Press conferences to be heard in Iraq
ARLINGTON, Va. — Pentagon press conferences will be broadcast into Iraq via Commando Solo, a U.S. military aircraft that is designed to transmit psychological operations messages into enemy airspace, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday.
Rumsfeld made the announcement at a special press conference in Washington that was for non-U.S. press only. That conference, he said, was the first to be carried “live to the Iraqi people.”
The secretary characterized his interactions with reporters who cover the Pentagon as “democracy in action; freedom in action.” The decision to broadcast the conferences was made “because the truth matters,” Rumsfeld said.
Since World War II, U.S. government funds have been used to bring news to countries where the media is controlled. The government’s Voice of America radio, or VOA, continues to broadcast to such countries.
But the use of Commando Solo to facilitate such broadcasts is a new twist in the Bush administration’s effort to get its message out to an international audience.
The EC-130E Commando Solo is a specially modified four-engine Hercules transport built by Lockheed Aircraft. On the tail of the EC-130 are four pods containing television transmitting/receiving antennas.
Commando Solo is flown by Air Force pilots but staffed by members of the U.S. special operations forces community’s psychological operations group. The group generates, records, and broadcasts messages designed to demoralize U.S. foes and prompt noncombatants to accept and support U.S. objectives.
During the Afghanistan campaign, for example, the “psy ops” personnel used Commando Solo to broadcast messages to Afghans extolling the virtues of the U.S. campaign against the Taliban, urging citizens to cooperate with U.S. troops.
Some Pentagon reporters said they were uncomfortable with the new broadcast policy.
“It’s a legitimate concern that somehow [the press] could be used to promote the administration’s message,” said Robert Burns, senior military reporter for The Associated Press. “Now we’re players. It could be an issue.”
But other reporters shrugged.
“What can we do about it? It’s a free world. They [the Bush administration] can do anything they want,” said a print reporter who declined to be identified.
Rumsfeld offered a glimpse Tuesday of the course future press conference may take in his opening statement, which he said was directed specifically “to Iraqi people who are listening for the first time.”
First, Rumsfeld assured his invisible audience that the reporters he interacts with are “independent journalists” who ask “tough and insightful questions,” without fear of reprisal by the U.S. government.
“When they leave, none of these journalists will worry at all about what will happen to them for what they asked,” Rumsfeld said. “They know that they are their families will not be threatened and that no one will be beaten or punished.”
“By contrast, Saddam Hussein’s regime is built on terror, intimidation and lies,” he said.
“America is not the enemy,” Rumsfeld concluded. “Our goal is peace, not war. … The choice between war and peace will not be mad in Washington, D.C., or even in the United Nations. It will be made in Baghdad by Saddam Hussein.
“We hope he chooses wisely,” he said.