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The National Security Archive at George Washington University

CONSORTIUM NEWS - Edited by Robert Parry


April 09, 2003

Spin Control: US Attacks All Main Western and Arab Media HQs in Baghdad In Just One Day

'US faces outcry after strikes kill 3 journalists in Baghdad' (4/09/03 - Channel NewsAsia)

In the space of a single day, US forces have attacked the provisional headquarters of all major Western and Arabic news outlets in Baghdad, killing at least four reporters and injuring numerous others.

Some reporters on the scene think this is no accident. BBC reporter Martin Bell told The Guardian, "I have a feeling that independent journalists have become a target [for US forces] because the management of the information war has become a higher priority than ever."

First, Al-Jazeera's offices were hit with a US missile, leaving one cameraman dead, one wounded, and another missing (possibly blown to smithereens).

Al-Jazeera had already been the subject of various reprisals following its broadcast of Iraqi TV interviews with captured US soldiers. In addition to being vehemently denounced by Bush Administration officials, the network was suddenly banned from both the NY Stock Exchange and NASDAQ. On the same day, its brand-new English-language web site was attacked by hackers -- almost certainly backed by the Pentagon. The domain was hijacked and redirected to a server in Utah, where the pirate homepage displayed a US flag and "patriotic" slogans.

Shortly after the missile attack on Al-Jazeera, Abu Dhabi TV's offices were hit by US artillery fire. One is known to have died in that attack; others are currently missing. Twenty-five people were trapped in the basement, using cell phones to call for help. The network appealed to the International Committees of the Red Cross for help in evacuating its offices. According to CBS News, "Abu Dhabi satellite television announced that it had been unable to broadcast live video from Baghdad overnight because American tanks were posted outside its offices, which are alongside those of Al-Jazeera. Al-Jazeera also did not broadcast live scenes of Baghdad overnight."

Then a US tank fired upon the 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel, universally known to be the base for most of the Western media in Baghdad. At least 50 news cameras were set up on the balconies when the tank fired. Cameramen for Spanish TV and Reuters were killed, and at least four others wounded.

At a press briefing, the Pentagon said the tank was returning "small arms fire and RPG fire from the hotel."

However, eyewitness accounts -- including video footage shot by a reporter for French 3 television -- belie this claim. The French reporter, Herve De Ploeg, told Channel NewsAsia, "It had been very quiet for a moment. There was no shooting at all. Then I saw the turret turning in our direction and the carriage lifting. It faced the target," and after a pause of "about two minutes," suddenly fired upon the hotel.

"It was not a case of instinctive firing," De Ploeg added. (See more quotes from France 3 reporters below.)

Other reporters in the hotel have dismissed as "absurd" the Pentagon's claims that there was hostile fire originating from the hotel. Channel NewsAsia's own correspondent based at the hotel, May Ying Welsh, also "confirmed that she had not seen soldiers at the hotel before."

CBS News Correspondent Lara Logan, who was in the hotel at the time, also refuted the claims of hostile fire. The US military said "that they were under fire from the building - small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades," reports Logan. "But I know, because I was in the building, along with all the other journalists who were here, that no one was firing from this building." NPR's Ann Garrels, also in the hotel, backed this up in her own reporting.

A report in the April 10 Sydney [Australia] Morning Herald said that the nearest fighting was going on a full 1.5 kilometers away, across the Tigris River. Reporters on the balcony targeted by the US tank were watching and filming that conflict. Cameras and tripods were clearly visible when the tank opened fire.

In every instance, the Pentagon has claimed that their troops were returning fire from Iraqi forces, saying the evil Iraqis were using journalists as human shields. However, it is becoming quite clear that US forces knew exactly who they were targeting. A senior reporter for the BBC, speaking anonymously (for obvious reasons), told The Guardian: "I know al-Jazeera gave the Pentagon all their GPS [global positioning system] co-ordinates. It was in a different part of town to the Palestine Hotel and my sources at al-Jazeera are saying the attitude of the Pentagon seemed to be 'maybe we'll take your details'."

The BBC's man also said that "every other TV organisation based in the capital" had given similar information to the Pentagon.

But despite its initial admission of a "grave mistake" in shelling the Palestine Hotel, the US military officials are now trying to place blame on the Iraqis. The day after the shelling, The Guardian says that "reports from [US] central command in Qatar were starting to suggest US tank fire was not responsible" for the lethal blast. Speaking unofficially so far, the suggestion is that Iraqi forces fired an RPG at the reporters, supposedly because they were upset at being filmed.

Those who were present dismiss this new claim.

Outraged media outlets, as well as professional organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, are demanding a full investigation and even saying the attacks "violate the Geneva Conventions." The Pentagon? Well, they say its reporters' own damned fault for being "very, very close to a lot of the action." Nevermind that the Palestine Hotel was actually a mile away from that action when it was blasted.

[Read the source...]

More details of the French TV video:

Source: 'Footage shows tank deliberately hit hotel' (4/09/03 - Agence France-Presse via The Age [Melbourne, Australia].)

Footage filmed by France 3 television of a strike on a hotel which killed two journalists in Baghdad today shows a US tank targeting the journalists' hotel and waiting at least two minutes before firing.

Herve de Ploeg, the journalist and film editor who filmed the attack, said: "I did not hear any shots in the direction of the tank, which was stationed at the west entrance of the Al-Jumhuriya (Republic) bridge, 600 metres north-west of the hotel.

The tank's turret is seen moving toward the Palestine Hotel, where foreign reporters have set up shop, and the gun carriage lifting and waiting at least two minutes before opening up.

The French TV channel had positioned two cameras in two rooms facing the bridge as of 6:30am (11:30 local time).

"It had been very quiet for a moment. There was no shooting at all. Then I saw the turret turning in our direction and the carriage lifting. It faced the target," said De Ploeg.

"It was not a case of instinctive firing," he said.

The firing took place at 11:59am (17:59 local time), said France 3 reporter Caroline Sinz.

"I'm very specific because I was due to go on air," she explained.

The incident killed a cameraman for the Telecinco Spanish television station and another for the British news agency Reuters. Three Reuters staffers were also wounded.

The Spanish cameraman was named as Jose Couso, 37. The Reuters cameraman was named as Ukrainian Taras Protsyuk, 35.

Reporters Killed So Far During the Invasion of Iraq:

March 22: Australian Broadcasting Corporation cameraman Paul Moran was killed by car bomb in northern Iraq.

March 22: Terry Lloyd, a journalist with Britain's Independent Television News, was killed near Basra. His cameraman Fred Nerac and translator Hussein Othman are still missing.

April 2: Kaveh Golestan, an Iranian freelance cameraman working for the BBC, was killed by a landmine.

April 3: Michael Kelly, former editor-in-chief of the Atlantic Monthly, was killed in vehicle

April 6: Kamaran Abdurazaq Muhamed, a Kurdish translator working for the BBC, died after being bombed by an American jet in northern Iraq.

April 7: German Christian Liebig, of the weekly magazine Focus, and Spaniard Julio Anguita Parrado, of the newspaper El Mundo, were killed in an Iraqi missile strike.

April 8: Tarek Ayoub, a producer and correspondent for Al-Jazeera television, was killed in a United States air raid on Baghdad. A second Al-Jazeera correspondent was slightly wounded in the attack.

April 8: Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk died after a US tank fired on the Palestine Hotel, the base for many foreign media in Baghdad. Jose Couso, 37, a cameraman for the Spanish television channel Tele 5, was wounded in the attack and died in hospital.

In addition to those killed in military action, two other journalists inside Iraq have died while covering the war.

March 30: Britain's Channel 4 TV reporter Gaby Rado, 48, was found dead at a northern Iraqi hotel, but his employers said his death was not connected to combat.

April 6: David Bloom, 39, of the US NBC television network, died from a blood clot.

[Source: Reuters via the Sydney Morning Herald]


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