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2003-04-09 - 3:54 p.m.

Independent Press Under Attack Again - UPDATED!!

On Tuesday, a U.S. tank fired on a hotel that housed foreign journalists, mainly Arab journalists. Was this a deliberate act of aggression or just merely an accident? Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said "This coalition does not target journalists." However, some journalists said they were watching two U.S. tanks firing "across the al-Jumhuriya bridge when one of the tanks rotated its turret toward the hotel and fired."

What makes this look so horrible is that right before the war, the Defense Department had said that the military would not protect independent journalists. Then we had those reports last week of two journalists who had been held and tortured by U.S. troops. And now we have a hotel of foreign "independent" journalists targeted with 3 dead and 3 wounded. This whole thing makes you stop and think: what is *really* happening over there that our government doesn't want the American people to see?

One has to stop and ask a few important questions: What is the role of the press during war time? Is it to only report what a specific government wants us to know? Or is it to reveal the truth as it happens? If you haven't seen the movie "We Were Soldiers" with Mel Gibson, I urge you to do so. For those who have seen it, can you imagine if that reporter had never taken the risk to be in the line of fire, we would never have known about the horrors those particular men faced in Vietnam on what was practically a "suicide mission" from the start. That story would never have been told, those pictures would never have been revealed, and we would never have known the truth. Those men were sent to a main bees' hive of the vietcong and were not really expected to win the battle.

That's the kind of stories we will not hear about from this war. If it were not for those brave independent journalists out there, we would never know the real horrors of this war or see the shocking photos that remind us that "war is hell."

UPDATED!!

Check out the following article:
U.S. Govt Accused of War Crimes against Journalists

PARIS, Apr 10 (IPS) - International journalists' organisations are accusing the U.S. government of committing war crimes in Iraq by intentionally firing at war correspondents.

The Paris-based journalists' organisation 'Reporters without Borders' (RSF, after its French name), called on the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission to investigate whether by attacking journalists in Iraq the U.S.-British coalition forces were not violating international humanitarian law.

”A media outlet cannot be a military target under international law and its equipment and installations are civilian property protected as such under the Geneva Conventions,” said Reporters without Border secretary-general Robert Ménard.

”Only an objective and impartial enquiry can determine whether or not the Conventions have been violated,” Ménard claimed.

It is the first time since its existence that the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission is being petitioned. Set up in 1991 under the First Additional Protocol of the Geneva Conventions, the Commission's task is investigating any alleged serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Similarly, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called for an independent inquiry on the U.S. attacks against the Palestine Hotel and the bureaus of Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi television channels.

The New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also called the U.S. attacks against journalists in Iraq ”a violation of the Geneva Convention.”

In a letter to U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CPJ director Joel Simon wrote on Tuesday: ”The Committee is gravely concerned by a series of U.S. military strikes against known media locations in Baghdad today that have left three journalists dead and several wounded.”

”We believe these attacks violate the Geneva Conventions,” Simon pointed out.

On Tuesday, U.S. troops attacked the Baghdad bureau of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, killing one war correspondent, and wounding another. In another attack, a U.S. tank fired a shell at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, killing two other reporters and wounding three.

The hotel is well known as the unofficial Baghdadi centre of international press. A large number of foreign correspondents covering the war stay there.

Ménard, RSF's secretary-general, said that all independent evidence on the U.S. attacks against the hotel shows that the firing was deliberate.

”Film shot by the French television station France 3, and descriptions by journalists, prove that the neighbourhood around the hotel was very quiet at the hour of the attack, and that the U.S. tank crew took their time, waiting for a couple of minutes and adjusting its gun before opening fire,” Ménard said.

”This evidence does not match the U.S. version of an attack in self-defence and we can only conclude that the U.S Army deliberately and without warning targeted journalists,” Ménard added.

Caroline Sines, a French television correspondent covering the war in Baghdad, confirmed Ménard's accusations against the U.S. troops.

”I was at the Palestine Hotel at the moment of the attack, around one pm, Baghdad time, and my crew filmed everything,” Sines said. ”Our films shows that the U.S. tank took its time at targeting the 14th floor of the hotel, where many journalists are hosted, at a moment of complete calm,” Sines said.

Menard urged the ”U.S. forces to prove that the incident was not a deliberate attack to dissuade or prevent journalists from continuing to report on what is happening in Baghdad.”

”We are appalled at what happened because it was known that journalists were working both at the Palestine Hotel as well at the Al-Jazeera bureau,” Ménard pointed out.

One Al-Jazeera camera operator was also killed on Tuesday by an apparently intentional U.S. bombing of the pan-Arab TV station's offices elsewhere in Baghdad. The nearby premises of Abu Dhabi TV were also damaged by the bombing.

The Qatar-based television network recalled that prior to the conflict, it had provided the U.S. military authorities with the specific coordinates of its Baghdad offices. This information was confirmed by the Committee to Protect Journalists in the letter to Donald Rumsfeld.

”CPJ has seen a copy of Al-Jazeera's February letter to Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke outlining these coordinates,” Joel Simon wrote to Rumsfeld.

Simon called Rumsfeld ”to launch an immediate and thorough investigation into these incidents and to make the findings public.” The CPJ also recalled to the U.S. military authorities that more than 100 independent journalists continue to operate in Baghdad from both the Palestine and the nearby Sheraton hotels.

”The U.S. military has a clear obligation to avoid harming the correspondents while carrying out (war) operations,” Simon said in his letter to Rumsfeld.

Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, said, ”There is no doubt at all that these attacks could be targeting journalists. If so, they are grave and serious violations of international law.”

”The bombing of hotels where journalists are staying and targeting of Arab media is particularly shocking events in a war which is being fought in the name of democracy,” White said. ”Those who are responsible must be brought to justice”.

”The United Nations system and the international media community must be fully engaged in finding out what happened in these cases and action must be taken to ensure it never happens again,” White said. ”We can expect denials of intent from the military, but what we really want is the truth.”

The IFJ says that the global media community, including journalists, media organisations and press freedom campaigners, should join hands under the banner of the newly-formed International News Safety Institute to hold a complete and in depth inquiry.

The INSI is a coalition of more than 100 organisations campaigning for a global news safety programme.

The IFJ also condemned ”what appears to be Iraqi tactics of using civilians and journalists as a 'human shield' against attack.” ”The Baghdad authorities are just as culpable as the U.S. with their reckless disregard for civilian lives,” White said.

Both the IFJ and RSF recalled that Al Jazeera has become a frequent target of U.S. and British attacks in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Earlier in the war in Iraq, four members of the pan-Arab television crew in the southern city of Basra came under gunfire from British tanks on March 29 as they were filming distribution of food by Iraqi government officials.

One of the station's cameramen went missing and was later found to have been held for 12 hours by U.S. troops. Al-Jazeera reporters were the only journalists in Basra at the time.

The Al-Jazeera offices in Kabul, Afghanistan, were also bombed by U.S. forces during the war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in November 2001.

To have jurisdiction in a war, the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission has to be petitioned by one of the parties in the conflict or by one of the countries that have recognised its jurisdiction.

To conduct an investigation, all the belligerents must accept its authority. Among the countries involved in the Iraq war, only Australia and the United Kingdom have formally recognised it, allowing an investigation to go ahead as far as they are concerned.

Neither the United States nor Iraq have yet accepted the principle of such an enquiry.

Since the beginning of the Iraqi war on March 20, ten journalists have been killed by the conflicting parties, and two other died in war related accidents. At least eight other correspondents have been wounded. Two other reporters' whereabouts remain unknown. (END/2003)


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