CPJ asks Pentagon to explain Al-Jazeera bombing

New York, January 31, 2002—In a letter sent today to U.S. defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, CPJ requested information about the circumstances behind the U.S. bombing of the Kabul office of the Al-Jazeera satellite television channel in mid-November.

During the early morning hours of November 13, 2001, U.S. aircraft dropped two 500-pound bombs on the building housing the station, according to a U.S. Central Command spokesperson. No Al-Jazeera staff remained in the building at the time of the bombing, which destroyed the facilities.

At a press briefing the next day, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said that the military was looking into reports that “some sort of weapon went awry and destroyed [Al-Jazeera] facilities,” and pledged that the U.S. was making every effort “to only target military targets.” Rear Admiral Quigley added that, “If it is shown by our analysis that our weapons were at fault, we [will] stand up and say so.”

However, in a terse letter to Al-Jazeera dated December 6, U.S. assistant secretary of defense Victoria Clarke stated that, “the building we struck was a known al-Qaeda facility in central Kabul,” adding that “there were no indications that this or any nearby facility was used by Al-Jazeera.” The letter, which was recently made available to CPJ by Al-Jazeera, in no way acknowledges responsibility or apologizes for destroying the television station’s headquarters. Clarke says instead that the U.S. “will continue to target those facilities and locations that have military significance.”

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ is concerned that U.S. forces either did not take adequate measures to verify the location of the Al-Jazeera bureau in Kabul before targeting the building or specifically bombed Al-Jazeera because it was considered a target of “military significance.”

According to sources at Al-Jazeera, the station’s Kabul bureau was located in a residential neighborhood and was used solely by Al-Jazeera staff. The building, which housed three satellite dishes on its roof, was clearly identifiable as a broadcast facility. Al-Jazeera has occupied the same building in Kabul for nearly two years, and the location of its office was well known to local residents, including members of the diplomatic community.

The Al-Jazeera bureau in Kabul was clearly a civilian object, and no evidence has been presented to suggest that the building served any military function. A deliberate attack on a civilian facility is prohibited under international humanitarian law.