“They shoot journalists, don’t they?”

April 6, 2010

So, the American military has what it calls “rules of engagement” when active in a combat zone.

Normally these “rules” are to protect the lives of non-combatants, but in the urban battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq there is sometimes very little difference.

At least according to the US military. But how far does the American war machine go to distinguish between friendlies and civilians and the so-called “enemy” – the Taleban in Afghanistan or “insurgents” in Iraq?

Really, it doesn’t go very far at all. In a recent Vanity Fair article about snipers in Afghanistan, one US soldier is quoted as calling the Afghan interpreter in his unit a “stinky”.

A Special Forces sergeant came up and said, “Hey, dude, I got some bad news. I gotta put a Stinky in your truck.” Afghans are Stinkies because they don’t wash.

We’ve all heard the term “raghead” used in relation to Iraqis. When this level of embedded racism is in play, the rules of engagement are not worth wiping your stinky on.

Whenever civilians are killed by “mistake” there are major efforts to cover it up. Details are only released when the families of the dead – you should always make sure there are no survivors – make a fuss, or the media starts nosing around.

But what happens when reporters and news workers are killed? Then the cover up goes into overdrive!

The Wikileaks site has just released some very disturbing video footage of two Reuters correspondents being gunned down in Baghdad. According to the army’s statement, the action that led to their murder was within the rules of engagement.

The attack took place on the morning of 12 July 2007 in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad. Two children were also wounded.

Reuters had been seeking access to the video – shot from one of the Apache helicopters that also gunned down the men – for more than two years.

The murdered newsworkers  were local Reuters staff; Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. Chmagh was a 40-year-old Reuters driver and assistant; Noor-Eldeen was a 22-year-old war photographer.

Rule #1: It’s OK to shoot journalists.

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I agree with Rosemary

December 28, 2008

Well, the shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist has certainly sparked a lot of interest worldwide. Opinion is divided about whether or not his actions are legitimate, or beyond the journalist’s ethical pale.
In this weekend’s Sunday Star Times, columnist Rosemary McLeod says that 29 year-old reporter, Muntadar al-Zeidi, is her “man of the year”.

That might be a step too far for some, but Rosemary’s column lays out some interesting 21st century ethical principles and acknowledges that reporters do have opinions and also a right to express them.

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A kiss goodbye from an Iraqi journalist

December 16, 2008

Shuddering back to life.

An Iraqi journalist, Muntadar al-Zeidi [Muntazer Zaidi] , 28, was arrested after throwing his shoes at Mr Bush during a press conference with Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister. Mr Bush ducked twice as the shoes narrowly missed his head and hit the wall behind him. [Read story in The Telegraph]

I just saw the footage on the BBC news, it was a narrow miss, just over the top of Bush’s head. Now Muntadar is in jail and is to be prosecuted under Iraqi law. This is not good news I fear.

There are calls for Muntadar to be released, his individual protest – throwing shoes is an effective insult – was against the background of other protests against Bush’s visit to Baghdad.

The local network, Al-Baghdadia, where Muntadar worked,  issued a statement demanding Zaidi’s release “in line with the democracy and freedom of expression that the American authorities promised the Iraqi people.”

“Any measures against Muntazer will be considered the acts of a dictatorial regime,” it added.

According to AFP, Saddam Hussein’s former lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said he was forming a team to defend Zaidi and that around 200 lawyers, including Americans, had offered their services for free.

“It was the least thing for an Iraqi to do to Bush, the tyrant criminal who has killed two million people in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Dulaimi.

“Our defence of Zaidi will be based on the fact that the United States is occupying Iraq, and resistance is legitimate by all means, including shoes.”

Zaidi’s colleagues in Baghdad, where he had worked for three years, said he had long been planning to throw shoes at Bush if ever he got the chance.

The Iraqi authorities are not likely to see the funny side of this incident. Muntadar faces a charge of insulting a visiting head of state, which carries two-year jail term.

The whole idea of such an offence is ridiculous and shows clearly how bankrupt the claims of the US and UK and Iraqi regimes that there’s any semblence of democracy on the ground in Iraq.

Bush brushed off the insult, but it’s interesting that al-Zeidi got so close and was able to hurl both shoes with some accuracy and flair before being taken down.

I guess there’s a fairly standard argument that a journalist should not get so emotionally involved in a story that they let their anger get in the way. According to some news accounts, Muntadar had planned the “attack” for some time. He clearly bears a grudge and felt a need to express it.

It goes beyond the bounds of acceptable ethical behaviour that you’d expect from journalists, though there are memorable incidents, even if a little milder, of journalists getting too emotionally involved at news conferences and hurling abuse.

Press conferences are usually expected to be civilised affairs, Al-Zeidi reportedly works for a small independent TV station in Baghdad, I wonder if he’s done any units in ethics during whatever training he might have had.

It also points to the emotional tensions the can sometimes bubble to the surface when reporters are working under stressful conditions like Baghdad and Iraq today.


Milblogging: a mixed bag of weird

June 11, 2008

Seeing news that blogger Colby Buzzell is likely to be shipped back to Iraq, with the promise that the US military won’t like him even more this time, made me curious about the whole milblogging thing (Military Blogging).

There’s an index of milblogs at Milblogging.com that allows you to surf around the whole scene with little effort.

Some of it, like BLACKFIVE, is interesting in some aspects and seriously disturbing in others. Ever heard of a the Dead Tango Dance? Neither had I and I’m not so sure it was worth it.

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Blogger going back to the Iraq frontlines

June 10, 2008

Warblogger Colby Buzzell has been recalled into the US military for another tour of Iraq.

The freelance journalist who’s CBFTW blog, since renamed My War, was a pain in the arse for American generals, has been recalled, even though he’s on the inactive list.

The recall is legal under the American “Stop Loss” policy and every recruiting contract apparently contains the “Stop Loss” clause in the fine print.

In an op-ed article for the San Francisco Chronicle, Buzzell writes:

“If the Army thought I was a problem last time wait until they send me back there again. I’m going to be blogging about everything.”

We’ll come back to this.