Journalist deaths troubling

The U.S. Military may have dropped its two most devastating bombs a week ago, on April 8. I’m not referring to the 3000 lb ‘bunker-buster’ bombs dropped on a building suspected to contain Saddam Hussein, but rather to the two missiles which struck the Baghdad headquarters of the Al-Jazeera network, killing journalist Tareq Ayoub. Within an hour, U.S. warplanes returned to the area and bombed nearby Abu Dhabi headquarters, an Arab satellite station. These attacks follow a disturbing pattern of U.S. military forces targeting journalists, and the Al-Jazeera network specifically.

During the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, Al-Jazeera’s Kabul office was hit by four U.S. missiles. Early in Operation Iraqi Freedom, a building in Basra that housed Al-Jazeera correspondents was hit by four coalition bombs. It is difficult to imagine that this trend is coincidental. The multiplicity of bombs in each case seems to eliminate the possibility that the target was unintended. The possibility of two or four missiles losing their guiding systems and hitting the same target is almost non-existent. Another possibility is that these targets were mistakenly thought to be militarily significant. However, Reporters Without Borders, an international journalist organization, reports that Al-Jazeera had been careful to inform the American military of the exact location of its offices. Taking into account these facts, one must come to the conclusion that the U.S. military intentionally attacked the Al-Jazeera network.

This story ran as a headline in most Arab newspapers the next day. Compounding the impact of the story, a U.S. tank fired into the 15th story of a Palestine hotel. The hotel had been the primary location of foreign journalists and was well known by coalition military leaders. Two journalists died in the shelling. Despite international outrage, American media barely covered the event. Unwilling to turn a blind eye, many countries and foreign journalist organizations condemned the attack. The International Federation of Journalists suggested the attacks were a ‘war crime.’

The U.S. military has issued no justification of the bombing of the Al-Jazeera building except to call it a mistake. Regarding the Palestine hotel, however, military officers claim that a tank fired on the hotel after being engaged with small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades. Unfortunately for the U.S. military, British and French cameramen were running film both before and during the attack. Review of the video shows no sight or sound of any munitions being fired before the tank blast. Additionally, three western journalists in the hotel reported that no firing occurred before the attack. The military has responded only by saying that “a war zone is a dangerous place” and the journalists “should not be there.”

The overwhelming impression in the Arab world is that the U.S. military is attacking journalists in order to silence reports of Iraqi civilian suffering and casualties. The Americans are seen as hypocrites spouting the ideas of freedom and democracy while silencing the media.

Any moral high ground held by the U.S. is being severely compromised. Tariq Al-Moumin, head of the Jordanian Journalists’ Union, states that “Americans do not advocate freedom, they are not democratic.” Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi al Aridi believes that “silencing people is how America understands democracy.” Similar comments have been made by other Arab journalists and information ministers.

These are the people in control of what information passes to the Arab people. Any hope of repairing the U.S. image in these countries must begin with these information gate-masters. The anti-Americanism that created Al-Qaeda is being strengthened by these beliefs. Hope of winning over the hearts and the minds of any Arab country evaporates when the information they receive inspires distrust of the U.S.

With these recent attacks, these news services have every right to take an anti-American position. I can only imagine the outrage if another state repeatedly bombed the headquarters of CNN, killing its journalists. I doubt CNN would take a positive view of the attacking country.

It is essential for the U.S. military to respect foreign journalists, regardless of whether or not the military approves of their message. The current belief that the U.S. military wishes to silence Arab journalists to hide the brutalization of Iraqi civilians severely undermines any gains the U.S. hopes to make in the Arab world. Bush had hoped that images of liberated Iraqis would lead to an improved view of the U.S. and a desire for democracy. Instead, images of dead journalists have corrupted the idea of American democracy and damaged the reputation of the U.S. even further.

Even when it appeared on Wednesday that Bush’s images of liberation had come, a picture of a soldier placing an American flag on a statue in Baghdad ran on the covers of several Arab newspapers, portraying American troops as occupational forces.

The coverage of this war in the Arab world is almost as important as the military operation. Someone should tell the U.S. military.