New York, May 27, 2003-–The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released an investigative report today about the April 8 shelling of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad by U.S. forces, which killed two journalists and wounded three others. CPJ’s investigation, titled “Permission to Fire,” provides new details suggesting that the attack on the journalists, while not deliberate, was avoidable. CPJ has learned that Pentagon officials, as well as commanders on the ground in Baghdad, knew that the Palestine Hotel was full of international journalists and that they were intent on not hitting it. However, these senior officers apparently failed to convey their concern to the tank commander who fired on the hotel. (Click here to read the report)

Written by Joel Campagna, CPJ’s senior program coordinator responsible for the Middle East, and research consultant Rhonda Roumani, “Permission to Fire” is based on interviews with a dozen reporters who were at the scene of the attack, including two embedded journalists who monitored radio traffic before and after the shelling occurred, and journalists who witnessed the strike from inside the Palestine Hotel.

During the intense fighting that occurred on the morning of April 8, a U.S. battalion encountered stiff resistance from Iraqi forces. It was determined that an Iraqi forward observer, or spotter, was guiding the attacks against the Americans, and a frantic search for the spotter began. During this search a U.S. tank officer believed he had sighted a person with binoculars in the Palestine Hotel, and received permission to fire on the building a short while later.

Journalists covering the U.S. military command headquarters in Baghdad that morning told CPJ that commanders there were aware that the Palestine Hotel was in the vicinity of the fighting, and that journalists were staying in the hotel. That information, and the location of the hotel, apparently wasn’t relayed to the tank battalion until it was too late.

Conflicting responses
In the aftermath of the attack, U.S. military officials have given a variety of explanations for the shelling of the Palestine Hotel, mainly alleging that U.S. forces came under “significant enemy fire” from the hotel, that there was an Iraqi bunker next to the hotel, and that Iraqi fire was coming from the hotel’s lobby. However, according to the report, “There is simply no evidence to support the official U.S. position that U.S. forces were returning hostile fire from the Palestine Hotel. It conflicts with eyewitness testimonies of numerous journalists in the hotel.”

“Based on the information contained in this report, CPJ calls afresh on the Pentagon to conduct a thorough and public investigation into the shelling of the Palestine Hotel. Such a public accounting is necessary not only to determine the cause of this incident, but also to ensure that similar episodes do not occur in the future.”