Eyes Wide Open Film Series, Part III
Hotel Palestine: Killing the Witness
April 12, 2006
The Eyes Wide Open film series continued on April 12, 2006 with the documentary Hotel Palestine: Killing the Witness produced by Spanish television Telecinco. The film covers the attack by the U.S. military on the Hotel Palestine in Baghdad on April 8, 2003 killing Telecinco camera operator José Couso along with
Taras Protsiuk, a Ukrainian journalist for Reuters. (See the handout distributed at the screening)
The film starts with interviews of a number of Spanish journalists about the atmosphere in Baghdad shortly before the invasion. They were all nervous about being there, and at one point the foreign press got news of the fact that CNN was moving to the Palestine Hotel. This was taken as a signal that the Palestine was a safe place and all journalists move there as well.
The film then focuses on the days just before the attack on the hotel, with footage of both U.S. troops and the Iraqis noting there wasn't much of a battle at all in Baghdad as well as graphics showing the location of the hotel relative to other buildings, bridges, U.S. tanks and ongoing battles. The morning of the attack included the bombing of Al Jazeera's offices killing Tareq Ayyoub, the attacks on the Abu Dhabi 's offices with excellent footage of their rooftop camera being directly fired upon until it fell to the ground and finally the attack on the Palestine. With the hotel full of journalists the entire attacked was filmed, from both outside the hotel as well as in chaos in the rooms directly hit by the U.S. tank.
The final part of the film covers the initial controversial account of the incident by the U.S. Military, claiming the U.S. tank was being fired upon from the hotel. This was quickly debunked, as the hotel was 1.5 Km from the tank's position and therefore out of range of any sniper fire.
One of the darkest moments in the film was the press conference with Aznar and Bush, in which a Bush callously dismisses the incident with his famous statement, "I think war is a dangerous place."
Instead, the most inspirational part of the film was the reaction of Spanish journalists, who turned their backs on Aznar in Spanish parliament and held photos of Couso.
Following the film, we also screened one chapter from the Indy Media DVD, The War & Peace Trilogy, in which Amy Goodman spoke of the attack and compared the reaction among journalists in Spain and the U.S. In Spain, journalists went on a one day strike and hundreds of Spain's most well known reporters gathers in front of the U.S. shouting, "Murderer! Murderer!" In the U.S. on CNN, it was, as has become the norm, referred to as a regrettable mistake. NPR was no better, with Ann Garrels remarking that Al Jazeera journalist Tareq Ayyoub should have known better than to be in his office that day.
The film was well received and in the discussion afterwards there was no doubt that Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi had been targeted, though one person was skeptical of the idea that the Hotel Palestine was a deliberate attack on the journalists staying there. Most were convinced that instead the hotel was in some way targeted.
Another person spoke of the parallel with the Giuliana Sgrena case and it was noted that the previous Saturday, on the third anniversary of the attack, the family, friends and colleagues of José Couso organized a number of events in Madrid including a panel discussion with Giuliana Sgrena.
We talked about the recent report on journalists killed in Iraq by Reporters Without Borders noting the large number of Iraqi journalists killed. This is due to the fact that the few foreign correspondents left in Baghdad rarely leave the safe areas and when they do, it is with armored cars and armed body guards.
We also discussed the family's continuing legal battles against the U.S., with their civil case being recently archived by the High Spanish Court and their decision to appeal.
The candor of the film, considering it was produced by a private network and aired on TV was refreshing. Recommended!
To send a message of support to Couso's family, friends and colleagues, see the forum on the site: www.josecouso.info
Special thanks to Linux Club for their hospitality.
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