Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

News Embedded Journalists - AP Reporter Shooting Rehash

  1. Jul 29, 2010 #1

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I'd like to do a quick rehash of the AP reporter shooting incident, pointing out an issue I don't think was adequately covered in previous discussions: the double-standard of responsibility that always hits the US hard.

    Previous thread here: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?p=2658357
    Note: the first thread on the subject quickly spiraled out of control due to counterfactual characterization of the events and was locked. The above linked thread was the second thread on the subject.

    The relevant facts of the incident are:
    1. Two Iraqi national, AP acredited reporters were killed by a US helicopter gunship.
    2. These reporters had embedded themselves with insurgents.
    3. The helicopter pilots/gunners correctly identified insurgent weapons (which were later recovered at the site) and incorrectly identified the AP reporters' cameras as weapons.
    4. After the initial shooting, a van carrying children drove up to assist the injured and was fired upon, injuring several children.

    From the standpoint of a gunner in a helicpoter, the situation that presented itself was crystal clear: armed insurgents = legitimate targets. The mistaken ID element muddies the water for some, but it does not change the tactical equation. What it does is add the element of propaganda, which is how this incident has been used. So if the AP reporters had been properly ID'd, it may have been prudent to disregard their mandate as soldiers and allow these insurgents to go unattacked. However, these insurgents were apparently trying to position themselves to attack a group of infantry nearby, so even if the AP reporters had been properly identified, there is a good chance the group still would have been fired upon.

    The AP reporters were embedded journalists. Embedded journalists sometimes die - that's an occupational hazard that they choose to accept. In this case, the reporters imprudently chose to embed themselves with the side of the conflict with the most risk. That was their choice and their deaths are therefore their own fault.

    Well over 100 embedded reporters have died in Iraq, most killed by the Iraqis (16 by American forces), probably because most are embedded with coalition troops: http://cpj.org/reports/2008/07/journalists-killed-in-iraq.php

    I have heard no outrage against the Iraqis/insurgents for these deaths, nor should there be any for legitimate combat killings, and the idea that the US bears culpability is a wrongful double-standard.

    There is also an inappropriate criticism of the US regarding general civilian casualties: there were probably civilian adults injured/killed in this incident and there were certainly civilian children. The US is routinely criticized for shooting at the van. But the injuries/deaths in the van are not the fault of the US, they are the fault of the driver of the van and the insurgents. Some of the more important laws of war are regarding protection of civilians and critical to those protections is separating and clearly identifying soldiers vs civilians. For the insurgents to hide among/mingle with civilians is a war crime and for the civilians to come to their aid is at best a mistake and at worst active participation in the insurgents' war effort.

    An extension of this issue is the general double-standard that follows the US around. The US is held to an extrordinary high standard, and reasonably so. When people perceive it falling short, it gets hit hard in world public opinion. That's improper, imo, because it ignores the enormous disparity between how we operate vs how our enemies operate. If people recognized just how wide the gap was and recognized that we put serious effort into being "good", then occasional shortfalls wouldn't be met with such vitrol from the international community as we saw in the last few years.

    Case-in-point: Abu Graib. This was a huge PR problem for the US and rightfully so - there were dozens of crimes up through murder there. But the incident can still be contrasted with the actions of our enemies: what happened there was not the policy and most of those involved were punished. Our enemies do such things as pretty much standard operating procedure. Perhaps we are desensitized to it, but being "normal" doesn't make it right and while the US should be condemned for allowing this to happen, it should also be praised for making an effort to correct it.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 29, 2010 #2

    Gokul43201

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Some people might deem it fair that a modern military superpower with far better intelligence, funding, and technology be held to a higher standard than a bunch of semi-organized insurgents from a third world country, operating on a shoe-string budget, and often led by radical terrorists. I don't think that is necessarily an unreasonable position to hold.

    So, yes, there is a double-standard, but the important question is whether or not it is reasonable to hold such a double-standard. And in your own words, it is reasonable to not only hold the US to a higher standard than the Iraqi insurgents, it is reasonable to hold them to an extraordinarily high standard... so I don't quite see what your objection is. If someone deserves to be held to a high standard, then they also deserve criticism when they fail to uphold such standards.

    Another issue of possible relevance is that there are exceedingly more debaters here that are from the US (or the "West") than there are members from Iraq (or the Middle East). And many people tend to hold their own country to a higher standard (than the other side) out of some manifestation of national/communal pride.

    Also, for those that are US citizens/residents, there is good reason to give more of a damn about how your tax money is being used than how someone else's is.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2010
  4. Jul 29, 2010 #3

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Gokul - Let me try to clarify a little. The issue here gets complicated by the fact that there are two different "courts" - two different lenses through which to analyze the situation (and a third, if you mix them together).

    First is the court of public opinion. I have to at least partly agree with you that if someone wants to be considered "better", they have to accept being held to a higher standard and have to constantly prove they are meeting a higher standard. That's not what I have a problem with. My problem is with the lack of recognition by the international community that that's what's going on. A google yields no shortage of criticism that Americans are no better than her enemies in combat, when the factual reality is that even when we fail to meet our high standard, we're still a class above.

    The second lens is the legal lens and that lens must be unbiased for a legal system to have credibility. While the law can take into account capabilities, it can't ignore/permit crimes by one side just because they are losing. The law doesn't say 'don't use human shields unless you are losing', it just says 'don't use human shields', and it has to be that way if protection of civilians really matters.

    Now when you mix these two lenses together, what happens is the lack of recognition in the first results in a simply false conclusion in the second, and that's what happened here. The US got the blame for the AP reporters' deaths and the childrens' injuries: on PF and through a google, there is no shortage of calls for prosecution for war crimes for this incident. But the fact of the matter is that lack of recognition of the fact that the US is being held to a standard beyond the law causes people to think they violated the law, when it just isn't the case. Mabye, being held to a higher standard in the court of public opinion means we should let some insurgents kill some American soldiers in order to save some AP reporters embedded with the insurgents. Not that I believe it should, but that's the way it does work. But it doesn't mean that this public opinion black-eye is actually murder that should be prosecuted.


    I'm willing to accept reasonable disagreement about whether we should let Americal soldiers die to protect journalists and civilians for the sake of avoiding negative propaganda, but only if it comes with the understanding that that standard is beyond the law. I'm not willing to accept a mischaracterization of the law. That isn't reasonable.


    I'm not sure about Americans being more citical of themselves - it has been my perception that foreign opinion has been more critical of the US than domestic opinion. I do realize, though, that a lot of both focuses on Bush himself. Bush was arrogant in international relations, which causes people to be reflexively objectionable to us.

    I'm also not sure what taxes and general opposition to the war have to do with anything. I suppose people sometimes improperly mix opposition to the war with opposition to specific incidents, but if so, that's just another manifestation of the judgemental error I discussed from the first "lens".
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2010
  5. Jul 29, 2010 #4
    Some consideration should also be given to the fact that negative propaganda about the US likely helps the insurgents recruit, therefore potentially costing more lives in the long run.

    I don't have any numbers on this, and I doubt anyone has studied it in detail, but it may be the case that making a sacrifice on temporary safety to maintain a clean image as the "good guys" is the safer course in the long run.
     
  6. Jul 29, 2010 #5

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    The problem here is how would you ever know that one of a group of weapon carrying insurgents is a reporter?
     
  7. Jul 29, 2010 #6

    mgb_phys

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Were they really 'embedded' with the insurgents? Does Al-Queda hand out press passes?
    Or is this just spin to refer to any independant (ie non US embedded) journalists as enemy.
    A similar language used to be used for people like the Red Cross and Medicin-san-Frontiere, basically - if you aren't for us you are against us.

    When the spanish TV reporter was killed a couple of years ago there were allegations that independent journalists were being deliberately targeted - according to CNN's news division boss Eason Jordan.

    In the specific attack in the helicopter video, one of the US troops did say they had received orders to target all civilian vehicles since taxis were being used by insurgents.
    That seems like an unreasonable rules of engagement - it was when the British courts found soldiers in Northern Ireland guilty of shooting a stolen car that ran a checkpoint.
     
  8. Jul 29, 2010 #7

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    The reporters decided to join the insurgents, so I don't see what your point is.
     
  9. Jul 29, 2010 #8

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Interestingly, there was an effective solution to this in the dim prehistory of mankind: pre cell-phone. The idea was that each group of combatants would wear uniform attire - we could even call it a "uniform", so that the other side would be able to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.

    Hard to imagine, I know.
     
  10. Jul 29, 2010 #9
    I guess the insurgents missed that memo.
     
  11. Jul 29, 2010 #10

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    But if the insurgents started wearing uniforms, they could no longer hide behind innocent civilians.
     
  12. Jul 29, 2010 #11

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Ah, but the ancients figured this one out too.

    They invented something called the Geneva Convention, which provided an incentive to wear a uniform. The idea was that if you were ever captured, if you had been wearing a uniform and not putting civilians at risk (by, for example, trying to blend in with them), you would receive better treatment if captured. Clever, no?

    At some point, people decided it wasn't fair to treat different captured combatants differently and so removed this incentive.
     
  13. Jul 29, 2010 #12

    Office_Shredder

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    America treats differently captured combatants differently right now, as we speak. I'm not sure what your point is here.

    What's your point here? Are you criticizing America because its enemies don't wear uniforms? Evo said that American soldiers can't determine that one person out of a group is a reporter. Obviously that's because the insurgents aren't wearing uniforms. Why bother mentioning that uniforms exist as a concept? It's not like we didn't know that. Stop trying to be clever and just say what you mean to say
     
  14. Jul 29, 2010 #13
    Many of these people ARE civilians defending their home country against a foreign invading force. You can't expect them to run to the tailor and have uniforms made up in the middle of an invasion.

    If Iraq had invaded the United States, I'd be out fighting in my street clothes too.
     
  15. Jul 29, 2010 #14

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I think he made his point quite clear, and quite cleverly.

    How difficult is it to tie a colored band around an arm to show you are an insurgent so that you stand out from non-combatants?
     
  16. Jul 29, 2010 #15
    What governing body would decide that "band around the arm" is a uniform?

    In many cases, these "enemies" aren't organized. They aren't part of a group. Maybe they're mad that their brother or best friend was killed. Maybe they're angry that the water supply has been cut.

    I think it's ridiculous to expect civilians to get into uniform in order to resist an invader.
     
  17. Jul 29, 2010 #16

    mgb_phys

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    My point is - did the journalists decide to join the insurgents, or were the journalists simply there independantly?

    To take a less contentious example. At a protest rally in the US/Eu - some photographers will be from the BBC/CNN/Fox etc, they will know the police and have a relationship with them (especially Fox) and be able to pass through the police lines.

    There will also be independent or unaccredited journalists photographing both the demonstrators and the police, these are regarded by the police as on the protester's side and are targeted for arrests and confiscations.

    Would democracy be improved if only government approved journalists were allowed to report on domestic demonstrations?
     
  18. Jul 29, 2010 #17

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    If combatants refuse to identify themselves as such and they fight and hide among civilians, then they are solely to blame for any civilian casualties.
     
  19. Jul 29, 2010 #18

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I still do not see what difference that makes in the case of unidentified reporters mingling with a group that is planning to attack a group of soldiers.

    In your "protester rally" scenario, if someone not affiliated is mingling with the protestors, then they are just part of the throng. And no, police would have no way of knowing what their intentions are.

    So I still do not see what point you are trying to make. Reporters in dangerous areas risk their lives the same as the group with which they travel.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2010
  20. Jul 29, 2010 #19

    mgb_phys

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    My point is that the US military are attempting to paint any journalists that aren't under their control as effectively enemy agents.
    Whether this extends to actively targeting independent journalists is the question.
     
  21. Jul 29, 2010 #20

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I don't know where you are getting this idea.

    The journalists that were with the group of insurgents that were planning an attack were Reuters journalists. So, sorry, not trying to be difficult, I don't see your point. Is there some instance not related to the subject of this thread that you are referring to?
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: Embedded Journalists - AP Reporter Shooting Rehash
  1. Shooting Trauma (Replies: 10)

  2. The Omaha shootings (Replies: 104)

  3. Shooting locks (Replies: 17)

  4. Shooting coyotes (Replies: 65)

Loading...