The Media and the Military: U.S. Military Hampers the Work of Journalists

By Elaine Hargrove-Simon, Silha Fellow and Bulletin Editor

Foreign Journalists Claim Mistreatment by Coalition Forces

U.S. military police were accused of mistreating four foreign journalists following their arrest the night of March 25, 2003.

Reports from the Associated Press, Newsday and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontiers, RSF) identified the four journalists - two Israelis and two Portuguese - as Boaz Bismuth, a reporter with the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot; Dan Scemama, a reporter with Israel's Channel One Television, and Luis Castro and Victor Silva with Radio Televisao Portuguesa. Working as non-embedded journalists, the four were traveling together in a jeep. They were about 60 miles south
of Baghdad, between the cities of Karbala and Najaf, when they decided to stop and sleep. An unidentified U.S. unit was camped nearby. Scemama stated in an interview on Israeli radio that although all four journalists were carrying press cards, U.S. soldiers arrested them, accusing them of being "terrorists, spies and Iraqi intelligence. They made us lie on the ground with our face in the sand for hours before we were given a thorough body search." The journalists claim they were also denied food and water for extended periods of time and forced to stand in a cold tent in silence. Scemama further stated that Castro was beaten, thrown to the ground and kicked after asking to be allowed to call his wife. The four journalists were then kept locked in their jeep for 24 hours outside the
base.

In a letter dated April 7 to U.S. Central Command's Commander in Chief, Gen. Tommy Franks, the acting director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Joel Simon, wrote that a first lieutenant, identified only as "Shaw" came to apologize to the journalists, saying, "Try to understand, my men are trained like dogs - they just know how to attack. No hard feelings. God bless you." The journalists were sent to Kuwait, where their material was returned to them. "[U.S. soldiers] want all the journalists in Iraq
to have one of their liaison officers with them to supervise the footage they are broadcasting. There is no doubt that this is why they treated us so cruelly," Scemama said in his interview with Israeli radio. He also claimed that U.S. forces were trying to keep journalists from moving freely inside Iraq.

CPJ and Jose Rodrigues dos Santos, the news director of Radio Televisao Portuguesa, have called for an investigation into the incident. The Associated Press reported that Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Lapan said that the journalists posed a security threat, and that there was no indication of mistreatment. He did, however, say the incident would be investigated.

Iraqi Television Station Hit by Coalition Forces

On March 26, 2003, U.K. and U.S. forces carried out air and missile strikes, hitting Iraq's state-run television station in Baghdad. The international satellite station, which normally broadcasts 24 hours a day, was unable to air programming for eight hours.

The International Press Institute (IPI), based in Vienna, protested the strikes in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, saying that "the attacks violated human rights conventions and set a dangerous precedent," according to the Associated Press. IPI cited Article 52 of the Geneva Convention which states that "Attacks shall be limited to strictly military objectives" and also Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that everyone has the right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

A report on the IPI's Web site states that military officials claimed that the attack on the television station had been instigated because it was determined that the station was part of a "command and control center" and that the station was housed in a "key telecommunications vault" for satellite communications. But IPI maintains that attacks like these may result in the blurring of the line between civilian and military activities,
"thus making it more likely that in the future the destruction of a country's news-making facilities will become a central military aim in any conflict. If this were to happen, the media would face deliberate targeting from either side and risks to journalists would be greatly increased." IPI also wrote a letter of protest to David Howard, Head of communication Planning at the Royal Ministry of Defence. He responded in a letter dated
May 16, saying: "International law defines [attacks like that on the television station] as those which, by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action. It is common knowledge that Saddam's regime used the TV network for military command and control purposes. The network thus became a legitimate military target."

Howard concluded, "I can assure you that the UK fully supports the free press and all that it stands for."

IPI reported that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and RSF have also protested the attack on the television station. IPI's report is available on its Web site at http://www.ifj.org.

Marines Raid Journalists Rooms in Palestine Hotel

On April 15, 2003, masked U.S. Marines claiming that they were searching for Iraqi fighters performed an early morning search of the guest rooms at the Palestine Hotel where many foreign journalists were staying. The Associated Press reported that the raid resulted in the arrests of four Iraqi men who were not bearing proper identification. The raid reportedly began about 7 a.m.

According to Agence France Presse, Marine public affairs officer Cpl. John Hoellwarth said that room searches were conducted after reports were received by military intelligence that Fedayeen paramilitary fighters might have been hiding in the hotel. However, Hoellwarth did not elaborate.

"We reacted to security concerns that arose from intelligence reports. The Marines are always ready to protect the security of journalists, Iraqi civilians and Marines on the hotel premises," Hoellwarth stated. The Marines had keys to the rooms, but kicked down those doors that were bolted. Footage from Associated Press Television News shows Marines pointing M-16s in journalists' faces.

Jean-Paul Mari, a journalist with the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, told Agence France Presse that three Marines entered his room and ordered him to lie at gunpoint on the floor. They checked his press credentials, then searched his room for 10 minutes. The three left, followed by another Marine who offered an apology for the intrusion. But he was soon followed by another wave of Marines who searched Mari's room a second time. Shingo Kinawa, employed by the Japan-based Kyodo News services, told Agence France Presse that his offices in the hotel had also been searched.
"[The Marines] explained they were searching for a cache of arms," Kinawa said.

Linda Roth, a producer for CNN, told the Associated Press that she opened her door to armed Marines who ordered her to get down while they searched her room without any explanation. After they left, she said she saw three men who appeared to be Iraqis being guarded in the hallway by Marines. The three men were sitting cross-legged, their hands behind their backs, Roth reported.

The Associated Press reported that the raids occurred on the 16th and 17th floors where journalists from CNN, Turkish TV, Japanese TV and other networks were staying. It was unclear how many rooms on the 18th floor might have undergone searches.

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on November 9, 2009 11:15 AM.

Experts Assess Media's Coverage Of the War in Iraq was the previous entry in this blog.

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