Monday, April 5, 2010

The Deadly Business Of Being A War Correspondent & The Fog Of War

Fellow Blogger CDR Salamander has posted a piece about the death of two Reuters journalists in Iraq in July of 2007. This stems from the release today of footage shot by American military personnel involved with the incident, originating on the WikiLeaks site and obtained through the US Freedom Of Information Act. It shows the unfolding of events in a Baghdad suburb on July 12, 2007, in which Iraqi journalists Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen were gunned down by a US helicopter gunship while walking on the street with a group of other individuals. As the footage and dialogue show, the American forces mistook the journalists' equipment for weapons.

Saeed Chmagh (l.) and Namir Noor-Eldeen

Salamander posits that WikiLeaks is trying to make a political statement of some kind and trying to make this a war crime issue, possibly because of the headline that used ('WikiLeaks reveals alleged war crime'). Sal worries that WikiLeaks is, "[T]rying to make a political point by smearing Americans by accusing them of murder when they clearly did not commit murder, which is evil - or they had a idea [sic] encouraged by their own anti-American bias that was too good to check out, which is clueless."

I have great respect for CDR Salamander's perspectives, but in this case I must disagree with what he has written. WikiLeaks did not call this a war crime nor are they trying to smear anyone's reputations. Instead, what they are trying to show is that journalists working in war zones face situations that many of us cannot imagine in trying to report the news.

The 1949 Geneva Convention regulations do spell out legal entitlements for war correspondents. However, since the 1977 adoption of the 'Additional Protocol I', which says that journalists, "'[S]hould be considered as civilians," and protected as such, it is commonly advised that the protections afforded by the Conventions may not apply if the clothing they're wearing too closely resembles that of combat personnel. If you were attached to a military unit in the Second World War, you wore the fatigues of your nation's military. Since the 1960s, though, this has changed considerably. And, in the case of the Reuters men, had they been wearing a uniform of some sort, they might have been even more at risk.

Either way, this is more about the risks that journalists take to cover places like Iraq and the deadly price they pay for doing so rather than any concerted effort to debase the American military. And those risks are understood by most journalists, though they hope the worst will never happen. Having been in a few such places, I know that the vast majority of journalists in dodgy places are professional and understand the risks. (You can always tell the novice by how quickly he drinks and how loud he gets.) As WikiLeaks points out, 139 journalists were killed in Iraq between 2003-2009 while carrying out their professional duties.

If you choose to watch the video below (which can also be accessed via YouTube here), I do warn you that some of the imagery is graphic. And keep in mind that this is far from the complete picture of what occurred in Baghdad in July 2007. The American military was doing the job they had been trained to do (and were asked to do by their commanders, whether you agree or not), and the Iraqi journalists were doing likewise. It is a heart-wrenching look into what is known as the fog of war.

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