Killing the Messengers


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?

We’ve been asked to believe that while a decade ago, only 10 percent of the allegedly “smart” bombs hit their designated targets, this time around the bombs are “smarter.” Are they twice as smart? That would mean they’re missing only 80 percent of the time. Three times as smart? That would still leave a 70 percent error rate. Does anybody really believe they’re 10 times as smart as a decade ago?

It is significant that when a U.S. pilot accidentally bombed a convoy of Kurdish troops and American special forces personnel, reporters were quick to report on the incredible carnage caused by the single bomb–and not a particularly large one at that. Try to find a similar account in the American media of the carnage caused by one of those bombs that fell where it was supposed to fall. I’ve tried, and haven’t been able to find one. Obviously these “precision” weapons don’t just cause “collateral damage” when they miss. They make a big circle of destruction around whatever target they hit, too, which virtually guarantees a lot of “collateral damage.”

If the American media gets off its knees now and starts honestly reporting about what is happening at the receiving end of all these bombs and shells, the deaths of these three journalists will at least have served a valuable journalistic function. Americans might finally start to understand what this war is doing to the Iraqi people and the fabric of Iraq.

They might also understand why, after the U.S. occupation of a conquered Iraq begins in earnest, why there will be so much resentment and, no doubt, armed resistance.

DAVID LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html


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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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