What is a journalist’s life worth? I ask this question for a number of reasons, some of them – frankly – quite revolting. Two days ago, I went to visit one of my colleagues wounded in the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Samia Nakhoul is a Reuters correspondent, a young woman reporter who is married to another colleague, the Financial Times correspondent in Beirut. Part of an American tank shell was embedded in her brain – a millimetre difference in entry point and she would have been half paralysed – after an M1A1 Abrams tank fired a round at the Reuters office in Baghdad, in the Palestine Hotel, last week.
Samia, a brave and honourable lady who has reported the cruelty of the Lebanese civil war at first hand for many years, was almost destroyed as a human being by that tank crew.
At the time, General Buford Blount of the 3rd Infantry Division, told a lie: he said that sniper fire had been directed at the tank – on the Joumhouriyah Bridge over the Tigris river – and that the fire had ended “after the tank had fired” at the Palestine Hotel. I was between the tank and the hotel when the shell was fired. There was no sniper fire – nor any rocket-propelled grenade fire, as the American officer claimed – at the time. French television footage of the tank, running for minutes before the attack, shows the same thing. The soundtrack – until the blinding, repulsive golden flash from the tank barrel – is silent.
Samia Nakhoul wasn’t the only one to be hit. Her Ukrainian cameraman, father of a small child, was killed. So was a Spanish cameraman on the floor above. And then yesterday I had to read, in the New York Times, that Colin Powell had justified the murder – yes, murder – of these two journalists. This former four-star general – I’m talking about Mr Powell, not the liar who runs the 3rd Infantry Division – actually said, and I quote: “According to a US military review of the incident, our forces responded to hostile fire appearing to come from a location later identified as the Palestine Hotel... Our review of the April 8th incident indicates that the use of force was justified.”