The Pentagon Targets
(and Other Civilians)
by Paul W. Lovinger
by Paul W. Lovinger
A controversy over the U.S. military’s killing of journalists
in Iraq has forced the resignation of the Cable News Network’s chief
news executive, Eason Jordan, who has been with CNN since 1982. In
January, as a panelist at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland,
Jordan said he thought several such journalists had been targeted. He
soon backed off and apologized, saying they were killed "accidentally."
Jordan was right the first time, evidence indicates. That the
U.S. military has targeted news media is a fact beyond dispute – and
such actions are war crimes.
During the Clinton-NATO war on Yugoslavia in 1999, Radio
Television Serbia in Belgrade was bombed and sixteen editorial,
technical, and office personnel died. In an impromptu interview by
Jeremy Scahill last year, the general in charge of that war, Wesley
Clark, admitted that the bombing was intentional. (Pacifica Radio, Jan.
One week into the current war in Iraq, the Iraqi radio and
television headquarters in Baghdad were bombed. Casualties were not
reported. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders futilely called for
an impartial international investigation. Robert Menard, its secretary
general, said that "a media outlet cannot be a military target under
international law...." He called attacks on any civilians, including
journalists, war crimes.
At least a dozen media people are known to have died from
violence involving the U.S. military in Iraq. The incidents are
described below. The first four cases appear relatively clear-cut, although the
military admits no wrongdoing in any case.
Five deaths, six incidents, no "accidents"
air raid on the Al-Jazeera TV offices in Baghdad killed the journalist
Tareq Ayoub and wounded a colleague on April 8, 2003. The network
had shown civilian victims of U.S. bombings. Big banners marked "TV"
hung outside the building. Six days earlier, the Basra Sheraton Hotel,
whose only guests were an Al-Jazeera team, received four direct
artillery hits, without casualties, according to the Arabic TV news
channel. And in November 2001, U.S. bombs destroyed Al-Jazeera’s office
in Kabul, Afghanistan, also without casualties. Before all three
incidents, the network had notified U.S. authorities of the respective
locations, a spokesman said.
three hours after the Baghdad bombing, a tank fired at the Palestine
Hotel there and fatally wounded two cameramen: Taras Protsyuk, a
Ukranian, of Reuters; and Jose Couso, a Spaniard, of the Telecinco
network. The French Press Agency reported next day that footage by
France 3 television "shows a US tank targeting the journalists’ hotel
and waiting at least two minutes before firing." The Department of
Defense claimed the shooting was self-defense. Reporters Without
Borders said that all the facts indicated "exactly the opposite." The
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), based in Brussels,
accused the Pentagon of a "cynical whitewash." Robert Fisk of the UK
newspaper Independent asked if it was possible to believe that
the twin Baghdad attacks were accidents. "Or was it possible that the
right word for these killings ... was murder?"
fire also killed the Palestinian cameraman Mazen Dana of Reuters
outside of Abu Ghraib prison on August 18, 2003. The U.S. Army
claimed that soldiers mistook his camera for a weapon. But colleagues
with him said otherwise. The Guardian, UK, next day quoted a
Reuters soundman, Nael al-Shyoukhi, saying the soldiers "saw us and
they knew about our identities and our mission.... We were noted and
seen clearly." They had filmed the prison and were about to go when a
convoy led by a tank arrived; Dana stepped out of the car to film
again, walked a bit and was shot. IFJ noted that it happened in broad
daylight and that the camera team had made contact with soldiers to
explain its mission and received permission to film the prison.
Najim, an Iraqi freelance cameraman working for Reuters, in Ramadi,
west of Baghdad, was shot to death, evidently by a U.S. sniper, on Nov.
1, 2004. He had been filming clashes between marines and foes, but
exchanges had ended when he was felled by a single shot. Najim’s
colleagues and family said a U.S. sniper killed him. Military
authorities denied it. Reuters noted that photographs taken two days
earlier showed marine snipers taking positions in Ramadi. The news
agency called for an investigation.
Anti-media acts – or just routine slaughter?
Among the first fallen news men after the war began was Terry
Lloyd, a correspondent for the UK’s Independent Television News (ITN).
Initially he was reported killed by crossfire on March 22, 2003, near
Basra. The Daily Mirror (9-10-03) said U.S. marines admitted to
ITN investigators having fired on Lloyd’s two Jeeps marked "TV." But
the paper interviewed an Iraqi businessman who said that Lloyd,
suffering only a shoulder wound, was killed by machine-gun fire from a
U.S. helicopter while the man was driving him and some Iraqi soldiers
to a hospital in a minibus. His colleagues, cameraman Fred Nerac and
translator Hussein Othman, were believed to have been captured and
slain by an Iraqi militia.
Another unsettled incident involved Bourhan Mohammad
al-Louhaybi, an ABC News cameraman, killed by a shot to the head as he
covered an exchange of fire between armed Iraqis and American forces in
Fallujah on March 26, 2004.
Four media men were shot to death last year by U.S. troops in
two unexplained attacks on cars, on March 18 at a Baghdad checkpoint
and on April 19 on a road in Samarra, north of Baghdad.
Victims in the former attack were Ali Abdel-Aziz, cameraman,
and Ali al-Khatib, correspondent, for Al-Arabiya satellite news
channel. Next day, at a Baghdad press conference for Secretary of State
Colin Powell, an Arab journalist demanded an open investigation of that
incident and security for journalists working in Iraq; then he and some
20 colleagues walked out. Mohsin Abdel Hamid, member of the
U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, called the shooting "clear
aggression by the occupation forces against the media." (Online
The latter victims were Asad Kadhim, correspondent for
Al-Iraqiya, U.S.-funded TV, and his driver, Hussein Saleh. A wounded
cameraman, Jassem Kamel, told Al-Iraquiya that they had done interviews
in a police station and driven for some 500 meters when they were fired
on. U.S. authorities called it an "accidental shooting" but said the
soldiers who fired acted within the "rules of engagement." IFJ blamed a
pattern of negligence by the invading forces. (Inter Press Service,
It is not certain whether the pair of incidents represented a
deliberate targeting of news media or what seems to be a standard
procedure in Iraq to blast all vehicles that fail to stop or slow down
when U.S. soldiers fire "warning shots" – and some vehicles that do
slow down. The victims are invariably innocent civilians. That practice
was reported in The Times (UK, 3-30-03), The
Washington Post (4-1-03), Le Monde (4-12-03), and
the Sacramento Bee (5-16-04).
Another victim from Al-Arabiya TV was a Palestinian cub
reporter, 26, one of 13 people killed when a U.S. military helicopter
fired into a crowd of civilians near a burning Army armored vehicle in
Baghdad. The military said it had tried to scatter looters, but
witnesses to the contrary, including a Reuters cameraman who filmed the
scene, said the crowd had been peaceful. At Al-Arabiya’s office,
employees wept as they watched the shooting on television. A portrait
hung on the door with the inscription, "Martyr Mazin Tumaisi, who was
killed by the American forces on September 12th 2004." His photo joined
photos of the two colleagues killed in March. Laith Ahmed, operations
manager, tearfully related that Tumaisi had called twice that day with
reports, then called for help: "I am injured in my leg and head." He
died in Karama Hospital. (The Washington Post, 9-13-04.)
Al-Arabiya was victimized yet again on Oct. 30, 2004, when a
bombing at its Baghdad office killed seven people, including five
employees. An obscure group of jihadists avowed responsibility. Two
days later, the Najim killing brought the toll of media fatalities
since the invasion to 62, according to IFJ’s count.
"All sides in Iraq seem to regard independent journalism
itself as the enemy," IFJ’s general secretary, Aidan White, said at a
London forum. He demanded that the U.S. military investigate each of
its media killings and bring to justice those responsible for "reckless
or murderous action."
War chiefs should read their own manual
The Geneva Conventions’ Protocol I, Article 79, says,
"Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of
armed conflicts shall be considered civilians.... They shall be
protected as such under the Conventions and this Protocol, provided
they take no action adversely affecting their status as civilians."
The 1977 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of
1949, of which the above is a part, prohibits any military attacks
directed at civilians or indiscriminate attacks on both civilians and
military targets. Violation is considered a war crime. Although the
basic Geneva Conventions – which prohibit, among other acts, the murder
or torture of civilians or war prisoners – are U.S. treaties in full
effect, the protocol was signed but not ratified by the U.S. (never
coming before the Senate). However, Amnesty International and others
contend that it has become part of customary international law. In
fact, the U.S. Army Field Manual (FM 27–10) incorporates some
of its principles under "The Law of Land Warfare," e.g. (40, 41):
international law prohibits the launching of attacks (including
bombardment) against either the civilian population as such or
individual civilians as such.... Loss of life and damage to property
incidental to attacks must not be excessive in relation to the concrete
and direct military advantage expected to be gained.
The manual also states, paraphrasing The Hague Convention on
rules of land warfare (1907): "Cities, towns, villages, dwellings, or
buildings which may be classified as military objectives, but which are
undefended ... are not permissible objects of attack." Attacks on
hotels occupied by media people are clear violations. Of course, most
of the attacks on cities, towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings by
the U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Indochina, Korea,
and, for that matter, Germany and Japan, have also been violations of
A 1996 statute (U.S. Code, Title 18, Section 2441) makes any
fatal violation of Hague or Geneva a capital "war crime."
February 18, 2005
Paul W. Lovinger [send him mail], author and
journalist, is secretary of the nonpartisan, San Francisco-based War and Law League, which he founded
in 1998. It seeks the rule of law in U.S. foreign affairs.
Copyright © 2005 LewRockwell.com