WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials on Tuesday offered their condolences, but not their apologies, for apparent military actions that left three journalists dead in Baghdad — including a correspondent for Arabic all-news satcaster Al-Jazeera.
“We have said for a long time, even before we knew whether or not there would be military action in Iraq, that a war zone is a dangerous place. Baghdad, in particular, we believed would be a dangerous place,” Defense Dept. spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said during a somber briefing in Washington.
With Tuesday’s fatalities, the number of journalists who have died while covering the Iraqi war rose to 10, including two prominent American correspondents.
Though shaken, U.S. news nets said they still have no plans to pull their reporters out of Iraq. Most of these journalists are among the more than 600 reporters embedded by the Pentagon with military units.
The only U.S. news net to have an official correspondent working independently in Baghdad is CBS News. The Eye’s Lara Logan returned to the Iraqi capital earlier this week from Jordan in a press convoy, after being expelled from Iraq in the days leading up to the war.
Logan was staying at the Palestine Hotel, where virtually all members of the international press are encamped, when a single shell tore into the building early Tuesday. Shell struck the temporary office of Reuters on the 15th floor.
Reuters TV cameraman Taras Protsyuk — whom Logan had known and worked with for many years — died, along with Telecinco Spanish TV cameramen Jose Couso. Several others were wounded.
CBS News senior VP Marcy McGinnis said she received a call from Baghdad early Tuesday regarding the shelling. She said Logan and the other reporters covering the war remain resolute, but that it is a difficult time.
“This is a test on many levels,” McGinnis said.
ABC News continues to rely on freelance correspondent Richard Engel for dispatches from Iraq.
Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, was quoted by Reuters shortly after the Palestine Hotel incident saying a U.S. tank had fired a round at the hotel after coming under fire itself.
Nearby, Al-Jazeera reporter Tariq Ayoub was killed when the news org’s bureau in downtown Baghdad apparently was hit by two U.S. air-to-surface missiles.
U.S. and coalition artillery also battered the Baghdad office of Abu Dhabi TV, trapping 25 reporters.
“I’m astonished and shocked,” said Art Bourbon, news director of Abu Dhabi TV, speaking from the network’s headquarters in the United Arab Emirates.
Al-Jazeera, one of the few independent news orgs in the Middle East, has come under stiff criticism in the U.S. for being a propaganda puppet for the region’s more extreme factions. In recent days, the criticism increased when Al-Jazeera aired Iraqi TV footage of American POWs as well as dead U.S. soldiers.
The Gotham-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) immediately demanded Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld launch an investigation into the day’s events, saying the same protection afforded to embedded journalists should be given to reporters operating independently.
“We also urge you to take measures to ensure that similar attacks do not occur in the future and that journalists are given the protections afforded under international humanitarian law,” CPJ said.
Bourbon, along with execs at Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, said they had previously given the U.S. military the coordinates of the news offices.
At U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar, officials said they regretted the deaths of the journalists.
“We don’t know every place journalists are operating on the battlefield. It’s a dangerous place indeed,” Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said when asked about the attack on the Al-Jazeera office.
“This coalition does not target journalists,” he added.
State Dept. spokesman Nabil Khoury, who is stationed in Qatar, said the strike on the Al Jazeera office was “a grave mistake.”
(Susan Crabtree in Washington and wire services contributed to this report.)