More than five years have passed since the invasion of Iraq, since President Bush stood under the "Mission Accomplished" banner on that aircraft carrier. While these fifth anniversaries got some notice, another did not: the shelling of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad by a U.S. Army tank on April 8, 2003. The tank attack killed two unembedded journalists, Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk and José Couso, a cameraman for the Spanish television network Telecinco. Couso recorded his own death. He was filming from the balcony and caught on tape the distant tank as it rotated its turret and fired on the hotel. A Spanish court has charged three U.S. servicemen with murder, but the U.S. government refuses to hand over the accused soldiers. The story might have ended there, just another day of violence and death in Iraq, were it not for a young U.S. military intelligence veteran who has just decided to blow the whistle.
Adrienne Kinne is a former Army sergeant who worked in military intelligence for 10 years, from 1994 to 2004. Trained in Arabic, she worked in the Army translating intercepted communications. She told me in an interview this week that she saw a target list that included the Palestine Hotel. She knew that it housed journalists, since she had intercepted calls from the Palestine Hotel between journalists there and their families and friends back home (illegally and unconstitutionally, she thought).
Said Kinne: "[W]e were listening to journalists who were staying in the Palestine Hotel. And I remember that, specifically because during the buildup to 'shock and awe' ... we were given a list of potential targets in Baghdad, and the Palestine Hotel was listed. [P]utting one and one together, I went to my officer in charge, and I told him that there are journalists staying at this hotel who think they're safe, and yet we have this hotel listed as a potential target, and somehow the dots are not being connected here, and shouldn't we make an effort to make sure that the right people know the situation? And unfortunately, my officer in charge ... basically told me that it was not my job to analyze ... someone somewhere higher up the chain knew what they were doing."
She said the officer in charge was Warrant Officer John Berry.
Kinne's account directly contradicts the official line of the U.S. government. On May 2, 2003, Colin Powell, then secretary of state and a former general in the Army, visited Spain. He said of the Palestine Hotel: "We knew about the hotel. We knew that it was a hotel where journalists were located, and others, and it is for that reason it was not attacked during any phase of the aerial campaign."
If Powell was telling the truth, then why was the hotel included on the list of targets that Kinne says she read in a secure e-mail? Or was he just parsing words by saying it wasn't a target during the "aerial campaign"? Kinne also revealed that the military was spying on nongovernmental organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the International Red Cross, listening in on these groups -- also illegal -- and justifying the pretense on the grounds that they might by chance report on a cache of weapons of mass destruction, or their satellite phone might get stolen by terrorists. She also received and translated a fax from the Iraqi National Congress, the CIA-funded group of Iraqi exiles who were funneling false information about WMDs to the U.S. government in order to bolster the case for war. The intel was considered high-value and was sent directly to the White House.
Kinne has shown great courage and taken great risks to bring these revelations to light, to blow the whistle. She follows in the tradition of Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War. Ellsberg has called on government workers to blow the whistle:
"It's a great, great risk to have the amount of secrecy we do have right now that enabled the president to lie us into this war and is heading us toward a war that will be even more disastrous in Iran. And this is the time for unauthorized disclosures, which are the only kind that are going to tell us the truth about what's happening, and they should be done, in my opinion, on a scale that will indeed risk or even ensure that the person doing it will be identified."
The brother of JosÃƒ© Couso, Javier, has tirelessly pursued justice for his brother, traveling globally to make the story known and pushing the case in the Spanish courts. Kinne's revelations created a stir in Spain, where the jurisdiction of the case against the three U.S. Army members is being challenged. The video of Kinne's disclosures was downloaded and quickly translated for presentation the next day to the court in Madrid.
The Bush White House, we now know, used retired generals with ties to the Pentagon and to military contractors to deceive the U.S. public. Unembedded journalists in Iraq were a thorn in the side of the Pentagon spin masters. Might that April 8 attack been a message to them? Thanks to former Army Sgt. Adrienne Kinne, we may be closer to finding out.