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February 10, 2005

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that the US military appears to be killing journalists in Iraq at far above what one might sadly call "the usual levels".

Ah, appears. Are they, or aren't they? And what are "the usual levels"?

If there is a conflict of eyewitness accounts and there is also a tape of the event, do you trust one or the other of the eyewitness accounts? OR DO YOU ASK FOR THE TAPE?

I preemptively answered this question in the comment to which you are responding. Was I unclear?

You call this irresponsible journalism. I am not a journalist. I do not work in journalism. That is a perfectly reponsible inference for someone offering commentary. It is not conclusive. But it is a perfectly reasonable inference. Especially when coupled with the testimony of Frank and Dodd. Especially when coupled with the hidden tape. Especially when coupled with a different set of 'retractions' at different times.

You compared your standards for determining guilt to those of the media. The fact that you are not a journalist is neither here nor there when your question is about journalistic standards. And you keep reasonably bringing up Frank and Dodd, but you fail to address how you weigh their credibility against Gergen's (indeed, you cite Gergen as backing up their story in the initial post, yet his take actually supports Jordan's account the way I read it).

Unlike, for example, an inference that the US targets journalists merely based on the fact that journalists get killed in a war zone. The Lancet is claiming more than 100,000 civilians killed. If you accept that number why would it be so shocking that 12 journalists die? Especially since journalists seek out the danger zones rather than avoid them like normal civilians.

I'm not here to defend your extreme interpretation of Jordan's remarks. If he made this claim in a public forum, I would expect him to back it up. However, given that this was a closed-door, off-the-record gathering, given that yours is only the most extreme interpretation, given that the only evidence is from eyewitnesses and is contradictory, and given that the negative consequences of the exchange stem almost exclusively from the publicity drummed up by folks who have wanted Jordan's head on a pike for some time now, I don't much care what he said. But when someone says "if he's not putting up much of a fight, he's probably guilty" I call BS.

Slarti: It's always easy to help oneself to credit for doing things that might have happened anyway.

Right, because I assume that after the Marine had stopped "screaming across the road" "shouting 'Sniper! Sniper!'" and taking aim at the "old man, in his sixties at least, was folding up a blanket which had been left out all day to air" - the Marine would just have dropped his gun and gone "Ha ha only kidding!"

Are you always this insoucient when people wave guns around and threaten to shoot unarmed civilians, or is it only when the unarmed civilian is a nameless Iraqi?

Slarti: Are they, or aren't they?

Who knows? As Jordan Eason's career has just been truncated for the crime of mentioning it, I assume that no one in the US media is going to risk their own career by trying to find out. And certainly the Pentagon doesn't appear to want you to know.

And what are "the usual levels"?

John Simpson seems to think that sixteen killed inside three months is unusual. As Simpson has considerably more experience of journalism in war zones than I do, I'll take his word for it. If you can cite a source that says otherwise, please do.

Jes,

I'm sure he is only talking about unarmed Iraqi's...

I know you know this already, but Americans don't really give a crap about people other than themselves. We don't care about Tsunami victims, Bosnians, Kosovars, Kuwaiti's, African's, Iraqi's and so on. We would never actually try to help them.

We can only aspire to be as enlightened as you seem to think you are...

"Right, because I assume that after the Marine had stopped "screaming across the road" "shouting 'Sniper! Sniper!'" and taking aim at the "old man, in his sixties at least, was folding up a blanket which had been left out all day to air" - the Marine would just have dropped his gun and gone "Ha ha only kidding!""

You really know absolutely nothing about the military don't you. You would aim at the man you thought was a sniper and then decide if he was really a sniper. You don't wait to aim, you aim first. That is not only good military training, that is EXCELLENT military training because if it is a sniper you don't want him to kill 2 or 3 of your men before you get a chance to aim.

"and given that the negative consequences of the exchange stem almost exclusively from the publicity drummed up by folks who have wanted Jordan's head on a pike for some time now, I don't much care what he said."

The negative consequences for Jordan you mean. If we had let this go, the negative consequece for America would have been that a large number of world leaders go away from the Davos conference thinking that the head of CNN International asserted that the US was targeting journalists.

"The fact that you are not a journalist is neither here nor there when your question is about journalistic standards."

I don't understand your invocation of journalistic standards. Is it response to my thought that if a nonjournalist had said something shocking that the media would demand he release the tape? Do you doubt they would demand it? If Chirac had said the same thing, and backtracked in the same lame way, I would have wanted to see the tape for just the same reasons. The fact that Jordan ran CNN International only heightened the problem, but it isn't essentially a problem of journalistic standards.

Not to mention the fact that the marine didn't shoot the guy. Testimony to good fire discipline, good training.

Sebastian: That is not only good military training, that is EXCELLENT military training because if it is a sniper you don't want him to kill 2 or 3 of your men before you get a chance to aim.

Um, did you miss the bit about him running across the road screaming "Sniper! Sniper!" Sounds like he'd already made up his mind....

You didn't answer my question. Is it your argument that US soldiers are trained to act like this:

I told them about our bodyguards in the car just behind us, but when they spotted their green uniforms they went berserk, pulling them out of their vehicle and screaming that they were Republican Guards.

When they found the side-arms it was a great deal worse. They forced the bodyguards to the ground, kicking their legs apart, smashing their boots down on the backs of their necks and yelling at the tops of their voices. The bodyguards were angry and humiliated, but because they had been extremely well-trained (by American special forces, as it happened) they kept calm. I waded in with my walking-stick -- our friendly fire incident had happened a few days earlier -- and yelled back that these were their allies and they must let them go at once or... well, I wasn't quite certain what.


That this kind of overreaction happened, not because the soldiers weren't trained to stay calm in dangerous situation, but because American soldiers are trained to panic and lash out when they're scared?

Excuse me? The article 'about reporters being killed' is not an article about reporters being killed. It is only about reporters being killed by Americans, which I believe is my whole point.

Well, first of all, no it isn't, as Jes has amply pointed out. Second of all, do you think this is the only article ever written by someone affiliated with the BBC concerning journalist deaths in Iraq?

Rubber to road here, Sebastian: Can you support your claim that the BBC has reported more on reporters being killed by American soldiers than they have on reporters being killed by terrorists, or are you finally prepared to retract it?

Rubber to road, Phil. I made a claim about a particular story and the claim was correct.

It also had very little to do with Jordan.

Jesurgislac did you really write this or is someone impersonating you to make you look bad? I'll be happy to ban the person if they are:

"Um, did you miss the bit about him running across the road screaming "Sniper! Sniper!" Sounds like he'd already made up his mind...."

You alert the entire squad that you suspect there is a sniper. Obviously.

Sebastian, you really don't want to answer my question, do you?

Sebastian: I made a claim about a particular story and the claim was correct.

You made a claim about a column written in June 2003, about 16 journalists who had died in Iraq in the preceding three months. Your claim was that it wasn't about journalists killed by Islamists. No, it wasn't, and it never said it was: how many journalists had been killed in Iraq by Islamists by June 2003? (Four, if you include the three journalists killed by Iraqi military action with the one who was killed by a suicide bomber.)

What it had to do with Eason Jordan was that this article, by John Simpson, outlined in thoughtful detail the same thing Eason Jordan said: journalists are being killed in Iraq by US soldiers, and it merits investigation. John Simpson said it 18 months before Eason Jordan said it, and the other difference is that Simpson wasn't hounded out of his job for saying it.

Simpson doesn't say that the US targets journalists. He may avoid doing that purely because he doesn't want to be forced to support the charge, but he doesn't say that. He does in fact insinuate the charge (unfairly I believe), but he doesn't say it. Jordan said it.

"Sebastian, you really don't want to answer my question, do you?"

What question? Did the men get shot? No. Excellent training. Dragging a bunch of guys with weapons and uniforms out of the car at a checkpoint WHILE THE WAR WAS GOING ON is not a horrible thing. The fact that both you and the journalist in question believe that it was is a sad commentary on your understanding of the issue, not a sad commentary on US training.

Sebastian: Jordan said it.

Oh, you've found a source for this? Cite it.

Dragging a bunch of guys with weapons and uniforms out of the car at a checkpoint WHILE THE WAR WAS GOING ON is not a horrible thing.

Did I say horrible? Nope. I offered it as one item of evidence (as anyone who's been following the news knows, there is plenty more) that US soldiers seem not to be trained to react calmly in this kind of situation. They panic, don't listen to what they're being told, and overreact. Similarly, British soldiers in the early years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland weren't trained to react calmly - but they got the training when the British military realized that tehy needed it.

It's a very difficult situation to be in: patrolling in a hostile environment where most of the people around are civilians - and you don't want to shoot them because it will only stir up more trouble - but a small proportion are active enemies. Inexperienced, undertrained troops will fire on civilians because they panic: experienced, trained troops won't. From everything we've heard out of Iraq, US troops are inexperienced and undertrained in this kind of environment.

And that may well be why they've killed so many journalists.

"Inexperienced, undertrained troops will fire on civilians because they panic: experienced, trained troops won't. From everything we've heard out of Iraq, US troops are inexperienced and undertrained in this kind of environment."

And none of this suggests that the US is targetting journalists now does it?

I don't understand your invocation of journalistic standards. Is it response to my thought that if a nonjournalist had said something shocking that the media would demand he release the tape?

Yes, precisely. If a member of the media asked the subject of a similar story for evidence of his innocence, that would be reasonable journalism. If he then reported that the failure to release said evidence implied guilt, it would indeed be bad journalism. None of this, of course, addresses whether the story is worthwhile to begin with.

Do you doubt they would demand it? If Chirac had said the same thing, and backtracked in the same lame way, I would have wanted to see the tape for just the same reasons. The fact that Jordan ran CNN International only heightened the problem, but it isn't essentially a problem of journalistic standards.

Apparently I WAS unclear when I wrote "The question isn't whether they will demand the tape. That should be determined by the significance of the story."

And the significance of this story was not what Jordan said. It was that right-wingers could and did gather a mob and drum a media figure out of his job based on the slightest of missteps.

"And the significance of this story was not what Jordan said."

Yes I understand that you think that. You also don't seem to think that saying it at Davos is much different from saying it in his drawing room. I get it.

Are you always this insoucient when people wave guns around and threaten to shoot unarmed civilians, or is it only when the unarmed civilian is a nameless Iraqi?

You really don't have any idea what you're talking about. And you really have no idea at all whether the soldier was going to shoot, or was just checking out a possible threat. Yet you continue to spout of confidently that a disaster has been averted. Typical, yet still disappointing.

John Simpson seems to think that sixteen killed inside three months is unusual. As Simpson has considerably more experience of journalism in war zones than I do, I'll take his word for it. If you can cite a source that says otherwise, please do.

I see. So it's not an unsubstantiated claim you're making, just one that someone else is making.

Sebastian: And none of this suggests that the US is targetting journalists now does it?

What it suggests that the US military is sending undertrained and inexperienced soldiers into perilous situations, and as a result civilians, including journalists, are getting killed in larger numbers than would happen with properly-trained, experienced troops. But we won't know this for sure unless an independent investigation is run, and given that Jordan Eason was silenced for mentioning this issue, there's not going to be much pressure for an investigation from anyone else in the US media, is there?

Gromit: And the significance of this story was not what Jordan said. It was that right-wingers could and did gather a mob and drum a media figure out of his job based on the slightest of missteps.

And the wider significance of this, is that it looks as if the US military can continue to kill civilians in Iraq, and no one in the US media will press for an inquiry as to why this is happening - since Eason Jordan has been drummed out of his job for even mentioning that it's happening.

That's the real story.

Where's that possible-therefore-true operator when you need it?

"US military can continue to kill civilians in Iraq, and no one in the US media will press for an inquiry as to why this is happening - since Eason Jordan has been drummed out of his job for even mentioning that it's happening."

Nope, Jordan got into trouble for apparently asserting a conclusion about it--that being that the US is targeting journalists.

Sebastian: Nope, Jordan got into trouble for apparently asserting a conclusion about it--that being that the US is targeting journalists.

But since that conclusion was drawn by the mob that targetted him - not from what Jordan actually said - I think we can safely conclude that Jordan got into trouble for mentioning that US soldiers were killing journalists - and not immediately drawing a false conclusion that all such killings had been shown to be accidental.

It's the US military that's in trouble here, Sebastian, and the trouble won't go away by mobbing the US media into silence. I know you understand this, because it's the principle you're arguing from when you argue that because Eason Jordan didn't call for the record of the session to be released, he must be guilty.

Over sixty journalists have died in Iraq since March 2003. Of those, it appears that at least a dozen killings look as if they were carried out deliberately by US soldiers, intentionally killing noncombatants - whether or not they realised those noncombatants were journalists. Journalists have been harassed and bullied by US soldiers, and Al-Jazeera has been bombed twice by the US military. Throughout, no justification given beyond "it was a mistake". In short, with much more at stake, the US military has behaved in exactly the way as you've eloquently said proves guilt. If the Pentagon really were targetting journalists to be killed, wouldn't they behave just like this?

No, I'm not arguing either for or against this conclusion. (I'm prepared to wait for evidence, rather than assume absence of evidence proving innocence, and stonewalling/refusing to explain proves guilt.) But you were arguing, passionately, further up the thread, that if someone who is accused of doing something refuses to call for the publication of evidence, then it looks as if they're guilty.

Do you feel that the US military ought to let it be publicly assumed that they kill journalists?

Slartibartfast: Where's that possible-therefore-true operator when you need it?

Dunno. Pass it to Sebastian, will you? He seems to have decided that it's possible therefore true that Eason Jordan is guilty.

If he truly had a point that he can support, Jesurgislac, I'd expect we'll be hearing more from him. Wouldn't you?

I see. So it's not an unsubstantiated claim you're making, just one that someone else is making.

It's unlike you to dismiss the offerings of experts, Slarti.

Slarti: If he truly had a point that he can support, Jesurgislac, I'd expect we'll be hearing more from him. Wouldn't you?

We have been hearing quite a lot from Sebastian, Slarti: I'm not sure what your point is here.

I'm simply waiting for Jesurgislac to realize that her links don't support her point. Quoth Simpson:

So why did so many journalists die? I believe that the decision to 'embed' reporters and camera crews with the American and British forces was at the root of everything that followed. Around six hundred people were 'embedded' altogether. In many ways the decision helped to give first-class television, radio and newspaper coverage of the war; though to be frank, I think the embedded journalists were only allowed their grandstand view of the fighting because the American military knew this war would be easy to win.

Oh, and this:

I assure you, I am not grinding some embittered anti-American axe here. When my colleagues and I were injured during our friendly fire experience it was American special forces who came and helped us, and did their best to keep our poor translator Kamran alive. Their doctors became real friends of ours. I'm not even sure how much I blame the aircrew of the American plane that fired a missile at us (suitably enough, it was called a Maverick). As I understand it, many of these crews are ordered to take Dexedrine or other speed-like drugs to keep them awake during their long patrols, and that is bound to have an effect on their behaviour and judgement. In the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan two years ago, some bomber and fighter pilots are reported to have taken Modafinil, which is far stronger than Dexedrine and can keep you going for forty hours without sleep.

Don't bother to quote me back, Jesurgislac, because I've read it all; something that you evidently did not do. Simpson says explicitly that the only thing he suspects might be targeting is the Al Jazeera journalists, which is certainly fair game for investigation. Hell, investigate the whole thing. Any collection of evidence would far surpass the possible-therefore-true effort you've presented here.

Well, Slarti, thank you for reading the whole article by John Simpson.

If you add to that by reading my comments on this thread and figuring out what I was saying, that'll be nice too. But until then, there's obviously no point in continuing.

Yes, let's do revisit some of your comments here:

And it seems clear that the journalists who were killed were "targeted and killed" - if not as journalists, at least as individuals, noncombatants.

Yes, we're clearly and deliberately targeting noncombatants, knowing that they're noncombatants. Oops, they were journalists. And the one or two instances where it actually appeared that something untoward had occurred has now grown to include the full dozen.

Slarti, honestly, if you don't want to read the whole read and take part in the discussion seriously, that's up to you. But I've had a pretty good time arguing this around with the people who have been taking this discussion seriously, and while I'd be glad to take it up again with someone (including you) who does take this discussion seriously, I don't want to mess up this good feeling by letting you game around with it in your pick-out-stuff-at-random-and-kick-it-way. Sometimes I find this amusing: on this issue I don't.

The deaths of noncombatants in Iraq, including journalists, is a serious matter. Let's take it seriously. Good night.

Jesurgislac, I request that you do this: write yourself a Livejournal entry. Put all of your points in one place, rather than have them interspersed (and somewhat subject to variation and/or change in appearance, I might add) over the course of what's become an extraordinarily long thread (332nd comment!). Let me know when you're done, and I'll either link it, or publish it in its entirety (taking full credit for it, of course) here, provided it meets the guidelines. If you have difficulty organizing, we've got some fairly decent writers here that might be willing to lend a hand.

Given your expressed passion for the issue, I'm pretty confident we'll see something from you in short order. And just kidding about that credit-grabbing part; your pseudonym will go right at the bottom. And you're right, there's no sense in discussing your POV until it's entirely clear what your POV is. My interpretation of what you've written here is that your point has shifted somewhat over the course of the thread. Show it to us whole and entire, so that we can discuss it.

Slarti: Jesurgislac, I request that you do this: write yourself a Livejournal entry

Slarti, I do intend to do that. Not because you asked me to, but because I realised I've written enough on this topic (and found enough good links) to make one.

Once I've done that, I'll let you know.

Thank you. Please do feel free to let us know when you've posted something on your livejournal that you'd like to have brought to the attention of the larger group. I'm sort of a peon-level member, but I think that you've had a great deal to say on this blog without the benefit of a single post to say it all in one place, and I'd like to offer you that place on at least an intermittent basis.

To some extent, because I'm not all that hot on writing source material myself. It's one of my many flaws.

Slarti, I did write a lengthy post on Eason Jordan, etc, here.

I think that you've had a great deal to say on this blog without the benefit of a single post to say it all in one place, and I'd like to offer you that place on at least an intermittent basis.

I appreciate that, very much. Thank you.

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