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Media deaths explanation sought

Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, where an explosion Tuesday killed two journalists.
Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, where an explosion Tuesday killed two journalists.

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CNN's Bruce Burkhardt reports on how the deaths of three journalists who died during U.S. attacks played on the global television airwaves (April 9)
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An international press freedoms group has accused the U.S. military of deliberately firing at journalists, killing three of them, when U.S. tanks rolled through Baghdad.

Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday also called on U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to provide evidence that U.S. forces fired in self-defense, as the Pentagon said, and not deliberately.

Cameramen for the Reuters news agency and the Spanish TV station Telecinco were killed Tuesday when a tank shell struck the Palestine Hotel, where many international journalists are known to be staying, in central Baghdad. Three other journalists in the same hotel were wounded.

And a reporter for the Arab TV network Al-Jazeera was killed when an airstrike and tank artillery hit the network's Baghdad bureau, a two-story building on the other side of the Tigris River from the Palestine Hotel. Three other Al-Jazeera employees were wounded, the network said.

"We are appalled at what happened because it was known that both places contained journalists," said Robert Ménard, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders. "We are concerned at the U.S. Army's increasingly hostile attitude towards journalists, especially those non-embedded in its military units."

The U.S. Central Command said that in both cases, U.S. forces came under "significant enemy fire" from the buildings and responded "consistent with the inherent right of self-defense."

The Pentagon is "saddened" by the deaths of international journalists in Baghdad, spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Tuesday.

"War is a dangerous, dangerous business, and you're not safe when you're in a war zone," she said.

Journalists from three western television networks told CNN, however, that they were in the Palestine Hotel when the tank fired and saw no outgoing fire from the hotel.

Reporters Without Borders also said film shot by a French TV station shows the surrounding neighborhood was very quiet at the time and that the "U.S. tank crew took their time, waiting for a couple of minutes and adjusting its gun before opening fire."

"Even if there was sniper fire coming there, aimed towards massively armored tanks, was that risk commensurate with the risk of civilian casualty by firing a tank shell into the Palestine Hotel or firing some kind of explosive into the Al-Jazeera office?" asked Christiane Amanpour, the chief international correspondent for CNN, from Kuwait City.

"That is a very serious question which needs an urgent answer," she said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists wrote a letter to Rumsfeld Tuesday, saying the incidents violate the Geneva Conventions and require an "immediate and thorough investigation."

The CPJ said Article 79 of the Geneva Conventions notes that "journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered civilians ... without prejudice to the right war correspondents [embedded reporters] accredited to the armed forces."

CNN Correspondent Rym Brahimi, who spent weeks reporting in Baghdad before the Iraqi government ordered the CNN crew to leave, said the Al-Jazeera building and the Abu Dhabi TV villa next to it were clearly marked with the names of the networks written in large letters on sheets hung on the side of the building.

The Abu Dhabi TV building was in the middle of a firefight Tuesday between U.S. and Iraqi forces, the network said, with 27 Abu Dhabi and Al-Jazeera journalists hiding for cover in the basement.

None of the journalists was injured, the network reported, and the fighting outside stopped Tuesday night.

Speaking about the hotel strike, Abu Dhabi TV anchor Jasim al-Azzawi said there was no fire coming from the building when it was targeted.

"I doubt very much that the U.S. would target media people on purpose," he told CNN's Larry King Live, "but at the same time, all indications are there was something wrong."

Location provided

Killed in the strike on the Al-Jazeera's bureau was its reporter, Tareq Ayoub, 35.

A Palestinian national, Ayoub lived in Amman with his wife and year-old son. He worked as a producer for Fox News Channel in 1998 and as a freelance producer for CNN in February, when the Jordanian government closed Al-Jazeera's Amman bureau, said CNN's Larry Register, who hired Ayoub.

Al-Jazeera hired Ayoub back last month when the Amman office reopened.

Omar al Issawi, Al-Jazeera's correspondent in Doha, Qatar, said the network gave the GPS location coordinates of its Baghdad bureau to the Pentagon two months ago to protect itself against just such a scenario.

"The letter was addressed from our managing editor to Victoria Clarke at the Department of Defense," al Issawi told Larry King.

Though Al-Jazeera had earlier accused the United States of deliberately targeting its bureau, al Issawi said, that was only the opinion of a correspondent in the "heat of the moment."

"However, the official viewpoint of Al-Jazeera is that we expect an investigation into what happened, and we're not prejudging anything," al Issawi said. "If it was a mistake, we'd like the U.S. military to come out and say, 'It was a mistake, and we're sorry.'"

Spanish victim

Reuters identified the dead cameraman as Taras Protsyuk, 35, a Ukrainian national based in Warsaw, Poland. It said its wounded employees are Samia Nakhoul, a bureau chief; Faleh Kheiber, a photographer; and Paul Pascal, a satellite dish coordinator.

Protsyuk had worked for Reuters since 1993, and was part of the 18-member Reuters team in Baghdad, Reuters said.

Spanish TV cameraman Jose Couso was killed, Telecinco told CNN. He had been videotaping the war in Baghdad from the 14th floor of the hotel -- one floor directly below the Reuters office that was hit by the tank fire -- when the explosion occurred, a Telecinco spokeswoman told CNN.

Couso, 37, had been in Baghdad since February for Telecinco, a private nationally televised station in Spain that has many journalists reporting on the war. A colleague took him to a Baghdad hospital, where he died.

He is survived by a wife and two children.

Amanpour said the firing on buildings where journalists are known to be staying -- even if journalists were warned of the dangers -- is of deep concern and should be investigated.

Pulling out

"It's not all right for us to be told the journalists were warned not to be in Baghdad," she said. "I'm sorry, but that is the job of a journalist to be there, and it's not all right for us to be told that only those people traveling with the United States force are somewhat safer, perhaps, than those being in other places."

That journalists were the victim this time of what fighting forces term "collateral damage" is only fortunate because they have a voice that other civilians do not, Brahimi said.

"These journalists, now thanks to maybe the people in the media, have a voice. Their stories can be publicized," she said. "Think of the people that are caught in the middle of all this crossfire that don't -- that don't have access to phone, that don't have access to proper care."

Al Issawi said the Al-Jazeera crew is now trying to pull its staff out of Baghdad for safety reasons, afraid that once the remainder of the Iraqi leadership vanishes, there will be a power vacuum and a more dangerous civil situation.

As of early Wednesday, he said, Ayoub's body was still in Baghdad. Al-Jazeera sent cars from Syria to Baghdad to try to retrieve it, al Issawi said, but they were turned away at the U.S. checkpoint to the city and were heading back to Syria.

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