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Rumsfeld says he will look into detention, shootings of journalists by Tom Regan

Christian Science Monitor, posted October 3, 2005 at 12:00 p.m.

Rumsfeld says he will look into detention, shootings of journalists

Reuters chief says US military 'out of control,' but journalists also face dangers from insurgents.

By Tom Regan |

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made a commitment during a hearing on Capitol Hill last week to look into the increased number of detentions and shootings of journalists covering the occupation of Iraq. Reuters reports that Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, raised the issue with Mr. Rumsfeld after he had received letters and calls from "Reuters and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and a telephone call from Paul Steiger, CPJ chairman and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal."
Gen. George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, also promised action, saying once he got back to Baghdad he would meet with a few local journalists and work through their concerns.

Last week in a letter to Senator Warner, David Schlesinger, global managing editor for Reuters, said the US military's conduct toward journalists was spiraling "out of control" and preventing full coverage of the war from reaching the public.

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." ... 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".
US forces have admitted killing three Reuters journalists in Iraq, but said soldiers were justified in opening fire. Reuters also believes that a fourth journalist was killed by a US sniper. Mr. Schlesinger said the military had refused to conduct independent investigations into the journalists' deaths, instead relying on the word of soldiers' commanding officers, who exonerated them. And he noted that the 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."

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also welcomed Warner's request for the Pentagon to address the question of reporters' safety. The CPJ said that US troops have killed 13 journalists in Iraq and "and in most cases the military has either not investigated or not made its reports public."

In addition, the CPJ had also documented seven cases in 2005 alone where journalists working for media organizations such as Reuters, AP, CBS News, and Agence France-Presse were "detained for prolonged periods without charge or the disclosure of any supporting evidence." The CPJ said this had been a regular occurrence since the start of the war in 2003. It also noted that four journalists are still being held by US forces, but they have not been charged with any crimes. As the CPJ reported:

Earlier this year, CPJ addressed another serious security issue in a joint letter with Human Rights Watch to Rumsfeld, which expressed "ongoing concern about the US military's failure to develop and implement adequate procedures at military checkpoints in Iraq." The two organizations added, "More than two years after the March 2003 invasion, flawed checkpoint procedures continue to unnecessarily endanger the lives of civilians and US service members."
The checkpoint issue also played a role in the death of Knight Ridder correspondent Yasser Salihee, who was shot by US soldiers at a Baghdad checkpoint in June 2005. The US military on Friday ruled his killing justified because the soldiers thought he might be a suicide bomber. Mr. Salihee, who was also a doctor, was on his way to get gas for his car to take his daughter to a local swimming pool.
Knight Ridder reports how his death was an example of how a number of small things contribute to a checkpoint shooting. The military had blocked an intersection in a dangerous part of the city on three sides but left a fourth open. Salihee was coming via this unblocked route. Eyewitnesses said Iraqi troops warned the car in front of him, but Salihee didn't know what was going on until it was too late. He also had his air conditioning on and may have been talking on a cellphone. The US military made a payment to his family of $2500 for his death and an additional $2500 for damaging his car.

But it is not only US forces that pose dangers to journalists work in Iraq. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) last week condemned the death of another Iraqi journalist in Mosul, the third in less than a week. Officials believe all three were killed by insurgents because they supported the move toward democracy. And just over a week ago a longtime correspondent for The New York Times was killed in Basra, probably by local militias.

"This has been another deadly week in the life of Iraqi media," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "These latest deaths only confirm that we are in the midst of an unprecedented assault on media freedom by so-called insurgents who have no respect for decency or democracy."
The IFJ, who has also criticized US forces for "hiding behind a culture of denial" about journalists' deaths in Iraq, says that 99 journalists have been killed since the conflict began in March of 2003, either by coalition forces or insurgents, or while covering clashes between them.

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