CPJ sends letter to Rumsfeld about U.S. bombing of Iraqi TV

New York, March 28, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) sent a letter today to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld requesting information about the U.S. bombing of Iraqi state television facilities in Baghdad earlier this week.

The group expressed concern that the Pentagon may have violated international humanitarian law in targeting these facilities and reminded the secretary that broadcast media are protected from attack under the Geneva Conventions and cannot be targeted unless they are used for military purposes.

In our view, wrote CPJ acting director Joel Simon, “the broadcast of propaganda does not constitute a military function.”

In other developments:

  • CPJ is concerned about reports that seven Italian journalists are missing after encountering Iraqi forces at a checkpoint near the southern port city of Basra and that the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera lost contact today with its cameraman in Basra during an attack by British forces on a warehouse. CPJ is investigating both cases, as well as reports that U.S. troops briefly detained journalists in southern Iraq.

    Meanwhile, CPJ continues to investigate the whereabouts of Johan Rydeng Spanner, a free-lance photographer with the Danish daily Jyllands Posten; reporter Matt McAllester and photographer Moises Saman, both of New York-based Newsday; free-lance photographer Molly Bingham; and ITN cameraman Fred Nerac and translator Hussein Othman.

  • Sources at the Dubai-based Al-Arabiyya satellite channel told CPJ that they had lost contact with three of their journalists. Correspondent Wael Awad, cameraman Talal al-Masri, and technician Ali Safa were embedded with U.S. and coalition troops and had been reported missing for several days while in southern Iraq. They are now safe.
  • CPJ is troubled by an incident in which Christian Science Monitor reporter Phillip Smucker was apparently detained by U.S. troops and escorted out of southern Iraq to Kuwait yesterday. Smucker, a veteran foreign correspondent who was also reporting for London’s Daily Telegraph had been traveling in southern Iraq as a non-embed with a U.S. Marine unit. U.S. military authorities were angered by an interview Smucker conducted with CNN in which he described the location of the unit he was with.

    Megan Fox, a spokeswoman for the Office of Public Affairs in the Defense Department, said Smucker gave out information that “could harm him and the unit.” She had no information about the duration of his detention or whether or where he may have been released.

    Christian Science Monitor editor Paul Van Slambrouck wrote today that the paper had “read the transcript of the CNN interview and it does not appear to us that he disclosed anything that wasn’t already widely available in maps and in U.S. and British radio, newspaper, and television reports in that same news cycle.” Slambrouck added that Smucker had conducted a similar interview with NPR a day earlier without incident.

  • Two Iranian journalists—Ali Muntaziri and Abdel Ridda Abassi, on assignment in southern Iraq for Al-Hayat-LBC and Dubai Business Channel—who were detained on Monday, March 24, by Iraqi forces, had traveled to Iraq’s Al-Fao Peninsula by fishing boat that day. Muntaziri told CPJ that the two had mistakenly thought that Al-Fao was under U.S. and coalition forces control. He said that after arriving on the Iraqi side, they were picked up by a group of Iraqis dressed in civilian clothing and were taken by car to a small house where they were accused of being Iranian operatives.

    Muntaziri said that during the next several hours, they were taken from house to house and questioned, and that all the people in these civilian homes had weapons. One apparent Iraqi agent threatened to kill them. The journalists said that their equipment was confiscated and they were eventually driven back to a fishing boat and allowed to leave for Iran on Wednesday night.