Are Journalists Being Used as Shields?


Though we may have nailed Saddam and his sons, though the Marines and 101st Airborne have apparently found Iraqi BM-21 missiles loaded with sarin and mustard gas in ready-to-fire condition, the only concern the CENTCOM reporters have today is that coalition forces aren’t willing to give the opposition sanctuary wherever reporters may hang their hats.

Yesterday was a bad day for the journalists who roam the battlefield that is Baghdad. At the Palestine Hotel, one where many of the press usually stay, an American tank came under fire from snipers and a mortar. Seeing someone studying them with binoculars from an upper floor of the hotel, the tank crew fired a round, killing two, one of whom was a Reuters reporter, and another a cameraman. Elsewhere in Baghdad, the Al Jazeera office was hit by an A-10 tank buster, killing one.

The CENTCOM pressies asked it every which way: What are you going to do to protect the press? The only sensible answer is: nothing. Those who are embedded with Coalition forces have the best protection possible, the attachment to the forces themselves. But even that is no guarantee as the fratricidal “blue on blue” incidents have proven. The enemy has chosen to break every feature of the Geneva Conventions within its grasp, and continues to try to shield its soldiers and weapons next to schools, mosques and now reporters. We can do nothing more than prevent the intentional targeting of journalists (which is tempting enough even in peacetime). Those who remain on the loose in places where fighting continues must take their chances.

It’s more symbolic than real, because the capture of any war criminals of Saddam’s stature is so unlikely, but the announcement yesterday that none such will be surrendered to the international courts is entirely correct. The EUnuch’s International Criminal Court was established in another exercise of hubris, to assert jurisdiction over any war crimes committed by anyone. Since the only people who have the will and capability to fight any longer are the English-speaking nations, the ICC was aimed at us. Its enabling legislation makes even intentional environmental damage a “war crime”. (Be careful where you point that rifle, soldier. If you kill that spotted owl, you’re in big trouble.)

Like the Belgian statute to the same effect, it invites political abuse as seen already in suits against General Powell and Bush 41 in Belgium. We have served notice that any war criminals caught in the Iraqi wars–note the plural, including 1991–will be tried in coalition courts as is our right.

The EUnuchs will whine and howl, but they must be kept out of this. How fair a trial would the murderers of American POWs get before a French or German judge? What sentences would they receive? As to the lower ranking war criminals, whose crimes are against the Iraqi people themselves, it is only right to let the Iraqis try and punish them. It will be a test–perhaps a severe one–of the soon-to-be-formed Iraqi government to see how their new court system deals fairly with the likes of these barbarians. More later.

09:51 AM


I only wish I had the exact quote, but in his press conference with Tony Blair after the Northern Ireland meeting, Mr. Bush was talking about the post-Saddam government of Iraq. He said that Iraq will be governed by Iraqis, not others. And then he said something like, “There are a lot of people in Europe don’t think I mean what I say. Saddam Hussein knows I mean what I say.” And that’s the difference between pre-9/11 America–and our pre-9/11 president–and this man.

Decisiveness has been absent from the White House for so long, there are many in the world who should take a lesson from the fate of Saddam’s regime. It matters not whether Saddam survived last night’s bombing. But it matters a great deal that this president won’t pause, won’t drift, and above all won’t fail to defend America.

There’s much more to write on this, and too little time. Suffice it to say for now that once the new Iraqi government is in place, there will be a lesson in this war for the world to study, and learn well. America has changed, and so has its leadership. And we should all be thankful for it, because we, our wives and our children will all be safer because of that change.

03:33 PM


HMS Ark Royal–flagship of the British fleet–has shut down its reception of the BBC while on station in the Iraq war. The sailors were complaining about the Beeb’s coverage, and its bias toward the Iraqis. Ark Royal has replaced it with Sky News, the Fox-affiliated British network. Remember when General Myers said, a few days ago, that reporters should be “fair and balanced”? Apparently, Her Majesty’s Royal Navy agrees.

We lost an A-10 today, and fortunately the crew was recovered. Less fortunate was the crew of an F-15 lost last weekend near Tikrit. Its crew is missing, and probably captured. Add two to the POW/MIA count. The Marines found bloody American uniforms at the Al Rasheed military airport in southeastern Baghdad today. There are probably ten or twelve Americans being held by the Iraqis. Some may yet be alive, and I hope will soon be rescued. Those who have been murdered will also be found someday. We must never forget, or forgive.

Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who should know better, is demanding an investigation of the shooting death of the reporter and cameraman at the Palestine Hotel. She–and those who are spouting nonsense about Americans intentionally targeting hostile press–continue to caterwaul about our shooting at pressies, even those who are near the bad guys. If we were intentionally targeting hostiles in the media, as many are inferring but don’t have the guts to say outright, would Peter Arnett or anyone from Al Jazeera still be alive? Most of the hostiles aren’t worth the powder it would take to blow them up.

I spoke today with Joe Galloway, a real no-foolin’ combat reporter. The one who co-authored We Were Soldiers Once, and Young with Gen. Hal Moore. Joe–now with Knight Ridder–almost laughed when I asked if we should be doing more to protect the press. His point was right on the money. Those who are “embedded” with our troops (as Joe was in the Ia Drang Valley) are as safe as we can make them. Those in Baghdad were warned to get out weeks ago. We owe them no special consideration, other than what we show any civilians.

I think I saw a pig fly today. Or maybe it was the Daily Telegraph piece by John Keegan, bewailing the ease with which the coalition has brought about the collapse of Saddam’s regime, and the ineptitude of the vaunted Iraqi army. He all but wrote that we shoulda picked on someone our own size, bullies that we are. Wasn’t it just a week ago that all the world’s media were bloviating about how tough the Iraqis were, and resurrecting the “q” word in every other sentence? An evil genius of my acquaintance has asked me to point out that it took Janet Reno 51 days to conquer Waco, and we have brought Saddam’s regime to the brink in less than half that time. But it’s not over, not by a bunch.

We don’t know who is running Baghdad, but ol’ Baghdad Bob must be getting orders from someone. The only reason he’s still walking around is that we must be trying to figure out who’s pulling his strings. The Saddamites who fled Baghdad for Tikrit a few weeks ago may be the ones. If Saddam is still alive, or if any of his inner circle are, they will be there or in Syria by now. Baathists of a feather should hang together.

There is another possibility, which we will have to face sooner rather than later. If the Saddam crowd is dead or otherwise out of the Stalinist Dictator business, those we still fight must get their directions elsewhere. The terrorists are less capable than the remnants of the Republican Guard, especially the Special Republican Guard, who are still fighting on the outskirts of Baghdad. Some may have fled inside the town to make a last stand. They will be under the command of some regime remnant. But the terror cells probably are not.

Because of the number of the terrorists, their command can be decentralized to cells that operate in each part of the country. Their higher-level commanders may be anywhere from Iran to Syria to Yemen or even Afghanistan. We can intercept some of the communication, and use it to find them. It will not matter in the long run, because the lack of popular support will doom them to ineffectiveness and defeat. But they can be a recurring problem for the new Iraqi government.

There is a continuous flow of the terrorists–mostly untrained amateurs at this point–from several countries. The Egyptians are letting hundreds go to Syria. From Damascus, they are being bused into Iraq. We can shut the Baghdad to Damascus highway, and interdict most of them. That operation is probably already under way. But our principal thoughts must be drifting north to Tikrit.

Tikrit is Saddam’s home town. There, he has an enormous palace. Next to that palace is a large man made lake, which the Iraqi National Congress informed me has a large tunnel complex beneath it. In those tunnels chemical weapons have been stored, and may still be. If Saddam is alive, and if he wants to go out in a big blaze of destruction, that’s as good a place as any for it. We will have to fight to take Tikrit, and we will need both the Marines and the Army to do it. Unless the 4th Infantry Division takes the field quickly. Which they may.

An audacious move–one perfectly consistent with the campaign so far–would move the 4th directly from Kuwait to Tikrit without stopping in Baghdad for anything but food and fuel. Oh, but I forgot all those long vulnerable supply lines that slow us down. And the shortages. And the poor morale. And the old generals who think it can’t be done. That’s one rerun we shouldn’t have to watch. The C-130s keep landing at Baghdad International. The Saddam regime’s “game over” light will blink on soon after the first C-17 or C-5A lands there.


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