Skip to comments.Death of journalists was accident of war
Posted on 06/02/2003 8:47:10 AM PDT by presidio9
Two American soldiers are under fire, facing a civil lawsuit, a military investigation and questions about their honesty over the tragic killing of two journalists in the Hotel Palestine in Baghdad. I know these soldiers. I was there and I have to speak in their defense.
Just before noon on April 8, Sgt. Shawn Gibson saw what he believed to be an Iraqi forward observer - someone with binoculars and a telephone in a tall building across the Tigris. It was exactly the target Alpha Company of the 4/64 Armor Battalion had been looking for after learning from a captured Iraqi radio that a barrage was imminent.
Capt. Philip Wolford gave him permission to fire. It was not the first building they fired on that day, as we had received rocket and mortar fire from Iraqis operating up and down the opposite bank. Gibson fired.
Cameramen Taras Protsyuk and Jose Cuoso were killed when the 122mm tank round hit the Hotel Palestine.
In America and Europe, the killings produced understandable disbelief and outrage. Everyone watching the war on TV knew the international press was virtually headquartered in the hotel. Although details were vague, the shooting was vigorously condemned by the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Sans Frontieres. CPJ has since filed a report that questions how the tankers could not have known about the Hotel Palestine or recognized it as a press location.
CPJ interviewed me for its report, but omitted key comments, notably my remark that any notion these men fired knowingly on journalists is absurd.
Gibson and I shared a platoon tent in the Kuwaiti desert, where I knew him to be quiet and thoughtful, with compassion for the Iraqis he had killed in the first Gulf War. He was a devout man who kept a Bible on his cot and read it often. As an older sergeant, he was concerned about young soldiers facing battle for the first time and counseled them on that and other issues.
Gibson spoke to me about the Palestine incident. ``I have prayed on it,'' he said.
The CPJ report failed to note that I had witnessed Wolford ordering his men on numerous occasions to hold their fire to avoid killing civilians, even when Iraqi ploys were suspected.
In the days after the Palestine incident, Wolford made himself available to reporters, including sessions with a dogged French journalist who had cradled Protsyuk's head as he died. Wolford is as hard on himself as he is on his soldiers, and he believed that facing the storm head on was the right thing to do.
The CPJ report does a good job of presenting the basic facts of the incident. But it falls down as it tries to draw conclusions from contradictions and varying recollections, giving weight to some while ignoring others, to the detriment of Wolford and Gibson. It makes a game effort to make sense of the chaos of battle, but fails to note that the truth may lie in the chaos itself.
CPJ investigators were unable to show that Wolford knew about the hotel. But that hasn't stopped the speculation that he must have known - based in part on his battalion commander's understandable demand to speak privately with him immediately after the incident.
Great weight is given to reporters' assertions that the tankers, who had been engaged in combat for up to 30 hours, should have been able to recognize them at a distance of three-quarters of a mile. The report doesn't question how reporters who didn't realize their own building was hit by a high-explosive tank round can definitively state that no fire was coming from the hotel's vicinity.
CPJ ignored my remark that French reporter Jean Paul Mari told me he understood fire from an anti-tank battery south of the hotel might have been seen as coming from the hotel's vicinity.
It is indisputable that the Pentagon should have ensured that units in Baghdad were aware of sensitive sites. By failing to do so, they failed their own soldiers and placed our journalistic colleagues in jeopardy. But a lawsuit by the Cuoso family targeting the soldiers involved, and CPJ's second-guessing aspersions are not helpful.
All of us who placed ourselves in harm's way in Iraq knowingly risked death at the hands of the Iraqis and the Americans. Both sides were responsible for journalists' deaths. Unfortunately, the Committee to Protect Journalists showed its colors early on, when it condemned, protested and demanded answers about U.S. actions against journalists, while mourning, monitoring and voicing concern about Iraqi actions. There was no condemnation of the Iraqi leadership's decision to use civilian vehicles, clothing and suicide bombers for assault purposes, which unquestionably placed non-embedded reporters in danger. Those tactics forced the tankers to fire on civilian buildings and vehicles in Baghdad.
Wolford and Gibson remain on hazardous duty in Baghdad. I staked my life on their ability to perform under fire and they did it with a high degree of professionalism. I am confident they will be cleared of any question that the killing of two journalists was anything but a tragic accident of war.
Yesterday NPR had the "Committee to Protect Journalists" on the radio and fed 'em softball questions. For each and every judgment call, CPJ took the view that it was the military's fault. It made me wanna punch my radio.
The "fog of war" happens...
Well, Jules, "From your lips to God's ears." I hope you're right, but the press has a way a seeking and securing blood sacrifice...
I agree! The Pentagon was right to allow them to be included. So many accusations can be refuted by the folks who actually saw what happened!
You paid for this...its funded by NPR
Pseudobrave reporters attack safe targets--chiefly the U.S., with its respect for the First Amendment--and cower like the currs they are when faced with a Saddam Hussain.
The behavior of CPJ differs from the behavior of CNN, exactly how?