"Arab CNN" First Berated, then Bombed by U.S.

Here's the text of an upbeat little segment on Tuesday's World News Tonight on ABC:

PETER JENNINGS: "Kabul's been a very unpredictable place for the last couple of days. A colleague of John Simpson, William Reeve of the BBC was broadcasting live from there today when this happened."

(Video clip shows Reeve at his desk, followed by an explosion.)

JENNINGS: "They don't know if it was a missile or bomb, but they were all very fortunate and no one was hurt."

To be entirely fair, this exchange followed a longish report on the Northern Alliance entry into Kabul which showed Taliban soldiers being rounded up and battered with guns. Of the networks, Jennings alone mentioned that UN officials had said publicly that "more than 100 young people sympathetic to the Taliban were killed by Northern Alliance forces at a religious school in Mazar-e Sharif on Saturday."

But the quick shot of Reeve at his desk would have been much more chilling for viewers if ABC had told them the story behind the explosion they were seeing. For this information, we have to go to other sources.

What rattled Reeve at his desk were U.S. bombs that hit two buildings that housed news media outlets. One hit the Kabul office of Al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite station. Another hit a house used by the BBC a block away.

Al-Jazeera's come under no end of metaphorical fire since September 11. U.S. officials have accused the network of being a vehicle for Al Qaeda propaganda because it broadcasts interviews with Osama bin Laden. (It has also aired interviews with Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice.) On Monday, the fire was live.

The Al-Jazeera office was obliterated by U.S. bombing around 3 a.m., according to the network's managing director, Mohammed Jassim al-Ali. Speaking to the Associated Press, he said that none of the network's ten staff members was injured (the office was empty at the time.) But he did suggest that the strike could have been deliberate, because the office sits in a residential area of Kabul.

"I can see no other reason why a bomb would land in that section of Kabul," al-Ali told AP. "They know where we are located and they know what we have in our office and we also did not get any warning."

As Northern Alliance forces entered Kabul, Al-Jazeera was forced to broadcast CNN's footage of the events.

In the first three days of the attack on Kabul, U.S. bombs knocked off the air and entirely destroyed the office of Radio Kabul. Appearing on Working Assets Radio last month, Farhad Azad of Afghanmagazine.com, bemoaned the loss of the Radio Kabul archives, stored in the basement of the devastated building. The Taliban made music illegal, said Azad, but it was U.S. bombs that physically destroyed the hidden archive.

A few years back, NATO justified the bombing of the offices of state radio and TV in Belgrade by saying that Belgrade TV was a legitimate military target. "We've struck at his TV stations and transmitters because they're as much a part of [Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's] military machine prolonging and promoting this conflict as his army and security forces," U.S. General Wesley Clark explained. (Of course, it wasn't Milosevic who was killed when the Belgrade studios were bombed on April 23, but rather 20 journalists, technicians and other civilians.)

This time, Col. Brian Hoey, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa confirmed that U.S. aircraft dropped two 500-pound bombs at 3:40 p.m. EST Monday on the building in question. But he said they did it based on "compelling" evidence that the facility was being used by the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. At the time of the attack, Hoey said, "the indications we had was that this was not an al-Jazeera office." The Taliban Ministry for the Suppression of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue is said to be across the street.

There can be no doubt that the offices of cable network Al-Jazeera were a civilian target -- as was the house holding the BBC's poor rattled Mr. Reeve. Bombing civilian targets is barred under just about every international convention you care to mention. And while Congress never ratified the 1977 Additional protocols appended to the Geneva Convention, they did sign on, and successive administrations have committed themselves to act in accordance with the law.

The Washington Post writes: "An attack on al-Jazeera's offices in Kabul could prove to be a public relations fiasco for the U.S. government, which has accused al-Jazeera of broadcasting Taliban propaganda since the war in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7."

Indeed. But only if the public finds out.


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