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Journalists and the First Amendment: Facing their Demise


By: Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich


Since the Iraqi invasion, the US army has taken aim at journalists - foreign ones.  The number of casualties has prompted one European country to issue an international arrest warrant against three American soldiers who fired at the Palestine hotel, the base for almost all the foreign media crews in Baghdad.  Their fire killed a Spanish TV network crew member and a Ukrainian camera man working for Reuters.


This was not an isolated incident.


American soldiers shot and wounded Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena as she was headed for Baghdad airport in April 2005.  There is a great deal of controversy surrounding this shooting - unresolved.


In June 2005, American troops opened fire on and killed an Iraqi television journalist.  Ahmed Wael Bakri. He was buried dreaming of a democracy that would afford him free speech, a free press - the First Amendment he had hoped would be integrated in the Iraqi constitution by the Americans.  He sealed an empty promise with his death.

On October 30, 2003, al-Jazeera accused US-led forces in Iraq of harassment, after one of its journalists was detained.  Their cameraman, Samer Hamza was freed after two days in custody.  They claim to have had "more than 15 arrests in recent months".  And the list goes on.

The silence of Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans Frontiers) in all instances is deafening...

The American army is at war to promote democracy - a democracy fashioned after its own, the great American Constitution is the driving force..  Does the First Amendment ring a bell with anyone? Freedom of Speech, Press, Assembly and all that good stuff....

Course, press has taken on a new meaning these days.

According to a New York Times report (March 13, 2005)[1], the State Department under Bush is responsible for creating 'happy' news to buy support for his invasion of Iraq.  The footage is taken in the U.S. so as to paint a rosy picture of the war. As such, all efforts that may bring to light the reality of this ugly war must be hindered, including killing reporters.  The same NYT article states: "[A] senior department official, Patricia Harrison, told Congress last year, the Bush administration has come to regard such "good news" segments as "powerful strategic tools" for influencing public opinion. And a review of the department's segments reveals a body of work in sync with the political objectives set forth by the White House communications team after 9/11. In June 2003, for example, the unit produced a segment that depicted American efforts to distribute food and water to the people of southern Iraq."  

The blood, sweat and tears that were shed for there to be a First Amendment!

In a different country the killing of a Canadian-Iranian journalist, Zahra Kazemi, by culprits in the Islamic Republic of Iran caused an uproar.  Rightly so.  It was reprehensible, immoral.  For over 25 years Iran has been accused of being oppressive, of violating human rights, and of being non-democratic.  The crime against Kazemi who ventured to an area where it was off limits, caused shock-waves around the world.  Even at that, Iran reacted with denial, aware of the shame of this act.  Yet, we take the killing of the reporters in Iraq by American troops in strides.

The shooting of journalists by us, as we trumpet that we are the 'beacon of democracy', without cause and without restitution, offering only contempt and arrogance to the victims' families in response for their bewilderment, is an assault on out First Amendment.  Our First Amendment is being executed alongside these reporters, silently, but surely - sadly, we are oblivious to the blood that it sealing this tragedy in our history.    


[1] Barstow, David and Robin Stein. "Under Bush, A new Age of Prepackaged Television News". New York Times. Early Ed. 13 March 2005

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