By: Mark Fitzgerald
Vice President Dick Cheney brushed aside criticism that military forces targeted foreign journalists in Iraq. Cheney spoke Wednesday morning to newspaper editors in New Orleans just as U.S. Marines were helping Iraqi citizens tear down a statue of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad.
“The suggestion that somehow the United States would have somehow deliberately attacked journalists is absolutely false,” Cheney said. “With all the efforts we’ve taken so that journalists can report [the war] in real time, the idea that we would somehow deliberately attack journalists makes no sense at all. You’d have to be an idiot to believe that.”
Cheney was responding to a question from Edward Seaton, editor and publisher of The Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury, at the annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE).
Cheney told the editors that the deaths of three foreign journalists Tuesday were an unavoidable consequence of war: “We try to remind people, especially reporters, that if you go into a war zone, there are dangers. We try to minimize the risks as much as possible … but unfortunately it’s the sort of thing that happens in warfare.”
In incidents Tuesday, Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk, 35, was killed when a U.S. tank fired at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, which is used by many reporters covering the war. Another cameraman, Jose Couso, 37, of the Spanish television station Tele 5, was wounded in the same shelling and died later in a hospital. An Al-Jazeera cameraman, Tarek Ayoub, was killed when a bomb from a U.S. air raid hit the network’s Iraqi office.
Responding to a question from Cleveland Plain Dealer Editor Douglas C. Clifton, Cheney also denied the Bush administration is “a foe of openness in government.”
“I do think it’s an unfair perception. It’s not the way I view our position,” Cheney said. He noted that a federal court upheld the administration’s refusal to detail the secret proceedings of the vice president’s energy task force. Cheney also said the administration demonstrated its openness with its decision to allow journalists to be “embedded” in U.S. military fighting units in Iraq.
“I can’t think of anything that better shows the free flow of information than this exercise we’re involved in now, this process of embedding reporters,” Cheney said. “If we were devoted to secrecy and keeping information out of the public, we wouldn’t have 600 reporters with the 3rd Infantry and the 101st (Airborne) Infantry and the First Marine Division.”
The embedding of reporters had “made for some outstanding reporting,” Cheney said in his speech to ASNE.
As U.S. troops entered the heart of Baghdad, Cheney said developments this week had answered the criticism of “some retired military officers embedded in television studios.”