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After 15 Years of Killing Journalists Pentagon Writes It Into Manual

Having liberally assassinated journalists in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya Pentagon has done the logical next step and openly wrote the practice into its code of conduct

This post first appeared on Russia Insider


Four weeks into NATO's 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia American bombs slammed into Belgrade's main television station massacring 16 employees of Serbia's state television broadcaster (RTS).

All killed were civilians but these were the 1990s. Sloban Milošević was "Adolph Hitler" and Serbs were "his willing executioners". Serbian civilian deaths didn't matter. Thus BOOM! Program director dead, security guard dead, electrician dead, cameraman dead, sound technician dead, make up lady dead...

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Tony Blair and a host of NATO spokespeople appeared before cameras to explain these people deserved to die - they were part of Milošević's "machinery of hate". No bombs hit them in turn.

RTS had been covering Serbia's civilian deaths caused by NATO but this wasn't the reason it was hit - as said nobody really cared and besides RTS had been taken off satellite by NATO and could no longer broadcast beyond Yugoslavia. However, NATO's strategy in the war had been to make the life of Serbian civilians so miserable they would beg Milošević to capitulate - and RTS' mix of airing patriotic music videos and reports of NATO carnage was doing a decent job of propping up Serb morale and resolve.

RTS was interfering with NATO's strategy - it was giving the Serbian populace a measure of comfort and strength - this made it a top target of those who needed it broken. 

Stretchering a victim of RTS bombing, April 23, 1999

Next stop Iraq. April 8th 2003 American tanks finally smashed into downtown Baghdad - Iraq had been conquered. Americans marked the occasion by opening fire on journalists in three separate locations in the city

Offices of Qatar's Al-Jazeera were hit by an air strike. Offices of United Arab Emirates Abu Dhabi satellite channel likewise. Finally a US tank fired into the Palestine Hotel - Bagdad's more well-known hotel and a well-known base for foreign journalists. In all Americans' attacks on journalists that day killed three and wounded four.

This was just the beginning. Iraq became a veritable killing ground for journalists including due to attacks by American occupiers. In the first two years of the occupation alone 13 journalists are known to have been killed by American fire.

Most famously in 2007 a US helicopter crew deliberately gunned down two Iraqi reporters for Reuters along with a dozen other civilians - this was the so called "collateral murder" incident later brought to light and made famous by WikiLeaks.

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Throughout the Iraq occupation US bitterly complained about reporting done by Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah. It accused them of inflaming the Arab street against the US and helping to fuel the Sunni resistance in Iraq.

The two were repeatedly banned from reporting from Iraq by the US-installed government in Baghdad. Likewise in 2004 the US launched the Al-Hurra Arab-language satellite channel to try to rival the two.

Finally, during the 2011 NATO bombing of Libya the alliance repeated its performance during the bombing of Yugoslavia and deliberately took out a Libyan TV compound slaying three journalists.

It may be the case that US military has only now produced a "law of war manual" explaining its policy of killing journalists, but it is the case it has been at it for at least 15 years. 

Vietnam - the high tide of American war reporting

The thing to understand is that Pentagon has convinced itself that media has dealt it its greatest defeat in history - the hugely traumatic loss in the Vietnam War. In Pentagon's retelling of the Vietnam debacle journalists delivered a fatal stab in the back of a war effort that was on the cusp of turning things around. 

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The problem according to US military wasn't so much US atrocities and real strategic setbacks, but the fact the knowledge of these was spread by journalists to the people at home.

That is to say the main lesson Pentagon drew from the Vietnam War was the need to control information coming out from the war zone. Military thinkers spent the next two decades thinking about the ways to accomplish this and eventually perfected it into an art form. 

Thus the highly managed and highly favorable coverage of US military invasion of Iraq - served up by embeded journalists assigned to this or that unit of the US military. But if embedding journalists showed to just what degree they may be tamed it also served to highlight how unfriendly and dangerous (at least in the Pentagon's imagination) the remaining independent journalists were by comparison.

In Pentagon's thinking an independent journalist threatens its control of information coming out of the war zone and therefore threatens "the mission" - that above all is what really makes him a "legitimate" target.

The rest, the nonsense about "unprivileged belligerents" and what not - that's just sophistry and mumbo jumbo to obscure the fact that US military - the armed force of the "land of the free and the home of the brave" believes in murdering civilian non-combatants.

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* Serbs had been so thoroughly collectively demonized in the west that the neocon Charles Krauthammer could openly complain from the pages of Washington Post that the bombing wasn't killing enough Serbian civilians and the liberal interventionist Thomas Friedman could call from the pages of The New York Times for Serbia to be bombed back into the Middle Ages and spark no mainstream outrage whatsoever. Link

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