Eason Jordan: US Murdered Journalists at Palestine Hotel
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On reading Rony Abovitz’s conversation with Hugh Hewitt, one part of Eason Jordan’s claims leapt out as a rare example of specificity (in the absence of literal audio/video/transcripts):
“…. I remember Gergen in particular being flabbergasted and disturbed to a very high degree by Mr. Jordan's statements. Congressman Frank told the audience that his briefings indicated that all the journalists killed to date in Iraq were due to "collateral damage". Jordan disagreed, and gave us an example of U.S. soldiers deliberately shelling a hotel in Iraq which was known to all as a haven for journalists covering both sides of the war.”
Many may remember watching the coverage of the American advance into Baghdad. Many may remember that on April 8, 2003, the Palestine Hotel, the war-time residence of many journalists, took a single shot in the 15th floor from an M1-A2 Abrams tank. One may recall seeing the coverage with the two M1-A2 tanks leapfrogging back and forth across the bridge and occasionally firing, and the A10 Warthog training its guns on the Ministry of Information building, loosing occasional flares as it looped around. One may even recall the images of the tank firing on the 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel.
Two journalists died as a result: Jose Couso, a Spanish reporter for Telecinco and Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian cameraman under the employ of Reuters.
This is the incident of which Eason Jordan (reportedly) spoke. Eason Jordan declared that this firing on the Palestine Hotel was a deliberate attempt to murder journalists. He asserts that the American military regarded journalists as targets marked for elimination.
So what happened on that day? Why was the Palestine Hotel fired upon?
The tank commander of the M1-A2 that fired on the 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel saw a flash that turned out to be sun glare and determined that it was enemy directing fire and engaged what he thought was a hostile target.
Captain Philip Wolford, the commander of the unit responsible for the attack, told French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur this week that he authorised his team to open fire after seeing the sun's reflection in binoculars, which they thought belonged to an Iraqi directing fire from the roof of the hotel.
For those who may initially react with disdain at such an error, put yourself in the situation. You are under fire and in the heart of the enemy’s capital city. There must be some latitude for situational reflexive error under duress. If the press cannot accept such realities, maybe the press should rethink their forward deployment policies. Human beings are not infallible.
But more importantly, Eason Jordan rejects any notion of error whole cloth. This was no error in his mind. This, remember, was murder.
Many reach such a conclusion because it was well known that the Palestine Hotel was home to the press. Everyone knew that. For that reason, Eason’s argument (in their minds) is buttressed.
On the ‘well known’ and ‘everyone knew’ assertion, this does not necessarily apply to soldiers and Marines racing through the sandy desert of Iraq, oblivious to cable news coverage and what ‘everyone’ knows. Yes, the commands knew it. Yes, I am sure even many troops knew it, or at least that something called the Palestine Hotel housed journalists. But knowing that fact and identifying that particular building while fighting your way into the unfamiliar terrain of Baghdad is another thing altogether.
From NPR’s On The Media May 30, 2003:
BOB GARFIELD: Is there any reason to believe, based on your investigation, that the commander who ordered that tank fire knew that the building he was firing on housed foreign journalists?
JOEL SIMON: Well there's a number of key incidents that suggest that certainly the commanders in Baghdad were aware that the Palestine Hotel was out there and was full of western journalists. We know this because one of the commanders, Colonel David Perkins, on the morning of this major battle had gone to an AP reporter, Chris Tomlinson, and said we are under fire; we're thinking of calling in an air strike. We know the Palestine Hotel is out there, and we need your help locating it. Tomlinson got on the phone to his bureau in Doha, Qatar, and asked them to make a call to the Palestine Hotel and asked them to hang bed sheets out the window in order to help soldiers on the ground identify the building.
[The fact that Americans were under fire advancing into Baghdad and wanted to avoid targeting the Palestine Hotel seems abundantly clear here.]
BOB GARFIELD: So that they would know what not to fire upon
JOEL SIMON: Exactly. And while this exercise was going on, the tank on the bridge fired. Immediately after the hotel was hit, another commander came on the radio and said "Who the hell just hit the Palestine Hotel?" After some time, Captain Philip Wolford who was the commander of the tank unit came on and said "Well, I did." And the colonel was extremely angry and said that this was a serious matter and the hotel was not to be hit. So our indications are that superior officers - the colonel and the lieutenant colonel who were overseeing the battle were aware that the hotel was out there; they were making efforts to avoid that the hotel might be hit. Apparently that concern was not conveyed to the commander of this tank.
[Simon may be right that the communication never went down to the tank commander. However, the tank commander is not going to fire on a hotel room without justification in his own mind. It is possible that he did not recognize the building as being a hotel, too. Remember that he thought he had identified fire direction going on from the balcony (a telephoto lens, perhaps?) and was engaging an enemy scout by his interpretation.]
BOB GARFIELD: In your report you say that the shelling, however accidental, was itself disproportionate; that even if there were sniper fire coming from the Palestine Hotel as the Pentagon asserts, that tank fire into the hotel is a disproportionate response. Is that your position?
JOEL SIMON: Well, look - there's, there's a debate about this. But the point is, sniper fire simply is not a threat to a tank. And if you know that a building is full of civilians -- certainly something you need to take into account. But the point is right now we don't believe that explanation! We don't believe that they were firing at a sniper. Based on the information that's been provided to us by journalists who were there, there was no sniper, there was no fire and the only explanation that makes sense to us is that they had located a, a spotter or what they -- a person they believed to be a spotter which in all likelihood was a journalist who was observing this battle.
[That does not equate murder. Witness two militarily-ignorant journalists discussing military tactics. Tanks are not in the streets for sake of tanks. It is not simply a tank vs. a sniper or a spotter or a scout. The tanks are there in support of troops…on their feet…in the street...with significantly less armor. The tank was not so much protecting itself as it was protecting troops on the ground, whether mounted or dismounted. That’s what a tank does. That’s what a tank is for. The logic of these two clowns would require that an American sniper be summoned to engage the target. I am sure the target would wait patiently for a fair fight (correctly or incorrectly identified target is not the issue here).]
If the American military truly wanted to murder journalists as Jordan stated, why was the hotel hit only once by a single tank? The most destructive weaponry available to man was within range of the ‘target’. Yet one shot from one tank. Why? The answer is obvious.
Jordan is not alone, however. Enjoy this account of the Palestine Hotel incident from Richard Engel, author of "A Fist in the Hornet's Nest":
Then the hotel itself was hit. I was down in the IHA tent. I ran outside. There didn't seem to be too much damage. I thought it was probably an RPG fired by the Iraqis. Ismail suspected foul play from Uday.
I went up to the room on the 14th floor. The glass balcony door was shattered. The balcony itself was crumbling. There was a pool of blood and blood on the shards of glass. There were long sweeping tracks of bloodstains on the carpet where the injured reporter had evidently been dragged. It was the blood of a Spanish guy from Telecinco. His blood was also on the sheets that the others had used to help him. His leg had nearly been blown off. His bone was broken, his leg hanging on by a piece of flesh. The Reuters guy in the room on the 15th floor was wounded in the belly. His guts were hanging out. He died after that.
US General Blount said there was sniper and RPG fire coming from the hotel. This is nothing less than total bullshit. There was no fire and I've been here all day. Then a general at the [US Central Command] briefing in Doha said there had been "hostile intent" from the hotel and that the army does not "target" journalists. If it was not "targeted" then why was the army taking "wild shots" at a hotel full of journalists? The tank commander probably thought the camera was a Stinger missile or some type of shoulder-launched rocket. The stinger has a lens similar to a TV Betacam. But didn't he know this hotel is full of reporters with TV cameras?
War, life and death are too important to be put in the hands of some 19-year-old who has never left the States. It's too important to be left to children. The soldier who fired the shell probably isn't old enough to have a beer in a bar, but he can fire a tank!
How does this genius know that his journalist buddies are the only inhabitants of the hotel? Because he heard nothing, then nothing happened. All bad things in war make noise, right? Someone send him to talk to a SEAL, please.
Engel’s condescension towards the young troops preserving his (and others’) freedom of speech and press is extraordinarily ordinary among his journalist cohorts.
He shares company in principle and ideal with Eason Jordan. It's time for Eason Jordan to put up or shut up with his claims that the American Military deliberately murdered reporters at the Palestine Hotel.
Eason Jordan advances screed without merit, no matter how angrily confident he may be.