An American tank fires on a Baghdad hotel killing three journalists and what’s the response from the US military? Sorry, but tough luck. In another American offensive, described as a “US airstrike on its office”, three Al-Jazeera journalists were killed. The spokesperson in Washington regretted the casualties and added in a ‘we-told-you-so’ tone: “Baghdad was a war zone and safeguards could not be given.” So much for ‘smart bombs’, ‘hum-int’ and the extra efforts made to minimise ‘collateral damage’. American arrogance and determination to wrap up the war quickly have taken care of all that.
Tuesday’s ‘casualties’ were by no means a part of ‘collateral damage’. They seem to have resulted from what one hopes was a blunder of epic proportions. Or were they meant to silence voices giving a perspective of the war that Washington doesn’t want the world — and more importantly, Americans back home watching ‘the show’ in their living rooms — to see? The commander of the division which ordered the tank to fire on the hotel later explained that it had reacted to “small arms fire from the hotel”. According to journalists — including one from Britain’s Sky TV and a Swiss correspondent — this is simply not true. No shots were heard coming from any area around the hotel, never mind shots fired from inside. In the case of the Al-Jazeera strike, the Americans insisted that they had issued a warning 48 hours earlier to vacate the office building. Again, not true, say the journalists. No warning was issued.
So who do we believe in this information smog? Quite clearly, the US has much to gain if it manages to stop embarrassing or downright ‘bad’ press. The management of the information war has become a higher priority than ever before. Till date, 12 journalists have died in the 20 days of the conflict. Now for journalists to face the consequences for presenting a picture not in sync with those being projected from the War Room in Washington makes the US no different from Iraqi Inform-ation Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, ranting every day about Iraqi victory. George W. Bush had famously parroted US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’ Cold War line: “Either you’re with us or against us.” The non-embedded journalists who died on Tuesday were standing in a dangerous no-man’s land that was neither ‘with us nor with them’. The American action against them — inadvertently or otherwise — may spell the death of ‘independent witnessing of war’.