CBSN

U.S. Tank Kills Journalists

A U.S. tank, left, moves his gun turret towards a hotel filled with journalists before firing from a bridge in Baghdad, April 8, 2003. The Palestine hotel took fire Tuesday after U.S. troops said snipers were shooting at them from the building.
AP
U.S.-led military strikes in the Iraqi capital Tuesday hit a hotel filled with hundreds of journalists and an Arab television network, killing three journalists and injuring three others.

Two Arabic-language television networks said their offices were intentionally targeted by American-led forces — claims military officials denied.

"This coalition does not target journalists," said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, responding to questions about the attacks.

An American tank fired on the Palestine Hotel early Tuesday, killing two cameramen and injuring three journalists.

As CBS News Correspondent Lara Logan reports, the hotel was the base for hundreds of journalists, including CBS News correspondents. As they rushed to help the wounded, reporters found themselves caught between caring for their colleagues and covering the story.

The Pentagon claims they were returning enemy fire, but none of the journalists at the hotel saw or heard anything to support that claim.

Less than a mile away, a reporter for Al-Jazeera television was killed when U.S.-led forces bombed his office. Logan reports that he was in the middle of a live broadcast. Nearby, coalition artillery battered the Baghdad office of Abu Dhabi television, trapping more than 25 reporters who phoned for help from the basement.

"I'm astonished and shocked," said Art Bourbon, news director of Abu Dhabi, speaking from the network's headquarters in the United Arab Emirates. "We've been in this office for more than two and a half years. Anyone going into military operations would have known our location."

Al-Jazeera chief editor Ibrahim Hilal said the U.S. military has long known the map coordinates and street number of his network's office.

Witnesses "saw the plane fly over twice before dropping the bombs. Our office is in a residential area and even the Pentagon knows its location," said Hilal, in Qatar.

Military officials offered different explanations for Tuesday's attacks.

At Central Command headquarters in Qatar, Brooks initially said the hotel was targeted after soldiers were fired on from the lobby.

Later, he told reporters, "I may have misspoken."

U.S. Army Col. David Perkins, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade, which deployed the tank, said Iraqis in front of the hotel fired rocket-propelled grenades across the Tigris River. Soldiers fired back with a tank round aimed at the Palestine Hotel after seeing enemy "binoculars," Perkins said.

More than 50 news cameras were set up on hotel balconies when the tank fired, according to Associated Press photographer Jerome Delay. "How can they spot someone with binoculars and not (see) cameras?" he asked.

Journalists said they heard no gunfire coming from the hotel or its immediate environs. They had been watching two U.S. tanks shooting across the al-Jumhuriya bridge, more than a half-mile away, when one of the tanks rotated its turret toward the Palestine and fired.

The round pierced the 14th and 15th floors of the 17-story hotel, spraying glass and shrapnel across a corner suite serving as Reuters' Baghdad bureau.

Killed were Taras Protsyuk, of the Ukraine, a television cameraman for Reuters news agency and Jose Couso, a cameraman for Spain's Telecinco television. Spain asked its journalists to leave Baghdad following Couso's death.

Tareq Ayyoub, of Jordan, died in the bombing of the al-Jazeera office, located in a residential neighborhood fronting the Tigris. In all, 10 journalists have been killed since war began March 20.

The wounded, all Reuters employees, were identified by the company as TV technician Paul Pasquale, of Britain, Gulf Bureau Chief Samia Nakhoul, of Lebanon, and photographer Faleh Kheiber, of Iraq.

Pasquale underwent surgery Tuesday at a Baghdad hospital for serious leg injuries, according to colleagues. Nakhoul suffered shrapnel wounds and may require surgery.

Further details weren't immediately available.

"Clearly the war, and all its confusion, has come to the heart of Baghdad," said Reuters Editor in Chief Geert Linnebank. "But the incident nonetheless raises questions about the judgment of the advancing U.S. troops who have known all along that this hotel is the main base for almost all foreign journalists in Baghdad."

In Belgium, the International Federation of Journalists said it appeared Tuesday's attacks may have deliberately targeted journalists. "If so, they are grave and serious violations of international law," said Secretary-General Aidan White. He also said Iraq, accused of using civilians as human shields during U.S.-led bombing attacks, may also be guilty of war crimes.

In Baghdad, an Abu Dhabi television correspondent asked for help from the Red Cross.

Reporter Shaker Hamed, in a live report, asked aide workers for vehicles "to evacuate us from this area which is being battered beyond belief and is expected to witness major operations tonight," he said. "We are the only civilians in this territory, a heavy battle ground."