.S. policy in the Mideast have earned it the reputation among many in the United States as an anti-American propaganda organ.

Al-Jazeera anchors were in tears over Ayoub's death and broadcast a tribute to him over the course of the day that opened with the lines: "The planes that call for democracy and human rights and freedom of the press have killed this man."

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a widely respected New York organization, wrote a strongly worded letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saying that the three military strikes violated the Geneva Conventions, which bar attacks on the media.

The letter, signed by Joel Simon, the group's acting executive director, pointed out that Al-Jazeera was subjected to a similar U.S. attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, only a year and a half ago.

The letter said: "While sources in Baghdad have expressed deep skepticism about reports that U.S. forces were fired upon from the Palestine Hotel, even if that were the case, the evidence suggests that the response of U.S. forces was disproportionate and therefore violated international humanitarian law."

Tuesday's first attack occurred at 7 a.m., when Ayoub, a Jordanian, was standing on the roof of Al-Jazeera's local offices preparing a live broadcast about an unfolding American offensive in the nearby neighborhood.

The building was hit by two air-to-surface missiles, killing Ayoub and wounding an Iraqi cameraman. Two maintenance employees were trapped in the rubble and believed dead.

The second attack, minutes later, did major damage to the nearby offices of another Arab channel, Abu Dhabi TV. Cameramen were filming U.S. tanks in the area when their cameras were hit by small-arms fire, then the building was hit by at least one tank round. An unknown number of people were injured.

In the third attack, at midday, a U.S. tank round slammed into the 14th and 15th floors of the Palestine Hotel. Killed were Reuters TV cameraman Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian, and Jose Couso, a Spanish cameraman for the TeleCinco television network in Madrid. Three others were injured -- one of them critically.

Officials at Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, admitted that American fire was responsible in all three cases.

Buford Blount, commander of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, said the tank had acted in self-defense at the Palestine Hotel, saying it "was receiving small arms fire and RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) fire" from inside.

In the incidents involving Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV, officials suggested that American forces did not know that the locations were media outlets.

"This coalition does not target journalists," Gen. Vincent Brooks said in response to a question about the Al-Jazeera attack. "We don't know every place journalists are operating on the battlefield. It's a dangerous place indeed."

However, Al-Jazeera's Baghdad bureau released to reporters a copy of a letter that the station sent Feb. 24 to Victoria Clarke, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, giving the building's exact coordinates.

"They knew exactly what we were and where we were," said bureau chief Salem Alamir. "They told us that we had nothing to worry about."

The Abu Dhabi TV building was clearly marked with a large white sign on its roof that would have been visible from far away.

Nart Bouran, Abu Dhabi TV's chief news editor, said it would be "very difficult to convince people that this was not a deliberate act."

One U.S. senior official said that ground troops in Baghdad were not briefed as thoroughly as pilots on what targets to avoid or treat with particular caution. "The rules of engagement are different on the ground," he said. "If fired on, soldiers have a right to respond, no matter where the shots are coming from."

Other U.S. officials acknowledged privately that the tank may have fired too hastily at the Palestine, possibly mistaking the more than 50 cameras set up on the hotel's balconies for weapons.

Journalists staying at the hotel widely rejected the initial U.S. explanation for the incident, noting the lack of any indication that weapons were being fired from there.

A Chronicle reporter was walking through the hotel's lobby when the attack occurred, shattering a brief lull in the fierce fighting that had engulfed the district throughout the morning and previous night.

Amid the quiet, everyone's ears were finely attuned to the proximity of weapons fire, and any firing from the hotel would have reverberated loudly and would have been heard by everyone. No such noises were heard.

Injured in the attack were three Reuters employees -- TV technician Paul Pasquale, a British citizen; bureau chief Samia Nakhoul, a Lebanese citizen; and photographer Faleh Kheiber, an Iraqi.

Nakhoul suffered shrapnel wounds and was in critical condition late Tuesday.

Pasquale underwent surgery for serious leg injuries, according to colleagues.

"Clearly the war, and all its confusion, has come to the heart of Baghdad," Reuters Editor-in-Chief Geert Linnebank said in a statement. "But the incident nonetheless raises questions about the judgment of the advancing U.S. troops who have known all along that this hotel is the main base for almost all foreign journalists in Baghdad."

In recent months, the Bush administration took a decidedly cool attitude toward journalists based in Baghdad. While it allowed hundreds of reporters to become "embedded" with U.S. military units in the field, it urged journalists to leave Baghdad before the war started, saying conditions would be very dangerous.

In early March, Pentagon officials privately told several media organizations, including CNN and the Washington Post, that the Baghdad hotel where most Iraq-based journalists had been staying until then, the Al-Rashid, would be a military target. So journalists vacated the Al-Rashid and moved into the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, two miles away. It is not clear whether any similar warning was given by the Pentagon about those two hotels.

Pentagon spokeswoman Clarke said of Baghdad on Tuesday, "It is not a safe place. You should not be there."

Chronicle news services contributed to this report

12:48 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Tuesday, 13 November, 2001, 13:48 GMT
Al-Jazeera Kabul offices hit in US raid

The channel says everybody knew where the office was, including the Americans
The Kabul offices of the Arab satellite al-Jazeera channel have been destroyed by a US missile.

The Qatar-based satellite channel, which gained global fame for its exclusive access to Osama Bin Laden and the Taleban, announced that none of its staff had been wounded.

But al-Jazeera's managing director Mohammed Jasim al-Ali, told BBC News Online that the channel's 12 employees in Kabul were out of contact.

Mr Jasim would not speculate as to whether the offices were deliberately targeted, but said the location of the bureau was widely known by everyone, including the Americans.

He also expressed concern at reports that Northern Alliance fighters were singling out Arabs in the city since they took over early on Tuesday.

Critical situation

The station said in an earlier report the bureau had been hit by shells when the Afghan opposition forces entered the capital.

Al-Jazeera confirmed later that it was a US missile that destroyed the building and damaged the homes of some employees.

"The situation is very critical," Mr Jasim told the BBC from the channel's offices in Doha.

"This office has been known by everybody, the American airplanes know the location of the office, they know we are broadcasting from there," he said.

He said there had been no contact with Kabul correspondent Taysir Alluni because all their equipment had been destroyed.

The Northern Alliance has reportedly ordered most reporters in Kabul to gather at the Inter-Continental Hotel.

"Now that the Northern Alliance has taken over, it is too dangerous," Mr Jasim said, adding that he had heard that some Arabs had been killed.

Taleban withdrawal

Earlier, al-Jazeera correspondent Yusuf al-Shuli quoted Taleban officials in their southern stronghold of Kandahar as saying they had withdrawn from the cities to spare the civilians air bombardment and acts of vengeance by the Northern Alliance.

"They told us that reoccupying these cities will not take long once the air cover that supports the Northern Alliance is over," he said.

He said there was a "mixture of anger, despair, and disappointment among most people" in Kandahar at the fall of Kabul, but the situation there was calm.

Al-Jazeera has a reputation for outspoken, independent reporting - in stark contrast to the Taleban's views of the media as a propaganda and religious tool.

But the channel has been viewed with suspicion by politicians in the West and envy by media organisations ever since the start of the US-led military action in Afghanistan.

Exclusive access

For a time it was the only media outlet with any access to Taleban-held territory and the Islamic militia itself.

It broadcast the only video pictures of Afghan demonstrators attacking and setting fire to the US embassy in Kabul on 26 September.

Most controversially, it was the first channel to air video tapes of Osama Bin Laden urging Muslims to rise up against the West in a holy war.

Last week it showed footage of three young boys reported to be Bin Laden's sons.

Western governments at one stage warned that the channel was being used by the al-Qaeda network to pass on coded messages to supporters around the world.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Management said...

New York, May 27, 2003— Just before noon on April 8, 2003, journalists covering the battle of Baghdad from the balconies of the Palestine Hotel looked on as the turret of a U.S. M1A1 Abrams tank positioned about three quarters of a mile away on the Al-Jumhuriya Bridge turned toward them and unleashed a single round. The shell struck a 15th-floor balcony of the hotel, fatally wounding veteran Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk and Spanish cameraman José Couso of Telecinco. Three other journalists were wounded in the attack.

About 100 international journalists were staying in the Palestine Hotel at the time of the strike. They had survived the dangers of war—including the "shock and awe" air campaign and the Iraqi security officials who had periodically searched their rooms and expelled and detained several of their colleagues—only to be fired on by a U.S. tank during one of the last days of combat.

A Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) investigation into the incident—based on interviews with about a dozen reporters who were at the scene, including two embedded journalists who monitored the military radio traffic before and after the shelling occurred—suggests that attack on the journalists, while not deliberate, was avoidable. CPJ has learned that Pentagon officials, as well as commanders on the ground in Baghdad, knew that the Palestine Hotel was full of international journalists and were intent on not hitting it.

However, these senior officers apparently failed to convey their concern to the tank commander who fired on the hotel.

Photos commissioned by CPJ and taken at the bridge from where the tank fired show that the 17-story high Palestine Hotel was distinct against the Baghdad skyline. Along with the nearby Sheraton Hotel, it towered over all other buildings in the area.

Based on the information contained in this report, CPJ calls afresh on the Pentagon to conduct a thorough and public investigation into the shelling of the Palestine Hotel. Such a public accounting is necessary, not only to determine the causes of this incident, but also to ensure that similar episodes do not occur in the future.

Radio traffic

Chris Tomlinson, an Associated Press (AP) reporter embedded with an infantry company assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division's 4th Battalion 64th Armor Regiment, arrived in central Baghdad on April 7 after a two-and-a-half week journey from Kuwait. Beginning at dawn that day, the battalion engaged Iraqi forces in skirmishes that continued for the next 36 hours. On April 8, as the battalion continued to push into the heart of Baghdad, U.S. soldiers encountered stiff resistance from Iraqi forces. Tomlinson spent the day inside an impromptu U.S. command center established in Saddam Hussein's presidential palace on the west side of the Tigris River. By toggling a switch on a military radio, Tomlinson could listen to communication within the company unit, and also to the battalion tactical operations frequency, which allowed him to hear conversation between the tank company commander, Capt. Philip Wolford, and his superiors.

At around dawn on April 8, intense fighting resumed on the west side of the Tigris in the vicinity of the Al-Jumhuriya Bridge. Reporters, who had clustered on the balconies of the Palestine Hotel, located on the eastern bank of the Tigris, observed a significant counterattack by Iraqi forces armed with light arms, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and mortars. The attack continued for several hours, and, according to AP reporter Tomlinson, snipers on tall buildings aimed at the hatches of the tanks, eventually wounding two members of Wolford's battalion.

Fighting grew so intense that senior U.S. military officers called in air strikes on an intersection and various buildings on the west bank to weaken the Iraqi positions. According to press reports, dozens of Iraqis were killed. By late morning, U.S. forces began focusing their attention on the other side of the Al-Jumhuriya Bridge. (Earlier that morning, near where the fighting had occurred on the west side of the bridge, a U.S. air-to-surface missile struck the Baghdad office of Qatar's Al-Jazeera news channel, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub and wounding his cameraman, an incident that CPJ continues to investigate.)

Throughout the morning, Tomlinson heard radio communications between company units and between officers on the battlefield and their commanders. At some point, U.S. forces recovered an Iraqi radio and began monitoring communications between Iraqi forces. An Arabic-speaking U.S. intelligence officer was able to determine that an Iraqi forward observer, or spotter, was directing Iraqi fighters who were skirmishing with U.S. troops. The tanks, meanwhile, had received RPG, sniper, and mortar fire, according to Tomlinson.

At about mid-morning, two M1A1 Abrams tanks from the Alpha Division moved onto the Al-Jumhuriya Bridge, which spans the Tigris River. A videotape shot by a French television crew on the 14th floor of the Palestine Hotel shows the tanks firing several rounds into a building on the east side of the river with satellite dishes on the roof. The turret of one tank was raised, then lowered. A third tank strayed out a short distance on the bridge. According to Tomlinson, who was continuing to monitor radio communication, the tanks were frantically searching for the spotter.

Another U.S. reporter, Jules Crittenden of the Boston Herald, who was embedded with the Alpha Company of the 4th Battalion 64th Armor Regiment, confirmed Tomlinson's account. Crittenden arrived near the battle scene in an armored personnel carrier. "There was a tremendous degree of concern because everybody was looking trying to figure out where this observer was—in fact, we were doing it, too," Crittenden said. "We were all concerned that we were about to get an artillery barrage, which we didn't want to happen for obvious reasons."

Tomlinson, who has himself served seven years in the army, noted that, "The first thing they teach you when you're a tanker or an infantry man is to kill the forward observer...that's the highest priority target." He continued, "If you can kill the forward observer, you have no one to direct the ground forces [or artillery fire]. And therefore you completely take away their value."

At some point before the shelling of the hotel, while the tanks were on the bridge looking for the observer, brigade commander Col. David Perkins approached Tomlinson and reporter Greg Kelly from FOX News. (CPJ contacted Greg Kelly but FOX officials said he was not available for comment. However, a FOX official confirmed to CPJ that Perkins had approached Kelly.)

In some desperation, Perkins explained that U.S. forces were under fire from Iraqis in buildings on the east side of the Tigris, and that they were considering calling in an air strike. Perkins was aware that the Palestine Hotel was on the east side of the river in the general vicinity of where the fire was coming from. He was also aware that the hotel was full of Western journalists. Tomlinson said he believed that all the commanders, including Lt. Col. Philip DeCamp and even Captain Wolford, would have known that information since the 2nd Brigade had captured the Al-Rashid Hotel the previous day, and most people knew that the journalists there had moved to the Palestine Hotel. Perkins had a general location—probably within a few hundred meters, according to Tomlinson—and he wanted Tomlinson's help in physically identifying the building so that it would not be hit. (He also noted that the satellite maps used by the military were about 10 years old.)

Tomlinson frantically called The AP office in Doha, Qatar, in an effort to get a description of the hotel and to reach people staying at the Palestine. His plan was to relay a message to the journalists inside and ask them to hang bed sheets out the window to make the building more easily identifiable to U.S. forces.

At about the time that Tomlinson was trying to locate the Palestine Hotel, in the late morning, one of the tank officers on the Al-Jumhuriya Bridge who was looking for the spotter radioed that he had located a person with binoculars in a building on the east side of the river. Exactly how much time lapsed between the tank officer identifying this target and the actual firing of the tank shell is not clear from Tomlinson's monitoring of the radio traffic.

In an interview with the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, Captain Wolford hinted that he gave an immediate order to fire. However, in an interview with Belgium's RTBF television news that aired in May, Shawn Gibson, the tank's sergeant, said that after he spotted someone talking and pointing with binoculars, he reported it to his commanders but did not receive an order to fire for about 10 minutes. Jules Crittenden, who was located on the west side of the river with U.S. forces at that point, also recalls troops at the very least discussing the target. "I was aware that they had spotted someone with binoculars and they were getting ready to fire," Crittenden said. "This was being discussed on the radio."

According to Tomlinson, the round that was fired was a heat round, an incendiary shell that is intended to kill people and not destroy buildings. If the tank had fired an armor-piercing round, the damage to the building would have been much more severe.

The immediate reaction from U.S. commanders to the attack on the Palestine Hotel was anger and consternation. Lt. Col. Philip DeCamp, Captain Wolford's commanding officer, began screaming over the radio, "Who just shot the Palestinian [sic] Hotel?" according to Tomlinson. Tomlinson listened as DeCamp confronted Wolford. "‘Did you just f***ing shoot the Palestinian [sic] Hotel?'" he demanded of Wolford.

Tomlinson said that at first, Wolford was not sure that what he had hit was in fact the hotel. Tomlinson continues:

"[After a delay of some minutes] Wolford says, ‘Yes, yes. We had an observer up there. And DeCamp says, ‘You're not supposed to fire on the hotel.' And then there is a brief discussion about what he did see and why did he fire because this was very serious. They weren't supposed to shoot at the Palestine Hotel."

Afterward, DeCamp ordered Wolford to cease firing and drove his tank to meet Wolford, apparently to have a private discussion.

After hearing the exchange, Tomlinson immediately went to Colonel Perkins, DeCamp's commanding officer, to tell him that his effort to locate the Palestine Hotel to prevent it from being hit by an air strike was too late.

"I know, I know," Perkins told Tomlinson. "I have just given the order that under no circumstances is anyone to shoot at the Palestine Hotel, even if they are taking fire, even if there is an artillery piece on top of the roof. No one is allowed to shoot at the Palestine Hotel again."

The reaction

The U.S. attack on the Palestine Hotel quickly became a huge story. It happened during some of the most intense fighting between U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad, and dozens of journalists were eyewitnesses or had been in the hotel at the time. The journalists inside were shocked and angered by the death of two of their colleagues. They were also at a loss to explain how a U.S. tank could have fired at the hotel, whose location was widely known to the Pentagon. News organizations were in contact with the Defense Department about their reporters' locations, and the hotel was referenced daily in international media reports.

Journalists in the hotel were also at a loss to explain how the tank officer could have failed to notice a 17-story building—one of the tallest in Baghdad—that had journalists on its balconies and even on its roof. In fact, many had been out on their balconies during the previous 24 hours covering the fighting on the west side of the river. The Palestine Hotel, along with the Sheraton Hotel next door, dominates the landscape; one journalist said the two buildings were as easily identifiable as New York's twin towers.

In fact, photographs commissioned by CPJ and taken from the approximate point on the Al-Jumhuriya Bridge from where the tank shell was fired show that the Palestine Hotel and the nearby Sheraton tower over the surrounding buildings. A large sign reading "Hotel Palestine" in English is also discernible in the photographs. While it is not clear whether the sign would have been readable to the naked eye, it certainly would have been easy to read with binoculars.

Because journalists had a clear view of the tanks on the Al-Jumhuriya Bridge, they assumed that the tank commanders could see them—though in fact, the tanks were approximately three quarters of a mile from the hotel. Journalists also said they were surprised because there was a lull in the battle at the time the tank fired, and, in any case, the Palestine Hotel was removed from the action. In fact, at least some—possibly several—journalists who had been observing the battle from their balconies went inside their rooms to file stories, thinking the action was finished.

"I was taking pictures the whole morning," said Patrick Baz, an AFP photographer who covered the battle from his balcony of the Palestine Hotel. "There were helicopters. A whole Hollywood war. We were watching everything, and they could see us. From the first day they moved into the palace [the day before] until they shot...they could see us the same way we could see them."

Caroline Sinz, a reporter for France 3 television whose crew filmed the tanks on the bridge before they opened fire on the hotel, says the bombardments and fighting stopped at around 11:20 a.m.

"The fighting was intense from 6 a.m. until 11:20, then it was very quiet," explained Sinz. "We were still filming. I told my cameraman that he should still film because we need to be careful. ...We filmed exactly 15 minutes before the shooting, and you can hear nothing."

Other journalists are less definitive that it had become completely quiet, noting that there had been intense fighting all morning. Jerome Delay, an AP photographer who was in the Palestine Hotel, noted that it was difficult to tell whether the tanks did or did not receive fire from the eastern bank of the river because of the hotel's distance from the bridge. Jules Crittenden, the embedded U.S. reporter who was on the western side of the bridge, reported hearing on the radio that there were up to 40 Iraqi RPG teams on the eastern side. According to journalists in the hotel, the tanks took fire from various government buildings on the eastern bank in the period before the shelling of the hotel. In fact, Sinz's tape shows the tanks firing on several targets on the east side of the bridge. It also shows a dark plume of smoke rising from the west side of the river—described by one reporter as an air strike—for several minutes before the tank raises its turret and fires a single round at the hotel. Explosions of what appear to be tank fire also occasionally echo in the background.

Most journalists did not immediately realize that their hotel had been hit. "I did not react. I did not believe it was in the hotel," Patrick Baz explained. "I saw in the parking lot people pointing at the building. I didn't realize what was going on. I saw people running. I thought it hit the building behind." When Baz realized that some journalists on his floor had been injured, he ran for the first aid kit.

"There were people screaming, yelling, crying, panicked. I saw this guy who was lying on the bed and injured," Baz recounts. "I remember his face was covered with blood. There was a hole in his leg. There was a big hole, but it wasn't bleeding."

The shell hit a 15th-floor corner balcony of the suite used by Reuters news agency, mortally wounding Taras Protsyuk, Reuters' Ukrainian-born cameraman who had been on the balcony, his camera set up though he was not filming at the time.

"Taras was lying on the floor on his back, unconscious," Delay told the Los Angeles Times. "His jaws were locked. We forced open his jaws to get some air into him and got him breathing again." Protsyuk was taken to a Baghdad hospital, where he died on arrival of abdominal wounds.

Paul Pasquale, a Reuters satellite dish technician who was on the balcony with Protsyuk, was injured, as were two other Reuters journalists on a separate 15th-floor balcony—Gulf bureau chief Samia Nakhoul and photographer Faleh Kheiber. Debris damaged the floor below, where Spanish cameraman José Couso had been filming. Like Protsyuk, Couso was taken to a Baghdad hospital, suffering from wounds to his leg and jaw. He died after surgery.

Journalists who were in Baghdad at the time offered several possible explanations for the shelling of the hotel: Some saw it as an unfortunate accident by a tank commander, but others called it a flagrantly reckless act by the U.S. military or even a deliberate attempt to intimidate journalists.

International press freedom groups, including CPJ, swiftly protested the incident. In an April 8 letter sent to U.S. secretary of state Donald H. Rumsfeld, CPJ noted that "[w]hile sources in Baghdad have expressed deep skepticism about reports that U.S. forces were fired upon from the Palestine Hotel, even if that were the case, the evidence suggests that the response of U.S. forces was disproportionate and therefore violated international humanitarian law [the Geneva Conventions]." The letter called on the Pentagon "to launch an immediate and thorough investigation into these incidents and to make the findings public."

Centcom weighs in

A few hours after the incident, reporters at Central Command Headquarters in Doha, Qatar, questioned Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks about the attack. He expressed regret for the loss of life but noted that being in areas where combat is occurring is dangerous, and that the military cannot know where journalists not "embedded" with U.S. forces are located on the battlefield.

He alleged that "combat actions" had occurred at the Palestine Hotel, and that "initial reports indicate that the coalition forces operating near the hotel took fire from the lobby of the hotel and returned fire." When asked by a reporter why the tank would fire at the hotel's upper level if fire was coming from the lobby, Brooks backtracked, stating that he "may have misspoken on exactly where the fire came from." Later that day, Centcom issued a statement maintaining that commanders at the scene had reported that their forces came under "significant enemy fire from the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad." Then Centcom, like Brooks had done earlier, blamed Iraqi forces for conducting military operations from civilian locations.

The statements from Centcom that day matched those of senior officers from the 3rd Infantry Division. Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, the division's commander, told Reuters that the tank that had opened fire "was receiving small arms fire and RPG fire from the hotel and engaged the target with one tank round." Colonel Perkins, the brigade commander who spoke with Tomlinson after the strike, also told Tomlinson that his unit took RPG fire from close in front of the hotel.

Many journalists who were eyewitnesses to the incident, or who had been in the hotel at the time, flatly deny the claim from Centcom and some commanders in Baghdad that the tank was returning fire emanating from the Palestine Hotel. Those who had been monitoring events from their balconies, which offered a full view of the surrounding area, attest that no gunfire or RPG fire had come from the hotel or its immediate vicinity.

"I think that's quite impossible because on each floor and each room...even on the roof, there were journalists and photographers, and they were looking at what was going on," recalled AFP reporter Sammy Ketz, who was on a 15th-floor balcony at the time of the incident. Anne Garrels, an NPR correspondent and CPJ board member who had reported from the Palestine Hotel throughout most of the conflict, echoed this point. "All of us were on our balconies watching the battle," said Garrels, who had been on her balcony throughout the day but was at her desk in the hotel at the moment the shell hit. "We would have seen snipers in the building. You can imagine how rattled everyone is." Colleagues who had been on the roof earlier, she said, also reported no signs of sniper activity or gunfire. Other journalists said that they already knew Iraqi forces might possibly use the hotel as cover, but that they never encountered armed Iraqi forces operating from the building during their time in Baghdad. Other journalists discounted the allegation of some U.S. officers that there was an Iraqi bunker near the hotel.

On April 10, Lt. Col. Philip DeCamp, the commander of the 4th Battalion 64th Armor Regiment, apologized for the incident in an interview with the Los Angeles Times and referred to himself as "the guy who killed the journalists." But he also continued to assert that Iraqi fighters in bunkers at the base of the hotel had opened fire with AK-47s and RPGs at his tank unit. An earlier article in the Los Angeles Times quoted Captain Wolford, the company commander of the tank unit that opened fire on the Palestine Hotel, claiming that he had given the order to fire on the hotel after one of his tank gunners noticed someone from the hotel observing his unit with binoculars. Wolford told the newspaper he had received intelligence that men with RPGs were at the foot of the hotel. The Los Angeles Times, citing military sources, said that at the time, Wolford's unit was coming under mortar fire from the hotel's side of the river.

A few days later, Wolford told Jean Paul Mari of the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur that his unit had been engaged in a "brawl" for several hours on the morning of April 8 and had received heavy enemy fire as they approached the eastern side of the Al-Jumhuriya Bridge. Two of his men were wounded that day, he said, and his tanks came under rocket fire from several directions, including the area around the Palestine Hotel. He told the magazine that after his men sighted an individual carrying binoculars, identified by someone in the unit as an artillery spotter, they opened fire. "Me, I return fire," Wolford was quoted as saying. "Without hesitation, that's the rule. I learned 20 minutes later that we had hit a hotel full of journalists."

In the interview, Wolford maintained that he had no information from command headquarters that there were journalists in the building. "I don't imagine for an instant that a piece of information sent by the headquarters of the division would not get to me," he said. He told the Boston Herald's Crittenden that the hotel had not been marked on his maps. The tank officer, Sgt. Shawn Gibson, would later be quoted as saying that he, too, was unaware that the building was packed with journalists.

In response to CPJ's letter to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke wrote to CPJ acting director Joel Simon on April 14 stating that "coalition forces were fired upon and acted in self-defense by returning fire." She acknowledged the Pentagon's responsibility to exert caution on the battlefield but noted that news organizations had been warned that Baghdad would be a "particularly dangerous" place and should pull their reporters from the city.

A CPJ request to the Defense Department to interview Captain Wolford is still pending. CPJ is also awaiting the results of Freedom of Information Act requests for information about the incident.

Lingering questions

The last official communication from the U.S. government regarding the Palestine Hotel incident came in an April 21 letter from Secretary of State Colin Powell to Spanish foreign minister Ana Palacio. Powell wrote that a military review of the incident indicated that the U.S. tank had fired in response to "hostile fire appearing to come from a location later identified as the Palestine Hotel." He concluded that "the use of force was justified and the amount of force was proportionate to the threat against United States forces." The following week, during a visit to Spain, where the local media seethed at Spanish journalist Couso's death, Powell reiterated that U.S. troops were not at fault and said the U.S. government would continue to investigate the incident.

There is simply no evidence to support the official U.S. position that U.S. forces were returning hostile fire from the Palestine Hotel. It conflicts with the eyewitness testimony of numerous journalists in the hotel.

While all indications are that the tank round was directed at what was believed to be an Iraqi spotter, other questions emerge. For example, how is it possible for a tank officer to observe a person or persons with binoculars, wait 10 minutes for authorization to fire, according to the tank sergeant, and, during that interval, not notice journalists with cameras and tripods located on other balconies, or the large, English-language sign reading "Hotel Palestine"? Moreover, the France 3 video shows that the tank had pointed its turret at the hotel earlier in the morning before the shelling occurred—possibly indicating that U.S. forces had the opportunity to obtain a good view of members of the media on balconies—but turned away.

According to Tomlinson, the effort by the tank officer to pass on the location of the alleged spotter occurred at a time when the brigade commander, Colonel Perkins, was frantically trying to locate the Palestine Hotel in order to avoid hitting it in an air strike. Why was the tank commander not instructed to recheck his target and make sure it was not the Palestine Hotel? And even before that, why were military units not made aware of a major civilian location on the battlefield?

The radio traffic monitored by Tomlinson, as well as Colonel Perkins' reaction to the shelling of the hotel, raises questions about whether all appropriate measures were taken to avoid firing on the hotel. Clearly, Colonel Perkins was concerned that the hotel might be hit, and Lieutenant Colonel DeCamp was angry and upset once it actually was hit. Perkins told Tomlinson that he gave an order after the fact that the hotel should not be hit under any circumstances. If that was his goal, and his discussion with Tomlinson makes clear he was making extraordinary efforts to avoid hitting the hotel in an air strike, why had he failed to disseminate an order throughout the ranks that the hotel was to be avoided?

Lieutenant Colonel DeCamp appeared to be so upset with the strike that he ordered Wolford to cease fire and drove out to the area so he could have a private meeting with Wolford. What did they talk about when they met? Only an honest and thorough Pentagon investigation can make this clear.

Finally, remarks by Wolford seem to contradict his own statements and those of other officers. Wolford said in press interviews that he fired immediately, though the tank officer said there was roughly a 10-minute delay between the moment when he reported the spotter and when he received his order to fire. Wolford's statements are also confusing since he said on the one hand that the tank that fired on the Palestine Hotel was "returning" fire but clearly stated at other times that the tank was firing at a spotter with binoculars. And could it even have been that the tank was actually aiming somewhere else and missed its target? Which versions of these events are correct?

These and other questions can only be answered by the Pentagon, which should provide a full, public accounting of the events as they took place on April 8. Although U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell remarked in April that the incident was still under investigation, there have been few indications that a full, thorough, and public inquiry is forthcoming.

Joel Campagna is CPJ's senior program coordinator responsible for the Middle East and North Africa. Rhonda Roumani is a research consultant to CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Aljazeera statement on killing of cameraman

Saturday 22 May 2004, 0:18 Makka Time, 21:18 GMT

Aljazeera Channel announces with a heavy heart the death of Rashid Hamid Wali, a member of its team covering events in the Iraqi southern city of Karbala.

Rashid passed away during the early hours of the morning (approximately 00:45 Baghdad time, 08:45 GMT) as a result of a bullet that hit him in the left eye, exiting the back of the head, shattering it in the process.

The fateful incident took place while an Aljazeera team, positioned on the rooftop of the Khaddam Al Hussain Hotel, was covering fierce fighting between US forces and elements of al-Mahdi army.

Rashid was hit by a single bullet when he stuck his head looking down onto the street after hearing the sound of US armoured vehicles moving.

No verifiable information was immediately available as to the source of the bullet that led to Rashid’s untimely death, however, eyewitnesses showed members of the media corps samples of the bullets that hit the vicinity of the hotel rooftop.

The late Rashid was 44 years of age, and leaves behind a widow and six children, the eldest of which is 16 years of age. Rashid joined Aljazeera in March of last year and soon became one of the most active and daring members of Aljazeera’s field teams, commanding respect, appreciation and love from his colleagues.

This unfortunate episode is the second that Aljazeera has suffered in Iraq in just over one year. It comes on heels of the death of Tariq Ayoub who died in the course of pursuing his professional duty on 8 April 2003 when the Aljazeera Baghdad bureau was hit by a US air to surface missile one day before the fall of Baghdad.

Aljazeera urgently calls on the US occupation forces and the CPA to immediatley conduct a full investigation into the death of Rashid Hamid Wali, and to make the result public.

Aljazeera extends to Rashid’s family and his colleagues its heartfelt condolences.

The Channel further reiterates its commitment to its professional integrity and adherence to its editorial policy stipulating covering events in a comprehensive and balanced fashion.

This is borne out of Aljazeera’s belief in the right of people all over the world for accurate information and freedom of expression.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Posted 4/8/2003 11:52 AM Updated 4/8/2003 10:09 PM

Al-Jazeera reporter killed in U.S. strike
By Christine A. Saah,
When reporter Tariq Ayoub was killed in the aftermath of a bombing in Baghdad Tuesday one of his colleagues, freelance journalist Kristen Gillespie, e-mailed friends about his death. Ayoub, a 35-year-old Palestinian who was married and had one daughter had traveled to Baghdad five days earlier to report for Al-Jazeera television. He also worked for the Jordan Times and Associated Press. Here is Gillespie's e-mail account, sent from Amman, Jordan:

"Early this morning, one of my colleagues from the Jordan Times was killed when Al-Jazeera's offices were bombed. Tariq was standing on the roof of the building in a helmet and flak jacket, but this was no match for the bomb that fell. He was very tired at the time, having been on the air almost non-stop from Baghdad. I saw him two days ago at a cafe reporting for Al-Jazeera. The volume was down, but he was, as always, anumated and intense. Pictures from an hour before the bombing show him sitting around talking. The Al-Jazeera guys were getting worried — they were in the middle of Baghdad and the head of the television station yelled at them to get out — to go to the Palestine Hotel, where the few remaining journalists are stationed. For whatever reason, they didn't get there. Apparently, Al-Jazeera was personally guaranteed that it's building would not be targeted. "

"Those who knew Tariq Ayoub knew him as a dogged journalist. He was a question-everything kind ofd guy. He was deeply religious but with a strong belief in human rights and dignity for all. He was always in the middle of any news story. He was plugged in, and he had friends and contacts everywhere. So it's not difficult to imagine why Tariq was so adamant about covering the war — and why he risked his life to do so."

"Every day we are seeing people dying in Iraq and everyone has a story. But what I want to tell you is that Tariq was more than yet another Arab casualty on the way to topping Saddam. His life was full and his death is heartbreaking."

12:55 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Rumsfeld’s Al-Jazeera outburst
Sarah Baxter
THE Middle Eastern news network Al-Jazeera was accused by Donald Rumsfeld, the American defence secretary, of broadcasting “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable” reports about the war in Iraq the day before President George W Bush met Tony Blair at the White House and apparently suggested bombing the station’s headquarters.

Rumsfeld denounced the satellite television station at a Pentagon briefing on April 15, 2004 after Al-Jazeera had reported that America’s assault on the insurgent stronghold of Falluja was terrorising civilians. “They are simply lying,” Rumsfeld said.

It was on April 16 that Bush reportedly said during talks with Blair that he wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera’s offices in Doha, Qatar, although it is not known whether he was joking.

A report last week that was said to be based on a transcript of the conversation claimed that Blair had talked the president out of a raid, but Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, has banned newspapers from publishing details under the Official Secrets Act. The White House dismissed the report as “outlandish”.

The Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad detailed 34 instances of alleged hype and distortion by the television station from April 8-13, ranging from reports of a helicopter and fighter plane being shot down to stories about American soldiers killing and mutilating Iraqi citizens.

In 2001, after the September 11 attacks, the Pentagon awarded the Rendon Group, a public affairs firm, a $16.7m contract to monitor media in the Islamic world. It was assigned to track “the location and use of Al-Jazeera news bureaux, reporters and stringers”, and was asked to “identify the biases of specific journalists and potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances”.

The firm says that it did not go on to monitor Al-Jazeera. But the original contract suggests the Pentagon was interested in targeting the station and its journalists.

In 2002 Al-Jazeera’s bureau in Kabul was hit by a US missile and five months later a missile struck its Baghdad office and killed a reporter. Both were said to be accidents.

Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy, a Washington-based think tank, last week described Al-Jazeera as “fair game” on the grounds that it promoted beheadings and suicide bombings.

Wadah Khanfar, director- general of Al-Jazeera, delivered a letter to Downing Street yesterday urging Blair to clarify reports that Bush had suggested bombing the station.

“We have regularly been accused of showing beheadings of hostages, but Al-Jazeera has never shown any material of this nature,” Khanfar said.

1:10 AM  
Blogger Management said...

Quite the Coin-co-dink!
What this?

THE Middle Eastern news network Al-Jazeera was accused by Donald Rumsfeld, the American defence secretary, of broadcasting “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable” reports about the war in Iraq the day before President George W Bush met Tony Blair at the White House and apparently suggested bombing the station’s headquarters.
Rumsfeld denounced the satellite television station at a Pentagon briefing on April 15, 2004 after Al-Jazeera had reported that America’s assault on the insurgent stronghold of Falluja was terrorising civilians. “They are simply lying,” Rumsfeld said.

It was on April 16 that Bush reportedly said during talks with Blair that he wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera’s offices in Doha, Qatar, although it is not known whether he was joking.

Funny, huh?

Feztip to Firedoglake.

1:11 AM  

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