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Investigation Says Troops Justified Firing at Baghdad Hotel

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 13, 2003 – U.S. troops fighting their way into Baghdad April 8 were justified when they fired a tank round at a local hotel, an incident that killed two television cameramen, a recently concluded U.S. Central Command investigation determined.

The tank crew, attached to the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, was told that enemy combatants in the battle area near the Tigris River were directing rocket- propelled grenades and other heavy fires against the advancing Americans, according to an Aug. 12 CENTCOM news release.

The Iraqi defenders were putting up stiff resistance, the release stated, and were fighting for their capital city "without any regard for civilians and civilian structures."

American monitoring of message traffic on a captured enemy radio at the time disclosed enemy observers were in the area directing fire against the U.S. troops, according to the CENTCOM release.

Personnel from embattled U.S. units, the release continued, observed what they believed to be enemy troops directing fire against the Americans from the balcony of an upper room of a high-rise building. U.S. witnesses also observed flashes of light -- which appeared to be enemy fire coming from the vicinity of the building.

The U.S. tank crew fired one 120 mm round at the suspected enemy observer position, the CENTCOM release stated. Continuing monitoring of the captured radio at the time disclosed that the enemy was reporting being fired upon. Shortly after the tank round hit the building, enemy fire directed against the Americans ceased.

It was only "some time after the incident," according to CENTCOM, that the American unit became aware that the structure hit by the tank round was the Palestine Hotel a place many journalists were using as a base of operations while covering the war.

And the Americans didn't know until later, according to the CENTCOM report, that two TV cameramen, a Ukrainian with Reuters and a Spaniard working for Spain's Telecinco television according to news reports at the time, had been killed by the tank round.

The CENTCOM report concluded that the U.S. unit "had positive intelligence that they were under direct observation from an enemy hunter/killer team" and that "the activities on the balcony of the Palestine Hotel were consistent with that of an enemy combatant."

Baghdad fell to U.S. troops on April 9, but on April 8, the city "was a high intensity combat area," according to the CENTCOM release.

The release noted that U.S. troops had fired at the hotel in self-defense, consistent with the rules of engagement. It went on to say those journalists at the Palestine Hotel during the April 8 incident "had elected to remain there despite repeated warnings of the extreme danger of doing so."

CENTCOM noted that "the journalists' deaths at the Palestine Hotel was a tragedy and the United States has the deepest sympathies for the families of those who were killed."

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