How Itís Aired  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   December/January 2004

How Itís Aired   

By Lori Robertson
Lori Robertson (, a former AJR managing editor, is a senior contributing writer for the magazine.      

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   » The British Invasion

When Human Rights Watch released a report about the deaths of civilians in Iraq, many news organizations broadcast reports on October 21. Here's a look at how some played the story.


Video of U.S. soldiers forcing Iraqis to the ground in a raid: "Get down, down, down. Get out, on the ground...."

Correspondent RUSSELL TROTT: "Peacekeeping, American style. It may look aggressive, but it's designed to catch Baghdad's gunmen unawares and ultimately save lives."

A U.S. soldier talking to an Iraqi man: "You help me find the bad guys and all their mortars or we come back with our tanks and we drive through your fields and run over your houses."

Trott: "However, many Iraqis accuse U.S. soldiers of using excessive strong-arm tactics. And a report by the American-based monitoring group Human Rights Watch says they may have overreacted to perceived threats during house-to-house raids.

"And out on the streets, combat soldiers being used to guard checkpoints have resulted in the shooting of civilians who failed to stop. American soldiers, says the report, are operating with virtual impunity in Iraq, free to spray bullets if they feel cornered. Human Rights Watch says it has credible reports of 94 civilian deaths in Baghdad alone...."

Trott later says: "The Pentagon meanwhile has vehemently rejected any suggestion that its troops may have been behaving recklessly. A spokesman says American soldiers went to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian deaths even at the risk of their own lives."

View the complete clip at:

Fox News Channel

BRIT HUME: "And now the most compelling two minutes in television, the latest from the 'Wartime Grapevine.'

"Human Rights Watch, which warned earlier this year of a humanitarian disaster if the U.S. went to war in Iraq, is now denouncing American troops for using lethal force when ambushed by Iraqi insurgents and for behaving with, quote, 'unnecessary rudeness towards Iraqi civilians.' In a new report, the organization accuses the U.S. military of killing at least 94 civilians in Baghdad under, quote, 'questionable legal circumstances' and then failing to properly investigate those deaths. According to Human Rights Watch, only five high-level investigations have been concluded."

CBS News

Reporter ALLEN PIZZEY: "With ambushes and roadside bombs a daily occurrence, U.S. troops in Iraq operate under rules designed for war. A Human Rights Watch report claims that has created 'an atmosphere of impunity in which many soldiers feel they can pull the trigger without coming under review.' The 82nd Airborne in Fallujah was singled out.

"Fallujah was one of the last places in this part of Iraq to be taken over by conquering U.S. troops and initially it offered them the least resistance, and then something went wrong.

"For example, in April, 18 civilians killed and at least 78 wounded when 82nd Airborne troops fire on protesters. In September, 10 Iraqi police dead and 10 wounded when the 82nd mistakes them for the enemy. In the same month, south of Baghdad, two civilians, including a 12-year-old girl, killed in response to a shot through a door."

Fred Abrahams (Human Rights Watch): "I counted more than 177 rounds hitting this north wall, and over a 30-yard area. I believe that there was a disproportionate response by the 82nd Airborne."

Pizzey: "But that's how they are allowed to respond to anyone defined as hostile."

Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez (Commander, Coalition Forces): "It is our mission and it is within our rules of engagement to pursue that hostile force until he either surrenders or he is defeated or destroyed."

View the complete clip at:



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