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    Risk-free adventure

    The Committee to Protect Journalists is not an organization I’ve done much paying attention to. Something one of its spokespersons said yesterday caught my eye, though, and made me wonder anew at how callow some people can be.

    Reuters says a Spanish judge wants to haul in US soldiers for questioning over an incident two years ago in which a Spanish journalist was killed:

    The Pentagon has exonerated the U.S. soldiers from any blame, but High Court Judge Santiago Pedraz wants to question the three who were in the tank, a court official said on Tuesday.

    “Spanish cameraman Jose Couso, who worked for Telecinco, and Reuters cameraman Taras Protsiuk, a Ukrainian, were killed and several people were wounded when the U.S. tank fired a shell directly into the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on April 8, 2003.

    The Spanish court would have jurisdiction only over the death of the Spanish citizen.

    The American soldiers would be questioned as suspects for murder and crimes against the international community, which carry sentences of 15 to 20 years in jail and 10 to 15 years respectively.

    “It is difficult to conceive of any set of circumstances under which we would submit U.S. military personnel to questioning before a foreign court of criminal jurisdiction regarding the conduct of authorized combat operations,” said Navy Cmdr. Jane Campbell, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

    Hey, I wonder whether targeting journalists is a hate crime in Spain. Perhaps US forces were trying to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. I’m not sure what other “crimes against the international community” [retch! heave!] we could be talking about.

    Maybe my irreverence is misplaced; it’s possible that the actual journalists who were killed had a clear-headed, philosophical view of the risks involved in covering combat operations and would be displeased at their colleagues’ reactions to their deaths.

    The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists obtained the full report under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Among other criticisms, the committee said the report failed to address “the question of why U.S. troops were not aware that the Palestine Hotel — one of the best-known civilian sites in Baghdad at the time — was full of journalists.”

    The Committee to Protect Journalists (and Reuters) made similar noises at the time, it seems:

    “I note that the commander of the U.S. 3rd Infantry has now said that one of its tanks fired a round at the Palestine Hotel,” Reuters Editor-in-chief Geert Linnebank said in a statement. “He said it did this after it came under fire from the hotel.”

    “… the incident nonetheless raises questions about the judgment of the advancing U.S. troops who have known all along that this hotel is the main base for almost all foreign journalists in Baghdad. (The Reuters cameraman’s) death, and the injuries sustained by the others, were so unnecessary.”

    The Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday that the incidents violated the Geneva Conventions and called for an “immediate and thorough investigation,” the results of which should be made public.

    These people are out of their gourd. The idea of marking off a little Temenos of Innocence in the middle of a war zone, in which journalists can expect absolute safety, is idiotic. Central Command made the common-sense point that such sites become a magnet for dirty-fighting combatants who want to camouflage themselves (and to make the enemy hestitate to strike at them hard). CPJ seems to think that the ground forces involved should have been told that there was a significant press presence in the Palestine Hotel. How that would have changed the fact that those ground forces were being shot at and needed to respond is not explained. As it was, those manning the tank didn’t keep firing, or call in reinforcements to help flatten the place, so they clearly didn’t mistake it for an enemy bunker.

    CPJ keeps its own statistics on journalists who die in the line of duty. Its total for 2004: 39 confirmed, including 13 in Iraq. Considering the risk involved in walking around a war zone without combat training, that doesn’t strike me as an outrageously high number.

    3 Responses to “Risk-free adventure”

    1. Spanish Judge Wants to Question US Soldiers

      Why does the US not want to have anything to do with international tribunals? Namely, because anti-Americanism in the world leads to acts of judicial tyrrany, such as this. Spain seems to be the worst of the lot these days….

    2. Eric Scheie says:

      If targeting journalists is a hate crime, then attacks against bloggers (including DOS attacks against their servers) are also hate crimes!

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      It’s all so menacing. I think I’ll assume the fetal position.

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