12:35:16 PM # your two cents 
11:44:10 AM # your two cents 
11:42:59 AM # your two cents 
The superb Irish Times journalist in Baghdad, Lara Marlowe (in my opinion one of the top two or three journos on the staff and one of the very best writers/stylists as well) has just appeared on radio noting that two US tanks seems to have shelled the Palestine Hotel, where journalists are based and killed two journalists, injuring four others. In addition, she says the US forces earlier today killed an Al Jazeera journalist and fired on another Arab broadcaster in what she thinks are highly questionable circumstances. In the latter case she says the Arab broadcasters had given the Pentagon their exact coordinates ages ago and she doesn't see how the site could have been mistakenly hit by supposedly highly accurate missile fire -- apparently two air to surface missiles at Al Jazeera. The New York Times report on the Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV incidents also has an undertone of incredulity:
The two cameras were taking live shots of the tanks on the bridge when one camera was hit and fell to the ground, Mr. Bouran said in a telephone interview from his office in Abu Dhabi.
"We took small arms fire from that direction, our correspondents left, ran away," Mr. Bouran said. A second camera was also hit. "All of a sudden we saw an incoming shell that took out our office."
As for the Palestine Hotel, the US was stating immediately afterwards that there were snipers in the area and that they therefore fired guns at them. She disputes this -- she's a very experienced combat journalist and says the weapon(s) fired were, at the very least, mobile grenade launchers as whole chunks of the building came down. Update: the army now says two tanks did fire on the hotel. A journalist from Sky Networks (one of the biggest European broadcasters, based in UK) said he saw tanks pointing directly at the Palestine Hotel just before it was hit, and says he never heard any gunfire coming *from* the Hotel at any point and thinks the army fired at the refelction of light off the cameras rather than in response to gunfire. A journalist from Channel 4 news in the UK says the same, and also notes the tanks were firing from 2 km away, far, far out of range of any sniper fire. The Guardian has more info here and here, and a quite extraordinary account here, of the army saying it would agree to a "ceasefire" on the Palestine Hotel (!!!), on how this is turning into an angry stand-off. I encourage anyone wanting more info to pick up her interview -- it would be about 40 minutes into the Pat Kenny show archive, which should be available after noon Irish time here. One commentator has just noted that a tenth of all conflict deaths so far have been journalists. This is from Irish Times breaking news:
The Pentagon official said he could not say if US troops were responsible for the blast. But he said that Iraqi forces who operated from civilian areas like hotels would be legitimate targets.
"We have reports of Iraqi snipers in the vicinity of the Palestine Hotel, operating from the Palestine Hotel, proving that this desperate and dying regime will stop at nothing to cling to power," said the spokesman.
While declining to speculate on the source of the blast, he said: "The hotel wouldn't be a target. We only target military forces and if they place themselves in civilian areas, they become a legitimate military target."
Here's a snippet on the Arab journalists from RTE, the Irish national broadcaster:
Tareq Ayub, a correspondent for the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV channel, died of his injuries following a missile strike on the station's Baghdad offices.
A cameraman, Zuheir al-Iraqi, was hit in the neck by shrapnel in the blast, which the network charged was a deliberate strike.
Another Arab service, Abu Dhabi TV, announced its Baghdad bureau had also been hit and broadcast a live report showing its camera position under attack.
From The Guardian:
However, journalists on the ground and at central command in Qatar have expressed incredulity at the US military's claims that snipers were operating from the hotel.
Sky News' David Chater, who went to his balcony and saw the tank's barrel aiming at the hotel just before the attack, said he was "staggered" that it fired at the hotel, which has been a well-known home to the western media during the war.
"They thought they had rocket-propelled grenades coming from the Palestine Hotel and that it was no longer a civilian target but a military target - but that is patently absurd.
"I have not seen a single shot coming from this hotel nor RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] coming from here. One of these soldiers saw these cameras, saw the glint of cameras, and mistakenly saw them as RPG. It has been done so many times - a horrible mistake."
Yes, of course covering a war from the battle zone is a dangerous job. But let's look for a moment at the ratio of Iraqi to US casualties -- thousands of Iraqis v. a small handful of 'coalition' troops, and a considerable number of those, dead from 'friendly fire' or various accidents. There may be violent battles raging through the country but the US is massively stronger in terms of its firepower. Thus it behoves its operatives to operate with care. We've seen many examples of where this is not happening, with consequent 'friendly fire' deaths. The British soldiers who have come under fire certainly seemed to think that the US should easily have been able to distinguish friends from foes in these cases, and I'd tend to judge those experienced soldiers' judgement, themselves coming from battle, rather than the armchair pundits. Also, there is absolutely no reason why the tanks involved in the incidents above would not have known they were firing at journalists. They had the coordinates.
All of which comes back to the point that this all seems so utterly, utterly pointless -- thousands killed for what? Every chemical weapon/weapon of mass destruction warning has turned out to be false. None have been used in this conflict. Certainly this regime, odious as it is, posed no immediate or direct threat. Why, oh why, are we there?
11:02:35 AM # your two cents 
Lots of weird spin coming from the Irish government as it puts the brakes on its initially ground-breaking, five-year-old Freedom of Information legislation. First, we had Finance Clown--ooops, Minister, Charlie McCreevy, proposing journalist Emily O'Reilly as the new Info Commissioner overseeing the Act. Emily's one tough cookie and has written on the importance of retaining the existing powers within the FOI, so one could expect her to be vigilant in her guardianship of citizen/media rights to access records. Her appointment thus seems... weird in the context of Charlie wanted to gut the Act. Why this appointment? She certainly won't be the government's best friend, so it seems he hopes her appointment will turn down the media heat. Perhaps it's a sign that he feels so much will be stripped from the Act that, were she to do battle on behalf of particular requests, he doesn't feel much could be turned up that would be of concern.
And then, today, Communications Minister Dermot Ahern announced he is looking into putting all FOI requests to his department on the departmental website, and perhaps all the info supplied in response to requests as well. Now THAT'S an interesting idea... Hard to read whether this is a sop to the public (eg despite the 'announcement', reasons will be found for not actually doing these things), or if this is giving some concessions to make the gutting of the Act more palateable, or if he himself is concerned about the govt revising this Act (many TDs, including Fianna Fail TDs, are *very* concerned, believe me). I would suspect there's a commitment there from the Minister to something he believes in, and I think it will seriously ruffle other departments, who will almost certainly have to follow suit, thus making some embarrassing documents very easily available to all and sundry. Not likely to delight Cabinet ministers. Twill be interesting to see what happens with this, if anything.
I could also write a whole essay on the pathetic sexism that has emerged, from both men and women, over Emily O'Reilly's appointment. Setting aside how quickly some normally not-exactly-grammatically-obsessed men were to gleefully point out that Emily's self-proposed title of 'ombudswoman' would not be proper Swedish and therefore made no sense (oh, PLEEZE). She's apparently considered too tough by some (I won't use the more pejorative terms). Silly me, I failed to notice when being tough as nails stopped being a trait of any good journalist, especially ones that report on [cough] politics. Then, there's the mutterings of her using 'feminine charm' to advance her prospects during her distinguished career (this particularly mentioned by women). Why is charm acceptable as long as it's thrown about by men -- jeez, have you ever seen An Taoiseach turning it up full blast on some poor unsuspecting woman (do remember, while restraining your gag reflex, that he was often described as having -- eek! -- 'bedroom eyes'...). If one is attractive and charming the combination often has a flirty aspect which seems fine as a male attribute (indeed goes unremarked upon -- ever heard the term 'masculine charm' or 'masculine wiles'?!) but is seen as a kind of cheating attempt to get your way in a woman. Can we just agree that charm is charm? Most successful people have it -- though some do succeed through sheer ruthlessness. Hmmm, Bill Gates. The word 'charm' does not exactly come to mind.
2:16:14 AM # your two cents 
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1:26:32 AM # your two cents 
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