Socialist Worker

Against embedding journalists

Cameraman José Couso was killed reporting the brutality of the Iraq war. His family is fighting for justice, writes Javier Couso Permuy

Issue No. 2090

My brother José Couso, a cameraman for the Spanish Tele5 TV station, was murdered in Baghdad on 8 April 2003 during a military operation by the US army.

These were the same soldiers that targeted the Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV networks and the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad – where all of the press that the Pentagon did not control were staying. Journalists Tareq Ayoub from Al Jazeera and Taras Prosiuk from Reuters were also killed in this attack.

The journalists are no more important than the thousands of civilian victims of the occupation of Iraq. However an attack against all the independent press in Baghdad – carried out by the same unit and in the same few hours – is significant.

To understand this we should look at the impact that journalists had on the Vietnam War.

Despite having the greatest military might in history, the US lost the war due to a combination of resistance in Vietnam and dissent within US society. War correspondents fuelled the growth of the anti-war movement.

Since then the establishment has increased its efforts to control journalism.

So during the 1991 Gulf War no cameras were allowed to go near the frontlines. Independent journalists had to watch from neighbouring countries, and the world received only information chosen by the US supreme command.

After 9/11, and during the invasion of Afghanistan, the US started to lose that control. This was primarily thanks to the emergence of new Arabic networks, such as Al Jazeera and Al Aribaya.

In response the US bombed Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Kabul – an event that has still not been subject to independent investigation.

During the preparation for the Iraq campaign a forgotten figure was revived – the “embedded” journalist, who reports from within a military unit.

Before and during the occupation of Iraq, the Pentagon and its international allies said that only embedded journalists would be guaranteed protection and safety. They told other journalists to leave the country.

Nearly 700 journalists accompanied the British and US troops in the invasion. But, stirred by the immense international demonstrations against the war, hundreds of journalists went to Baghdad independently to cover the war from the other side – a phenomenon of unprecedented size.

In many parts of the world, the surgical war that the US tried to sell us was challenged by the reports and images sent by independent journalists. These showed the harshness of the air strikes and the terrible impact of war on ordinary people.

Repeated images showing dozens of dead civilians began to worry US rulers. They feared things could worsen further if Baghdad were to put up a brave last stand.

This was a key reason behind the coordinated attack against the whole of the non-embedded press in April 2003 – the beginning of an assault on the media that has killed over 200 journalists, the majority Iraqi.

Through great violence the US has regained strategic control of information on Iraq, preventing normal journalism from being carried out and robbing us of first-hand knowledge of the conflict.

Fortunately some brave independent journalists and alternative media connected to the global resistance movement have kept open a small chink in the information wall.

Since we realised that the April 2003 incidents were a deliberate attack to prevent free journalism being exercised, our family decided we were not prepared to stay at home crying over our brother. Instead we chose to demand justice – both for José and his murdered colleagues.

Along with friends and colleagues we formed Brothers, Friends and Colleagues of José Couso, dedicated to demanding justice.

For nearly five years we have held monthly rallies outside the US embassy in Madrid, given hundreds of talks across Spain, and taken our struggle around the world. We have filed criminal charges for war crimes against José’s killers.

Our actions have produced some unexpected triumphs. Despite the size of the enemy we are facing, we have managed to get the Spanish high court to issue the first ever international arrest warrant against three US military personnel.

In December 2006 we also received the historic backing of the Spanish supreme court, which decided unanimously that Spain had the jurisdiction to investigate the April events.

The road ahead of us is long and difficult but we are proud that, despite his murder, my brother is still very much alive today, as a symbol of the fight against war crimes.

We hope that our social and legal advances will make future soldiers think twice before killing civilians or journalists – who are our eyes and ears in any war.

For more information and to support the campaign visit »

This article was translated by Luke Stobart

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Article information

Tue 26 Feb 2008, 18:57 GMT
Issue No. 2090
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