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Journalist committee says US military stalled investigations of deaths by F Stockman

Journalist committee says US military stalled investigations of deaths
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff | February 15, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The Committee to Protect Journalists yesterday accused the United States military of ''stonewalling investigations into the deaths and detentions of journalists in Iraq" and, citing prolonged detentions of journalists in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, ranked the United States among the leading offenders last year of press freedom worldwide.

''The press fared badly at the hands of US authorities," Paul E. Steiger, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal and chairman of the Committee to Protect Journalists, wrote in the preface of the group's annual report released yesterday.

In 2005, the US military detained at least seven journalists in Iraq, the group said.

Six were eventually freed without trials. Thirteen journalists have died at the hands of the US military in Iraq, often in incidents where soldiers mistook their cameras for weapons, according to the group.

The detentions of the journalists, including CBS cameraman Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, who remains in prison at Camp Bucca in Iraq, caused the United States to rank sixth among the world's jailers of journalists, behind Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uzbekistan.

The United States shared sixth place with Burma.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said that more than 100 journalists died last year while doing their jobs, and that 125 journalists were jailed in two dozen countries.

On Monday, Reporters without Borders issued a 21-page report highlighting the cases of Hussein and Sami Al-Haj, a cameraman for Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera who has been held at Guantánamo Bay since 2002.

Hussein has been in custody since he was shot by a US soldier in April of last year after filming the scene of an explosion in Mosul, according to the two press freedom groups.

Like more than 10,000 other Iraqis detained by US forces, he has no access to a lawyer until he has been charged with a crime.

Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable, a Defense Department spokesman, declined to give specifics about the cases of the journalists who were held.

''We don't detain journalists because of their occupation. We detain people based on their suspected links to the insurgents," he said.

The six other journalists, who included two Reuters cameramen and another from Al-Arabiya, an Arab satellite channel, were released because ''they were no longer deemed to be a threat to Iraq," he said.

Haj, 35, from Sudan, was detained while traveling with other journalists during the war in Afghanistan. Al-Jazeera has said he was detained in a case of mistaken identity.

Haj's lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, alleges that he had been abused during detention in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay and that interrogators were trying to get him to allege a link between Al Qaeda and Al-Jazeera, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Both press freedom groups raised questions about whether the United States was targeting Al-Jazeera, a popular Arab news station that US officials accuse of anti-American propaganda.

The US military bombed Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Kabul in 2001 and blew up a generator near its offices in Baghdad in 2003, killing one journalist who was on the roof of the building.

The US government has said that neither bombing targeted the news station, but Joel Campagna of the Committee to Protect Journalists urged the United States to build confidence with journalists in the Middle East by conducting an inquiry into the attacks.

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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