Reports that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed a plan to bomb the Arab TV station Al-Jazeera add to concerns among journalists world-wide that the United States attack on the station’s Baghdad office on 8 April 2003 in which a reporter was killed was deliberate targeting of media.
“If that is the case, then the US is guilty of the murder of an innocent journalist,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It is time for the United States to tell the truth about this attack and to take responsibility for its actions which appear to be gross violation of international humanitarian law.”
According to the IFJ, which has been campaigning for justice in some 16 cases where journalists and media staff have died at the hands of US troops in the Iraq conflict, there was no US investigation or proper report of why the attack in which journalist Tareq Ayyoub was killed took place.
“It now looks that more and more this was a vindictive and deliberate attack on a media outlet and one that should not go unpunished,” said White.
The aircraft missile strike on the Al-Jazeera office took place despite the fact that US officials were informed in advance of the exact location of the office because Al-Jazeera feared a repeat of an earlier US army strike in Kabul during the Afghanistan conflict in 2001 in which the Al-Jazeera offices was destroyed. No-one was hurt in that attack.
The controversy over the Tareq Ayyoub case erupted again this week following reports in the British newspaper the Daily Mirror that a secret memo from the Prime Minister’s office in London reveals how US President George Bush was talked out of a military strike on the headquarters of Al-Jazeera in Qatar last year by Tony Blair who feared a worldwide backlash. Yesterday British parliamentarians called for the publication of the five-page transcript of the two leaders' conversation.
The IFJ supports full disclosure of this conversation as well as the re-opening of an investigation into the attack in Baghdad in April 2003. The network Al-Jazeera has angered the Bush administration by its frank reporting of the Iraq conflict and its broadcasting of pictures of the victims of violence. The station has also been used regularly as a drop-off point for video messages by the terrorist group al-Qaeda. Some of these have been broadcast by Al-Jazeera and most have been rebroadcast by western media outlets.
“The staff of Al-Jazeera are not a bunch of terrorists who can be regarded as legitimate targets,” said White. “They are respected and highly trained technicians and journalists. One look at the professional names who have signed up to work on the new English-language version of Al-Jazeera reveals that this is a media outlet that is taken seriously by serious journalists. To consider bombing them would be as appalling as any similar action by terrorists against the BBC or CNN.”
The IFJ says that the British media should not be intimidated by officials attempts to prevent full disclosure of the memo because a civil servant connected with the case is being prosecuted under the UK’s notorious Official Secrets Act.
“The public have a right to know whether politicians would seriously consider killing journalists to stifle independent and critical voices,” said White. “And the family, friends and colleagues of the victims have a right to justice for their loved ones.”
The IFJ is supporting a global inquiry into impunity in the killing of journalists by the International News Safety Institute.
Last week the IFJ General Secretary presented to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan a draft resolution against impunity in the killing of journalists in conflict zones. Under that resolution governments that fail to hunt down the killers of journalists could end up before the International Criminal Court.
The United States is already accused of covering up the facts about attacks on journalists after another attack on 8 April in Baghdad within hours of the Al-Jazeera attack when a US tank fired on the journalists’ hotel in Baghdad killing two journalists, Taras Protsyiuk of Reuters and Jose Cuoso of Telecinco, the Spanish TV network.
In September a Spanish judge issued arrest warrants for three US soldiers involved in the attack because the US has ignored appeals to co-operate in an inquiry over the circumstances.
Proposed resolution to the US Security Council (PDF Download)
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries