Is bombing Iraqi TV legal?

[JURIST] The International Federation of Journalists [advocacy website], the world's largest journalist organization, issued a press release Wednesday condemning a US airstrike against Iraqi TV late Tuesday (ET), several days after it broadcast video footage of US POWs:

Under international law television and radio stations may be targeted if they are being used for military purposes. However, the IFJ says that there has to be evidence that this is the case before attacks are made. The IFJ also dismissed suggestions that Saddam Hussein may be using television broadcasts to send coded messages to his own army. "The idea that Iraqi soldiers are sitting in the desert watching television to get their orders is absurd," says the IFJ. "But it shows the desperate lengths that some will go to justify what is a serious and dangerous escalation of action against civilian targets."
Unless used for military command and control, television stations and broadcast facilities would seem to fall outside the ambit of legitimate military targets defined by Article 52(2) of the 1977 Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions [text]: "Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives. In so far as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military of advantage." Article 51(5)(b) prohibits attacks "which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life ... which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated." For more on targeting broadcast facilities, see a recent Columbia Journalism Review article by Joel Simon, Should a Broadcast Station be a Military Target? and listen to a December 2001 program segment on the subject from New York public radio station WYNC.

 

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