On April 4, 2003, I was on the terrace roof of Al Jazeera‘s office in Baghdad. Blazing buildings and columns of black smoke delineated the horizon when I saw a cruise missile loomed up over the Tigris, whizzed by beneath one of the bridges and disappeared in the distance. I went downstairs searching for the office head – Jordan Palestinian Tariq Ayub – and told him that he probably headed the most dangerous office in the history of mankind. It would be easy for the Americans to stop his transmissions watched by the whole Arab world and which showed the civilian casualties of UK-US bombings. ‘Don’t worry, Robert’, he replied, ‘We are in touch with the Americans and we have given them the exact location of our offices so that they don’t blast us’. Three days later, he was dead. On April 7, when Tariq Ayub was broadcasting live from the terrace roof of the building, a solitary US jet came over him ‘flying so low that for a moment I thought it would land on the roof’ said Tariq’s colleague journalist Tayseer Alluni. The jet launched only one missile, straight onto the Al Jazeera’s offices killing Tariq immediately. It was no mistake.
This was nothing new for Tayseer, since he was Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Kabul in 2001 when a cruise missile struck his place, which was fortunately empty. Nobody doubted that this attack on a TV network that was broadcasting Bin Laden’s messages was entirely intentional. The day Ayub died, an Abrams M-1 A-1 tank fired a shell into Hotel Palestine in Baghdad killing three journalists. The Pentagon said the tank had been fired on from the hotel – a lie refuted by all the witnesses there.
This isn’t new for me either. In Belgrade in 1999, I was present when the U.S. Air Force bombed the National TV buildings - an action that, as I wrote the following day, meant that NATO reserved the right to attack people for their words rather than their deeds. What would it imply for the future? I should have known better.
When Al Jazeera emerged, Americans praised it to the skies, seeing in it the arrival of freedom among Middle East dictatorships. New York Times messianic editorialist Tom Friedman described Al Jazeera as a lighthouse to freedom – which is always dangerous flattery in Friedman’s mouth. For the White House, that TV network was a proof that Arabs wanted the freedom of speech. That’s true! And the Arabs also wanted to see and listen to the truths that their political leaders had concealed from them. So, when the Lebanese TV refused to broadcast a 16-episode serial about the civil war, Al Jazeera proceeded to show it!
However, when Al Jazeera started to spread the goals set forth by Bin Laden, all of Friedman’s and the State Department’s enthusiasm was gone. In 2003, Defense Undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz – that model of democracy that prompted Turkish Generals to demonstrate when the democratically elected government of Turkey refused to lend its territory for the US troops to invade Iraq – openly alleged that Al Jazeera’s journalists ‘were jeopardizing the lives of US soldiers’. Wolfowitz’s boss Donald Rumsfeld told an even greater lie: Al Jazeera was acting in connivance with the rebellion and its journalists had been warned beforehand about the ambushes against US troops. I spent whole days inquiring into it – it was false. But lying had become normal. So the first thing the new Iraqi government did was to show how democratic it was by expelling Al Jazeera from Baghdad, just as Saddam Hussein had already done in 2001 and 2003.
Naturally, Al Jazeera is not a journalistic model. But it is an independent voice in the Middle East, and that is why the US has tried to hush it up in Kabul and Baghdad and maybe in Qatar too. And that is the reason why many British reporters have been taken to court by ‘Lord’ Blair for having dared to reveal a thing or two about the sinister and bloody quagmire into which Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair have plunged us.

The Independent (U.K.)

No wonder al-Jazeera was a target”, by Robert Fisk, The Independent, November 26, 2005.