Reporters Without Borders called today on US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld to provide evidence that the offices of the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera and the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad were not deliberately fired at by US forces earlier in the day in attacks that killed three journalists.
"We are appalled at what happened because it was known that both places contained journalists," said the organisation's secretary-general Robert Ménard. "Film shot by the French TV station France 3 and descriptions by journalists show the neighbourhood was very quiet at that hour and that the US tank crew took their time, waiting for a couple of minutes and adjusting its gun before opening fire."
"This evidence does not match the US version of an attack in self-defence and we can only conclude that the US Army deliberately and without warning targeted journalists. US forces must prove that the incident was not a deliberate attack to dissuade or prevent journalists from continuing to report on what is happening in Baghdad," he said.
"We are concerned at the US army's increasingly hostile attitude towards journalists, especially those non-embedded in its military units. Army officials have also remained deplorably silent and refused to give any details about what happened when a British ITN TV crew was fired on near Basra on 22 March, killing one journalist and leaving two others missing.
"Very many non-embedded journalists have complained about being refused entry to Iraq from Kuwait, threatened with withdrawal of accreditation and being held and interrogated for several hours. One group of non-embedded journalists was held in secret for two days and roughed up by US military police," Ménard said.
Ukrainian cameraman Taras Protsyuk (35), normally attached to Reuters office in Warsaw, and José Couso, a Spanish cameraman for the Spanish TV station Telecinco, were killed in today's attack on the Palestine Hotel. Three other journalists were wounded when their rooms were hit by a shell fired by the US tank.
Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the US Third Infantry Division, admitted that the tank had fired a shell at the hotel. He claimed it was in response to rocket fire and other shooting from the hotel.
Al-Jazeera cameraman Tarek Ayoub was also killed today in US bombing of the pan-Arab TV station's offices elsewhere in the city.