Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to request information about the U.S. bombing of Iraqi state television facilities in Baghdad earlier this week. We are concerned that the Pentagon may have violated international humanitarian law in targeting these facilities.
During the early morning hours of March 26, 2003 (Baghdad time), U.S. and coalition forces struck Iraq’s state-run television facilities, knocking its 24-hour satellite channel, which broadcasts outside the country, off the air for several hours. Domestic television resumed broadcasting later that morning as scheduled, but its signal was reported to be weak. There have been reports that Iraq’s Youth TV is also off the air as a result of the strike. U.S. officials have indicated that television facilities may be targeted again.
The U.S. military maintains that the broadcast facilities targeted were involved in “command and control” functions of the Iraqi military but has yet to provide any specific details.
CPJ reminds you that broadcast media are protected from attack under international humanitarian law and cannot be targeted unless they are used for military purposes. In order for an attack to be justified, it must provide a concrete and direct military advantage. In CPJ’s view, the broadcast of propaganda does not constitute a military function.
We are concerned that U.S. forces may have targeted Iraqi media to halt government propaganda especially coming as it does after Iraqi TV broadcast footage of U.S. POWs and dead American soldiers. The fact that the Iraqi government used state-run television to air these images in possible violation of the Geneva Conventions does not justify an attack.
Because of the possibility that the attack on Iraqi TV could be cited as a precedent to justify attacks on broadcast facilities in future conflicts, we are requesting that the U.S. government provide a detailed explanation for its decision to target the building and the military purpose behind it.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.