US Forces 'Out of Control,' Says Reuters Chief
By Julia Day
The Guardian UK
Reuters has told the US government that American forces' conduct towards journalists in Iraq is "spiraling out of control" and preventing full coverage of the war reaching the public.
The detention and accidental shootings of journalists is limiting how journalists can operate, wrote David Schlesinger, the Reuters global managing editor, in a letter to Senator John Warner, head of the armed services committee.
The Reuters news service chief referred to "a long parade of disturbing incidents whereby professional journalists have been killed, wrongfully detained, and/or illegally abused by US forces in Iraq".
Mr. Schlesinger urged the senator to raise the concerns with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is due to testify to the committee this Thursday.
He asked Mr. Warner to demand that Mr. Rumsfeld resolve these issues "in a way that best balances the legitimate security interests of the US forces in Iraq and the equally legitimate rights of journalists in conflict zones under international law".
At least 66 journalists and media workers, most of them Iraqis, have been killed in the country since March 2003.
US forces admitted killing three Reuters journalists, most recently soundman Waleed Khaled, who was shot by American soldiers on August 28 while on assignment in Baghdad. But the military said the soldiers were justified in opening fire. Reuters believes a fourth journalist working for the agency, who died in Ramadi last year, was killed by a US sniper.
'A Serious Chilling Effect on the Media'
"The worsening situation for professional journalists in Iraq directly limits journalists' abilities to do their jobs and, more importantly, creates a serious chilling effect on the media overall," Mr. Schlesinger wrote.
"By limiting the ability of the media to fully and independently cover the events in Iraq, the US forces are unduly preventing US citizens from receiving information ... and undermining the very freedoms the US says it is seeking to foster every day that it commits US lives and US dollars."
Mr. Schlesinger said the US military had refused to conduct independent and transparent investigations into the deaths of the Reuters journalists, relying instead on inquiries by officers from the units responsible, who had exonerated their soldiers.
He noted that the US military had failed to implement recommendations by its own inquiry into the death of award-winning Palestinian cameraman Mazen Dana, who was shot dead while filming outside Abu Ghraib prison in August 2003.
He said that Reuters and other reputable international news organizations were concerned by the "sizable and rapidly increasing number of journalists detained by US forces".
He said detentions were prompted by legitimate journalistic activity such as possessing photographs and video of insurgents, which US soldiers assumed showed sympathy with the insurgency.
Earlier this week Reuters demanded the release of a freelance Iraqi cameraman after a secret tribunal ordered that he be detained indefinitely.
Samir Mohammed Noor, a freelance cameraman working for Reuters, was arrested by Iraqi troops at his home in the northern town of Tal Afar four months ago.
A US military spokesman has told the agency that a secret hearing held last week had found him to be "an imperative threat to the coalition forces and the security of Iraq".
The news agency has demanded that he be released or given a chance to defend himself in open court.
The US network CBS has raised concerns over the arrest of its cameraman, Abdul Amir Younes, who was arrested in hospital in April after he was shot by US troops.
CBS said it is concerned that he had no legal representation at the hearing and has had no chance to see the evidence against him.
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