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by The Gaurdian
Friday, Mar. 28, 2003 at 12:52 AM
Questions arise about the legality of bombing an Iraqi news station
TV station attack could be illegal
Wednesday March 26, 2003
Questions are being raised about the legality of the bombing of Iraqi television's main station in Baghdad. The attack appears to have been triggered by Washington's determination to pull the plugs on a vital propaganda weapon of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Amnesty International said that the bombing could be a breach of the Geneva Conventions. "The bombing of a television station, simply because it is being used for the purposes of propaganda, cannot be condoned. It is a civilian object, and thus protected under international humanitarian law," it said.
"To justify such an attack, coalition forces would have to show that the TV station was being used for military purposes, and that the attack properly balanced the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated with the incidental risk to civilian life", Claudio Cordone, Amnesty's director for international law, added.
The International Federation of Journalists described the attack as an attempt at censorship, and said that it may have breached the Geneva Conventions.
"I think there should be a clear international investigation into whether or not this bombing violates the Geneva Conventions," Aidan White, its general secretary, said.
"We have every reason to believe this is an act of censorship against media that US politicians and military strategists don't like," he added. The US would have targeted the television station earlier if it had been a military target, he said.
"There is no question that this attack reflects the anger and frustration of political leaders in the United States over the showing of prisoners on television, and the use of television to boost the morale of Saddam Hussein supporters," said Mr White.
The US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said earlier this week that the aim was to end the Iraqi regime's "ability to communicate".
Targets including Iraqi government communications and satellite links were described by Jim Wilkinson, a spokesman for US central command, as "key regime command-and-control assets".
Iraqi Satellite TV, which broadcasts outside Iraq, temporarily went off the air, while Iraq's domestic state-run television service resumed broadcasting with a weaker signal on Tuesday night as scheduled. Television monitoring services yesterday reported that state television was off the air again.
The defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, has said that he personally scrutinises targeting. His officials say that, under the law of armed conflict, only military objectives and combatants can be targeted, but "something that is normally civilian in use that is being used for military purposes may be a legitimate target".
During the Kosovo war, Nato bombers attacked the Belgrade headquarters of Serbian state television and radio in a raid, killing 16 civilians. The bombing, justified on the grounds that television and radio were being used as a "propaganda tool of the Milosevic government" was widely condemned.
Yesterday, Amnesty was also quick to attack the Iraqi regime in the light of reports that its forces had placed military targets close to civilians, and that Iraqi soldiers were dressed in civilian clothes to launch surprise attacks on US and British troops.
"Those who blur the distinction between combatants and civilians undermine the very foundations of humanitarian law," Mr Cordone said.
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