Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A Dangerous Place

April 8, 2003, 12 p.m.
COLONEL PHILIP DeCAMP: "Who just fired on the Hotel Palestine?"
DeCAMP: "Did you just fire on the fucking Hotel Palestine?"
(more silence)
CAPTAIN PHILIP WOLFORD: "Yeah, yeah. There was an observer up there."
DeCAMP: "I suppose you didn’t have fire at the hotel."
The exchange over military radio was overheard by an Associated Press Photographer, Chris Tomlinson and relayed to a pair of reporters from Spain’s "El Mundo" daily newspaper.
In the aftermath, Taras Protsyuk, a Ucranian cameraman lay dead on impact in room 1503. One floor below, Jose Couso, a Spanish cameraman lay wounded in his left leg, face, and thorax. He would die a few hours later.
Shawn Gibson, the sargent in the M1A1 tank who fired the shot which killed both journalists told Belgian television in May: "I’m deeply pained, but that’s war. I think a lot about what happened and will think about it for years to come. It’s difficult to express what I feel. Every time I do, I stop, pray, and try to carry on. I saw an individual on a balcony with binoculars and he was talking as if he was pointing us out. I didn’t fire immediately. I spoke with my superior to tell him what I saw. Ten minutes passed and then he responded ‘fire.’ And that’s what I did."
The superior who gave the order, Captain Philip Wolford explained to France’s "Le Nouvel Observateur" that, "We’d been hours in battle, taking on fire without stop from that place as well as from others and so we returned fire. We never doubted: that’s the rule. Twenty minutes later I learned we had hit the hotel with all the journalists. I feel terrible and so do my men."
highwayscribery focuses on this senseless death, just one in hundreds of thousands since (p)resident Bush launched this ghastly affair two years ago, to highlight the suffering of innocents, give voice to the pleadings of the journalist’s family, and to question the motives of the American military visa a vis journalists.
The actions of the soldiers are only partially at issue here. These men don’t make policy; although they have made a commitment to blindly follow decisions made by others. Somebody, somewhere had to say it was okay to fire on a hotel in which CNN and other media outlets both small and large had bivouacked 300 reporters.
A colleague of Couso’s, Jon Sistiagi said, "I think they deliberately fired on the journalists’ hotel...first they take out Al-Jazeera, then Abu-Dhabi a half-hour later, and a half-hour after that, why not? with the same tank they shoot at the hotel housing the rest of the international media."
Couso’s camera captured images of the tank shooting another camera off the roof of the offices of Abu-Dhabi Television. Later, it would record the shot that took his own life.
When confronted by a Spanish reporter over what happened to Couso and Protsyuk at a press conference one month later, Bush, in characteristically poor English responded: "I think war is a dangerous place, and I think that nobody would kill a journalist intentionally."
Well if they didn’t, it was one hell of an accident deserving an apology that never came. Javier Couso, Jose’s brother told a Spanish magazine, "The word to define the American attitude could be ‘insulting’."
The government of recently departed Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar, Couso continued, "acted at all times as a crony of the U.S. government, complying with and accepting the different justifications which Bush’s government fabricated."
Aznar’s Popular Party, which ignored the fact 90 percent of the Spanish citizenry were against the war, was voted out of office when that war came home to Spain and 200 people were
massacred ("Madrid My Dove," March 11).
The Socialist Party got in as a result and President Jose Luis Zapatero pulled Spain’s troops out. On January 21 of this year, Spanish Labor Minister Jesus Caldera officially condemned the attack and posthumously awarded the Medal of Merit at Work to Jose Couso.
Now, the scribe was not there and is not going to get into whether what happened was intentional or not, whether there is a policy of harassing and even killing journalists or not. But the scribe is a journalist and understands only too well how governments and cabals engaged in nasty activity prefer that activity to remain under wraps.
And the scribe is aware that just a few weeks ago a news executive at CNN, who ought to know a little about the matter, had to resign for suggesting the armed forces were targeting journalists. And the scribe knows you can’t have a free country and declare topics out of bounds, because then...well... it’s not a free country.
And the scribe also knows that he can surf the Internet any time and get a more harrowing idea of what’s happening in Iraq than anything served up by the mass media in America. And finally, he knows the torture of Iraqi prisoners came to light on the World Wide Web, too.
And so highwayscribery dedicated today’s post to the story of Jose Couso and those who firmly believe they have a different story to tell than that which has been (barely) disseminated.
Again, the scribe’s not going to say the U.S. kills journalists as a matter of policy, but he’s not pleased when discussing it is strictly forbidden.
Couso’s family began a tour of the United States, "Jose Couso: Breaking the Impunity" on March 19 that will run through April 8.
Today there will be a screening in New York of the documentary "Hotel Palestine" with the help of "Democracy Now" radio producer Amy Goodman.
The show moves on to Chicago’s DePaul University March 28, followed by a screening at University of Loyola on March 30. Heading west, film and family reappear in Seattle at the Keystone Congregational Church April 3, and then at San Francisco’s New College on April 5. Two days later the Grand Lake Theater will play host before the entourage return to Washington D.C. for an memorial on the second anniversary of Jose Couso’s death.
You can find more information, though mostly in Spanish, at www.josecouso.info
If you have no reporters that are free to do their job and say or write whatever they want, you simply have no democracy.
And yes Mr. Bush, "war is a dangerous place."
By the way, "San Diego Union-Tribune" ("'Journalist' Indeed" March 22) got back to highwayscribery yesterday and said, "Love it! Thanks. Keep reading."
Count on it.