US targets independent media in its war on Iraq

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Crescent International

Safar 14, 1424 2003-04-16

Occupied Arab World

by Crescent International (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 4, Safar, 1424)

Tariq Ayoub, an correspondent for the independent Arab satellite television channel al-Jazeera, was killed in Baghdad on April 8 when the al-Jazeera office was attacked by a US aircraft while showing some of the mounting slaughter being committed by US troops throughout the Iraqi capital. Ayoub, a 34-year-old Palestinian Jordanian, was broadcasting from the roof of the building when the attack took place, and was killed immediately. A colleague was seriously injured.

Other al-Jazeera staff sought shelter in the nearby offices of Abu Dhabi TV, which then also came under US attack. At one point, Abu Dhabi TV correspondent Shaker Hamed issued an emergency on-air call for help, saying "Twenty-five journalists and technicians belonging to Abu Dhabi television and Qatari satellite television channel Al-Jazeera are surrounded in the offices of Abu Dhabi TV in Baghdad."

Soon after the al-Jazeera strike, two Western cameramen died when a US tank fired on Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel, which houses most of the international press in Baghdad. Another three members of the media were injured.

BBC reporter Rageh Omar, who is stationed in the nearby Palestine Hotel, described the bombing as "suspect." He said, "We were watching and filming the bombardment and it’s quite clearly a direct strike on the Al-Jazeera office. This was not just a stray round. It just seemed too specific."

There were no military sites nearby. Yasser Abu Hilalah, al-Jazeera’s Amman correspondent, insisted that the attack was deliberate. "Al-Jazeera’s office is located in a residential area and there is no way that the attack was a mistake," he said. Al-Jazeera had made a point of giving the US the precise co-ordinates of their Baghdad office.

Majed Abdel Hadi, another al-Jazeera correspondent in Baghdad, called the US missile strike a crime and pointed to its motives. "We were targeted because the Americans don’t want the world to see the crimes they are committing against the Iraqi people."

He noted other US military attacks on al-Jazeera offices and personnel: in Kabul (Afghanistan), where al-Jazeera’s facilities were destroyed by an American missile during the opening days of the US-led invasion of 2001, and in Basra last week, when the hotel where al-Jazeera correspondents were staying was hit by four bombs that failed to explode.

The day before the missile strike, US forces fired on vehicles of both al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV. Abu Dhabi Television said that one of its vehicles came under fire while returning from a press briefing by Iraqi minister of information Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf. None of the journalists was wounded.

Al-Jazeera said that its car was bearing the al-Jazeera insignia when it "came under fire on a highway outside Baghdad." The driver reported that the firing came from US forces. Later, al-Jazeera reported that four members of its crew in Basra, the only journalists inside the city, came under gunfire from British tanks on March 29 while they were filming the distribution of food by Iraqi government officials. Akil Abdel Reda, one of the station’s cameramen, went missing and was later found to have been held for 12 hours by US troops.

Since the Iraq war began, al-Jazeera has won a growing international audience, despite being branded a tool of Iraqi propaganda by US and British officials and, ironically, having the Iraqi government suspend its broadcasting rights. Al-Jazeera’s subscriptions have doubled in Europe, swelling its subscriber base of 35 million. Although frequently knocked off-line by right-wing hackers, al-Jazeera’s website became the most sought-after on the internet.

The US strike on the Palestine Hotel damaged the 14th to 17th floors. Apart from Reuters, which has its offices on the 15th floor, Dubai’s al-Arabiya television channel said that its bureau on the 17th floor suffered damage. France 3 TV footage showed US tanks deliberately firing at the hotel. "They [US tanks] headed there, moved their turrets and waited at least two minutes before opening fire," said Herve de Ploeg, the journalist who filmed the attack. "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 meters northwest of the hotel.

"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. It was not a case of instinctive firing... I’m very specific because I was due to go on air."

The international press organization Reporters Without Borders has demanded investigations into the deaths, as well as that of British ITV journalist Terry Lloyd, who was killed near Basra, apparently by US fire, on March 22. Daniel Demoustier, the French cameraman injured in the attack that killed Lloyd, this week accused US troops of firing on their media vehicles to "wipe out troublesome witnesses." In an interview, he said that American forces had continued to fire shells on the vehicles even after Lloyd was already dead.

During the Kosova war, the US bombed the headquarters of Serbian television after it had broadcast footage showing civilians injured in the NATO bombing. Then, they openly admitted doing it deliberately, saying that the media were a legitimate target because they were broadcasting enemy propaganda. The US seems to have realised since that this argument is not acceptable; hence the recent "accidents".

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