18 April 2005 — Media Lens
The BBC has published an online Newswatch article entitled ‘Has the BBC ignored weapons claims?’ (April 14, 2005, news.bbc.co.uk/newswatch/ukfs/hi/newsid_4390000/newsid_4396600/4396641.stm).
This is in response to a large number of emails generated by our March 30 Media Alert, ‘No Great Way to Die,’ (see under ‘Latest‘, http://www.medialens.org).
Unfortunately, the BBC has again failed to address the many specific allegations we forwarded to them of atrocities committed by US forces in their assault on Fallujah last November. We return to this point below.
The Newswatch article includes the following comments from the BBC’s director of news, Helen Boaden:
“Compellingly, Paul Wood has had meetings with the relevant specialists at Human Rights Watch, who have been very tough on the US military as regards abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Paul asked them specifically about banned weapons in Falluja. They said they had heard the claims, had made some investigations, and had found no evidence that such weapons had been used.”
We asked Human Rights Watch (HRW) if they could confirm these meetings and investigations. Joe Stork of HRW in New York, told us:
“1) we have not been able to investigate Falluja-related allegations regarding possible use of prohibited weapons, and therefore we are not in a position to comment on allegations that they have been used. In that regard, I am mystified by the PW [Paul Wood] story citing HRW as saying that we ‘had made some investigations and found no evidence.’ Perhaps Paul can shed some light here.
“2) the same would apply to alleged use of disproportionate force and the allegations of large numbers of civilian casualties. We have not been in a position to investigate this, and absent such investigation not in a position to comment.
“3) I’m afraid the same goes for the humanitarian plight of Falluja refugees: beyond noting that the Iraqi authorities and US/MNF [United States/Multi-National Forces] have a responsibility to address the humanitarian needs of those displaced by the fighting, it is not something we have looked into, as to whether those responsibilities are being met or not.” (Email to Media Lens, April 15, 2005)
Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst with HRW in New York told us that he had met the BBC’s Paul Wood on March 8 this year. According to Garlasco, they “spoke on a very informal basis” and, as he recalls, Wood “did not take any notes” during the meeting. (Email to Media Lens, April 15, 2005)
In light of these responses, the BBC’s firm assertion that HRW found no evidence of use of banned weapons in Fallujah after conducting “some investigations” is remarkable.
The Newswatch article is similar to an email sent to us by Boaden on March 17. As described in our March 30 Media Alert, we responded to her points.
This alert detailed several harrowing allegations of Iraqi civilians killed by US soldiers, including a six-year-old boy seen weeping over the corpses of his parents (see our alert for further examples). Boaden abruptly ended the correspondence, saying “I do not believe that further dialogue on this matter will serve a useful purpose.” (Email to Media Lens, March 21, 2005)
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. When writing emails to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Write to Helen Boaden, BBC news director:
Ask why the Newswatch article does not address the BBC’s failure to cover reports of alleged US war crimes.
Write to Paul Wood, BBC correspondent:
Ask for further details of what he discussed with Human Rights Watch and of the “investigations” that the organisation supposedly undertook.
Copy your emails to Pete Clifton, BBC news online editor:
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