Monday, April 21, 2003

The tank captain who fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, killing two journalists, has admitted firing on the hotel. He claims to have fired after his men saw a glint of light reflecting off what they thought were binoculars on one of the hotel's balconies. His story is that he thought that this was some sort of spotter for the anti-tank fire that his and other American tanks were being subjected to. He also says he was not told that the hotel was filled with foreign journalists and that he had no orders to leave it alone. It is hard to know where to begin:

  1. The commander said:

    "In front of us there was an especially active building, with rockets and missiles. To the left were two other missile launchers. On the right, further away but very efficient, there was another missile launcher."


    "The fire was arriving with no let up . . . I returned fire without hesitation. That is the rule. It was the strongest resistance I encountered in Baghdad. Four of my men were injured."

    Robert Fisk writes:

    "I was driving on a road between the tanks and the hotel at the moment the shell was fired and heard no shooting. The French videotape of the attack runs for more than four minutes and records absolute silence before the tank fires. And there were no snipers in the building."

    Herve de Ploeg, a journalist and film editor for France 3 television, who filmed the tank, said (I've run these quotes together from this article):

    "I did not hear any shots in the direction of the tank. It had been very quiet for a moment. There was no shooting at all. Then I saw the turret turning in our direction and the carriage lifting. It faced the target. It was not a case of instinctive firing."

    So either 'the fire was arriving with no let up' or there was 'absolute silence before the tank fires'. Do you believe the second or third version of the Pentagon cover-up, or two independent journalists?

  2. The original American lie, which now seems to have been replaced with the new story, was that the tank was under fire from the hotel. General Buford Blount, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said:

    "The tank was receiving fire from the hotel, RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) and small-arms fire, and engaged with one tank round. The firing stopped."

    General McChrystal said, referring to the American forces:

    "When they get into combat in the cities, which, from the beginning, we had specifically said would be dangerous and difficult, you put yourself in their position, they had the inherent right of self-defense. When they are fired at, they have not only the right to respond, they have the obligation to respond to protect the soldiers with them and to accomplish the mission at large. . . ."

  3. The French journalists who filmed the incident said that the tank raised its turret and pointed it towards the hotel at least two minutes before firing. The tank commander said he 'returned fire without hesitation'.

  4. This attack has to be seen in the context of the bombing of the apartment building in which al-Jazeera was operating. That building was identified to the Pentagon by al-Jazeera, and yet was bombed anyway. Al-Jazeera had experienced exactly the same treatment from the Americans when it was covering the attack on Afghanistan from Kabul, where it was bombed in a building which had been identified to the Americans as containing journalists.

  5. The fact that the Pentagon had allowed tanks into downtown Baghdad without bothering to tell the tank commanders the locations of journalists, given the fact that journalists inform the Pentagon of their locations for specfically the reason that they do not want to be fired upon, leads one to the inescapable conclusion that, at the very least, the Pentagon does not care if journalists are fired upon. These inconsistent stories may be a way of indicating to journalists that they will receive exactly the same treatment in the future should they try to report news that is not censored by the military.

The Americans seem to be in the habit of making 'mistakes' which kill inconvenient journalists. The Pentagon is making it impossible not to see the killing of these journalists as part of the tactics of war. The Americans are said to draw up immensely detailed war plans, covering every single possible eventuality. I wonder if they have a page on killing the bearers of bad news.