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 Post subject: Dead Messengers: How the U.S. Military Threatens Journalists
PostPosted: Fri Feb 25, 2005 11:36 am 
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This is something in which I have been intensely interested. If there are any other articles on this subject I would be interested.

This is part one of a four-part series.

Dead Messengers: How the U.S. Military Threatens Journalists
    By Steve Weissman
    t r u t h o u t | Investigation

    Part I: Hearing What Eason Jordan Said

    Thursday 24 February 2005

Do American soldiers purposely kill journalists, as CNN's Eason Jordan supposedly said? Or, could the problem be even worse?

    Eason Jordan, CNN's freshly ousted news chief, hardly knew what hit him. On Thursday, January 27, he was schmoozing with the global A-List at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. On Friday, February 11, he was looking for work.

    "After 23 years at CNN," he wrote, "I have decided to resign in an effort to prevent CNN from being unfairly tarnished by the controversy over conflicting accounts of my recent remarks regarding the alarming number of journalists killed in Iraq."

    "I never meant to imply U.S. forces acted with ill intent when U.S. forces accidentally killed journalists, and I apologize to anyone who thought I said or believed otherwise."

    Corporate media managers had long envied Jordan's diplomatic skill, as when he arranged CNN's live coverage from Baghdad of the first Gulf War. But political conservatives reviled him for being "too liberal." They also felt he had cozied up to Saddam.

    The right-wingers got that right, as many political progressives agreed. In an April 2003 Op-Ed for the New York Times, Jordan admitted that he had personally held back news that the Iraqis had tortured a CNN staff member. To run the story would have jeopardized the network's access and made it necessary to remove some or all of its people working in the country.

    Unlike conservatives, who never seem bothered by their double standards, progressives also criticized Jordan for cozying up to George W. Bush. Who can forget how CNN beat the drums for the president's march to war in Afghanistan? Or, how Jordan's embedded reporters enthusiastically cheered the U.S. military blitz on Baghdad?

    Drum-beating and cheerleading defeat what the news media should be and do in a pluralistic society. But, however deftly Jordan once played to whoever held power, his performance at Davos was completely cackhanded, muddying the point I think he was trying to make:

    No, from all available evidence, U.S. soldiers on the ground do not knowingly try to kill journalists, either American or foreign.

    Yes, U.S. commanders encourage hostility toward the media and fail to do what they should to protect journalists, especially those who choose not to embed themselves under military control.

    Jordan's exact words exist on a videotape that the World Economic Forum has so far refused to release. But no belated replay will end the larger debate over the military's threat to the media. The issues are too large, the stakes too high. And, by all accounts, Jordan's comments were so confused that different people will hear them in different ways, just as they did at Davos.

    The Journalist

    Jordan made his remarks on a panel called "Will Democracy Survive the Media?" A long-ago British colleague of mine - Aidan White, now general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) - attended the session along with 150 to 200 others.

    "It looked as though it was going to be a spiky meeting," he told me. "One expected a little bit of give and take."

    Score one for English understatement.

    White went to Davos representing some half million reporters and media workers around the world, including 30,000 members of the Newspaper Guild and 3 other groups in the United States. As part of his job, he works closely with Iraqi journalists as well as foreign media people in Iraq, and knows first-hand the problems they face with the American military, which is what Jordan tried to address.

    Jordan "had recently been in Iraq," White explained, "and I think he was reflecting a great deal of frustration from not only his own people in Iraq, but others there as well, that they weren't getting a very good deal in terms of the way they were being treated by the military."

    According to White, Jordan said that the American military dealt unfairly with journalists, especially Iraqi journalists, and deliberately treated them in often-petty ways that revealed an underlying hostility toward the media.

    White summed up Jordan's message as he heard it: "Effectively, the American military were out to get journalists. And some of them were deliberately targeting journalists."

    Did Jordan say they were targeting journalists in the sense of trying to kill them, I asked.

    "No," said White. "That is not what I heard him say."

    Less familiar with the working life of journalists in Iraq, others in the audience heard Jordan's words with different ears. In White's view, "They got the wrong end of the stick."

    The Blogger

    The most telling example appeared on the World Economic Forum's web site, in an entry posted at 2:21 the morning after the panel. Its author was conference participant Rony Abovitz, co-founder of a high-flying medical technology firm in South Florida. He wrote:

During one of the discussions about the number of journalists killed in the Iraq War, Eason Jordan asserted that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by U.S. troops in Iraq, but they had in fact been targeted. He repeated the assertion a few times, which seemed to win favor in parts of the audience (the anti-U.S. crowd) and cause great strain on others.

    Sitting in the audience, Abovitz immediately challenged Jordan, asking "if he had any objective and clear evidence to back up these claims, because if what he said was true, it would make Abu Ghraib look like a walk in the park."

    Abovitz blogged on:

Eason seemed to backpedal quickly, but his initial statements were backed by other members of the audience (one in particular who represented a worldwide journalist group). The ensuing debate was (for lack of better words) a real "sh-storm."

    Abovitz heard Jordan trying to clarify his position, but to no avail.

To be fair (and balanced), Eason did backpedal and make a number of statements claiming that he really did not know if what he said was true, and that he did not himself believe it. But when pressed by others, he seemed to waver back and forth between what might have been his beliefs and the realization that he had created a kind of public mess. His statements, his reaction, and the reaction of all in attendance left me perplexed and confused.

    The Congressman

    Barney Frank, the liberal Massachusetts Congressman, spoke on the panel with Jordan and later added details of his own reaction.

    "It sounded as if [Jordan] was saying the killings had been deliberate," Frank told the Miami Herald. "I sat up, and I said, 'That's very troubling to me, I feel an obligation to act on this.' "

    "I'm not saying this is American military policy," Jordan responded, as Congressman Frank recalled. But Jordan insisted that U. S. soldiers had deliberately shot at journalists and not been punished,

    Was Jordan talking about cases of mistaken identity or itchy trigger finger "in the heat of battle," Frank asked.

    No, said Jordan.

    After the panel, Frank called Jordan and asked for specifics. "If you think there are cases where American military personnel killed reporters and weren't disciplined, I want to know, and [Congress] will take action," Frank recalled saying.

    In fact, Aidan White and others at Davos pointed out the very specifics Congressman Frank wanted, as did a subsequent, widely blogged statement that appeared to come from CNN. But between Jordan's confusion and the baying of rightwing attack dogs, few Americans - in Congress or out - would have heard enough to weigh the evidence.

    For those who care to judge for themselves, the best place to start is the story of Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, where on April 8, 2003, an American tank crew killed two journalists and wounded three others. The U.S. military never took testimony from a single journalist who was there, and never disciplined any military personnel.

    Tomorrow, t r u t h o u t offers Exhibit A, a stunning, on-the-spot investigation of the incident published by the non-partisan Reporters Without Borders.

    A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he writes for t r u t h o u t.

© Copyright 2005 by

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 4:00 am 
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Joined: Mon Jan 24, 2005 9:11 am
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This is part two of a four-part series.

Part I | Hearing What Eason Jordan Said
Part II | Army Failed to Probe Its Attack on Palestine Hotel

Exhibit A | Reporters Without Borders: Two Murders and a Lie

    Dead Messengers:
    How the U.S. Military Threatens Journalists
    By Steve Weissman
    t r u t h o u t | Investigation

    Part II: Army Failed to Probe Its Attack on Palestine Hotel

    Monday 28 February 2005

"Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians within the meaning of Article 50, paragraph 1. . . . They shall be protected as such under the Conventions and this Protocol. . . ."
Additional Protocol I (1977) of the 1949 Geneva Conventions

"There's nothing sacrosanct about a hotel with a bunch of journalists in it."
Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired), The Washington Post, April 9, 2003.

    As America's Third Infantry Division took control of Baghdad on the morning of April 8, 2003, an M1A1 Abrams tank stood in the middle of the Al-Jumhuriya Bridge, which spans the Tigris River. Over a mile away, on a balcony of the 17-story Palestine Hotel, a French TV crew filmed the tank as it slowly swung its turret and fired almost directly at where they were standing.

    The 120mm incendiary shell hit between the 14th and 15th floors of the hotel, which served as headquarters for some 100 war reporters and other media workers. The blast and flying shrapnel killed two cameramen - Jose Couso of Spain's Telecinco and Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian working for Reuters. It also wounded Reuters' Gulf bureau chief Samia Nakhoul, photographer Faleh Kheiber, and satellite dish technician Paul Pasquale.

    Sgt. Shawn Gibson, the tank gunner who fired the shell, and Captain Philip Wolford, who gave the command, had just become part of a very different war.

    Four months after the attack, on August 12, the U.S. Central Command announced that the two soldiers were completely justified in what they did. The men believed they were shooting at an enemy spotter directing rocket-propelled grenades and other heavy fire against American forces, said the Army. Though highly regrettable, shelling the hotel was legitimate self-defense against an enemy "hunter-killer team," and fully complied with the Rules of Engagement.

    No fault. No foul.

    Significantly, the Army refused to release the records of its investigation, which led to an ongoing battle with the low profile, but highly prestigious Committee to Protect Journalists. From its offices in Manhattan, CPJ speaks for some of the top guns in American journalism. David Laventhol, former chief of Times-Mirror and now publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, chairs the group, while Walter Cronkite and former Lebanon hostage Terry Anderson serve as honorary co-chairs. The board includes, among others, Tom Brokaw (NBC), Dan Rather (CBS), David Marash (ABC), Gwen Ifill (PBS), Charlayne Hunter-Gault (CNN), Anne Garrels (NPR), Freedom Forum's John Seigenthaler, and New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis.

    Created in 1981 by foreign correspondents to help protect their colleagues abroad against governments and others who have no use for free and independent media, CPJ has worked out front and behind the scenes to save numerous journalists overseas from prison, torture, and death. But, ever since President George W. Bush marched America to war in the name of democracy, the group has increasingly found its foes closer to home.

    "The failure of the U.S. military to provide an honest and open accounting of what occurred keeps alive questions about whether U.S. forces are taking the necessary steps to avoid endangering journalists," said CPJ's executive director Ann Cooper, urging the Army to tell what happened at the Palestine Hotel.

    "These questions are urgent because hundreds of journalists continue to work in Iraq, and their reporting is vital for the world's understanding of events in this post-war period."

'Don't Go There'

   Sadly, the military brass had good reason to keep the record of their investigation under wraps. This became obvious in September 2004, when CPJ's Freedom of Information filing finally forced the Army to release what it called "a sanitized copy of the releasable results."

    Even with its missing pages and blacked-out names, anyone could see that CentCom's much heralded "investigation" was nothing more than a limited Commander's Inquiry, which relied on interviews and sworn statements from Sgt. Gibson, Capt. Wolford, and a handful of their mates from the Third Infantry Division.

    The inquiry did not consider testimony from journalists at the Palestine Hotel. It did not hear the embedded Associated Press reporter, Chris Tomlinson, who monitored some all-important radio communications. And, it ignored the issue that mattered most.

    Pentagon officials in Washington knew that the Palestine Hotel was full of journalists, and had assured the Associated Press that the U.S. would not target the building. Other media companies similarly informed the military, and even provided the hotel's GPS coordinates.

    For all that, Sgt. Gibson and Capt. Wolford did not know they were shooting at journalists. They seemed honestly upset when the French reporter Jean-Paul Mari spoke with them two days later, as he reported in his "Two Murders and a Lie." Mari also confirmed their story with the AP's Tomlinson, who heard Sgt. Gibson on the military radio describing a man with binoculars standing on the hotel balcony. Tomlinson also heard Capt. Wolford give the order to fire at what both soldiers clearly assumed to be an enemy spotter.

    Tomlinson then heard the Third Infantry commander - Gen. Buford Blount III - complaining on the radio that someone had just fired at a hotel full of journalists. The Pentagon and CentCom headquarters in Doha, Qatar, had apparently passed the information down the chain of command, exactly as they were supposed to do. Gen. Blount also had access to international television broadcasts, which regularly carried reports directly from the Palestine Hotel.

    So Gen. Blount knew the journalists were there. But, as Mari pieced the story together, the general's subordinates did not know until after Sgt. Gibson fired the fatal shot.

    Did Gen. Blount fail to tell his troops? If so, why? And, in law, would such a failure constitute criminal negligence?

    From the sanitized record of CentCom's inquiry, the investigating officer never asked. In fact, he had no authority to ask. Though the Army carefully blacked out his name, he appears to have been a colonel who - in a free and independent hearing - might well be a telling witness against Gen. Blount.

    Next time, Part III: Targeting the Media the American Way.


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