Rene — Fisk — No wonder al-Jazeera was a target

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No wonder al-Jazeera was a target
The Independent – United Kingdom; Nov 26, 2005
On 4 April 2003, I was standing on the roof of al-Jazeera’s office
in Baghdad. The horizon was a towering epic of oil fires and burning
Anti-aircraft guns in a public park close to the bureau were pumping
shells into the sky and the howl of jets echoed across the city. I was
about to start a two-way interview with al-Jazeera’s head office in
Qatar when an American rocket came racing up the Tigris river behind
me. Its rail- train ‘swish’ brought a cry from the Qatar technician
who picked up the sound on his earphones.
‘Was that what I think it was?’ he asked. I fear so, I replied, as
the white-painted cruise missile zipped beneath one of the Tigris’s
bridges and disappeared upstream. After finishing my ‘stand-upper’
“television demands rooftop scenes from Baghdad even to this
day, when most of the reporters are confined to their offices and
hotels by teams of hired mercenaries” I descended to the al-Jazeera
newsroom where the Jordanian-Palestinian bureau chief, Tareq Ayoub,
was trying to put together his next report. You, I told him, have
the most dangerous television office in the history of the world.
I remarked how easy a target his Baghdad office would make if the
Americans wanted to destroy its coverage “seen across the Arab world”
of civilian victims of the Anglo-American bombing of Iraq. ‘Don’t
worry, Robert,’ Tareq had replied. ‘We’ve given the Americans the
exact location of our bureau so we won’t get hit.’ Three days later,
Tareq was dead.
Al-Jazeera had indeed given their office’s map co-ordinates to the
In fact, the State Department’s public affairs officer in Qatar “a
man of Lebanese descent called Nabil Khoury” had pointedly gone to the
station’s management on 6 April to assure them their bureau would be
spared. Then on 7 April, as Tareq Ayoub broadcast at 7.45am from the
same spot on the roof on which I had been standing, an American jet
flew across the Tigris and fired a single missile at al-Jazeera. Its
explosion killed Tareq instantly. This was no errant attack. ‘The
plane was so low, we thought it was going to land on the roof,’
Tareq’s colleague Taiseer Alouni told me afterwards.
And Taiseer should know. He had been Kabul correspondent for al-Jazeera
in 2001 when a cruise missile smashed into his (mercifully empty)
Al-Jazeera had been broadcasting bin Laden’s threats and sermons
from Afghanistan and no one doubted at the time that the attack ”
which the Americans claimed was a mistake ” was deliberate. After the
killing of Tareq Ayoub in Baghdad in 2003, the Pentagon’s soulless
letter of explanation expressed its sorrow for Ayoub’s death but did
not even bother to offer an explanation for the attack.
Why should it? After all, on the very same day, an American Abrams
M-1 A-1 tank fired a shell into the Palestine Hotel, killing three
more journalists.
Small arms fire, the Americans said, had been coming from the
building. It was a lie.
Nor was I surprised. Back in Belgrade in 1998, I had watched the
Americans bomb Serbia’s television headquarters, an act which,
as I wrote next morning, allowed Nato to strike at targets for the
words men and women said ” rather than the deeds they committed. What
precedent did this set for the future? I should have guessed.
So what was so strange about George Bush’s desire to bomb al-Jazeera
in 2004? That Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara ” the man who supposedly
persuaded the American president to desist from this latest insanity ”
should now threaten the British press under the Official Secrets Act
lest they divulge the entire can of worms is quite in keeping with
the arrogance of power which we now associate with the Bush-Blair
alliance. British ministers cravenly repeated America’s lies when
US aircraft killed the innocent in Baghdad in 2003 and they will
happily cover up Bush’s continued desire to bomb his supposed enemies,
however innocent they may be.
When al-Jazeera first broadcast across the Arab world, the Americans
hailed its appearance as a symbol of freedom amid the dictatorships of
the Middle East. The New York Times’s messianic columnist Tom Friedman
praised it as a beacon of freedom ” always a dangerous precedent,
coming from Friedman ” while US officials held out the station’s
broadcasts as proof that Arabs wanted free speech. And there was some
truth in this. When al-Jazeera broadcast a brilliant 16-part series
on the Lebanese civil war ” a subject scrupulously avoided by Beirut
television stations ” the crowded seafront Corniche in front of my
Lebanese home became deserted.
Arabs wanted to see and hear truths that had been denied them by
their own leaders.
But when the same al-Jazeera began broadcasting bin Laden’s words,
all the enthusiasm of Friedman and the State Department dried up. By
2003, US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz ” that paragon of
democracy who asked why Turkish generals did not have ‘something to
say’ when the democratically elected Turkish parliament prohibited
US troops from using their territory for the invasion of Iraq ”
was fraudulently claiming that al-Jazeera was ‘endangering the lives
of American troops’. His boss, Donald Rumsfeld, told an even bigger
lie: that al-Jazeera was co-operating with Iraqi insurgents. I spent
days investigating these claims. All turned out to be false. Tapes
of guerrilla attacks on US forces were delivered anonymously to
the station’s offices, not filmed by al-Jazeera’s crews. But the
die was cast. Iraq’s newly elected government proved its democratic
credentials by throwing al-Jazeera out of the country ” just as Saddam
had threatened to do in early 2003.
Of course, al-Jazeera is no golden child of journalism. Its discussion
programmes are often weighed down with uncompromising Islamists,
its dutiful presentation of bin Laden’s tiresome sermons balanced by
interviews with Western leaders far tougher than any questions put
to al-Qa’ida’s bearded leadership.
But it is a free voice in the Middle East ” and so was attacked
by the Americans in Kabul and in Baghdad. And almost in Qatar. And
thus British journalists must now be suppressed by Lord Blair of Kut
al-Amara if they dare to reveal the latest revelation from the dark
and bloody pit into which Messrs Blair and Bush have plunged us.