Thursday, 10 April 2003

Killing the Messengers

Deliberate or Accident: It Doesn't Really Matter

When it comes to the killing of three journalists by American troops in two separate incidents in Baghdad over the last 24 hours, there really are only two alternatives, neither one of them very pleasant to contemplate.

Either the U.S. is targeting journalists to punish those who are reporting honestly about the horrors of the war (the bombing of the Al Jazeera office) and to send a message to others not to get to close to the conflict (the tank blast at the Palestine Hotel, home base formost of the foreign press corps), or else these were simply the kinds of mindless, accidental yet inevitable attrocities that are going on all over Iraq, and especially Baghdad.

If the explanation is the former--that the U.S. is deliberately targeting journalists--we're talking about murder pure and simple, and someone should be made to pay for the crime. It wouldn't be the first time the Pentagon has targeted journalists or attempted to silence them through threats. Several mainstream American reporters trying to get to Grenada by small boat during the U.S. invasion of that little island (which had been barred to the press by the U.S. military), were threatened with being blown out of the water by a U.S. destroyer. They turned around and stayed clear. Certainly there was a motive: Al-Jezeera has clearly frustrated and angered the U.S. military and the White House by airing the scenes of death and destruction that the American media has submissively censored out of American livingrooms.

But the press in wartime has to expect to antagonize the authorities if it's really doing its job, so while we may be upset at the thought of the U.S. deliberately targeting journalists, we shouldn't be too surprised.

In a way, the second explanation for these two recent attacks is far more awful to contemplate.

Consider. There are basically only a couple of clearly identified places in the Iraqi capital where journalists are known to congregate. One is the Al Jazeera office. The other are the two hotels where journalists have been staying. These locations, like hospitals, are clearly well-known to Pentagon war planners and to the pilots and soldiers on the ground who are tossing around high-explosive ordnance. And the assumption is that the Pentagon is trying to avoid injuring civilians.

If they really did hit these two clearly off-limits locations and kill three journalists "by accident" in just one day's fighting, just imagine how many innocents are being slaughtered "by accident" every day of this war whose locations don't even register on all those war maps?

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