The International Federation of Journalists today described a Pentagon report over the killing of two journalists when United States troops fired on a hotel filled with media staff in Baghdad during the Iraq war as a “cynical whitewash” of the affair.
“While it is clear soldiers in the field were not to blame,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, “the political and military commanders who failed to tell them this hotel was off limits because it was home to up to 200 media staff were negligent and they have been let off the hook. This is a cynical whitewashing of a horrifying and avoidable tragedy.”
The Pentagon report issued this week said the attack was “a tragic and regrettable accident”, but the IFJ says the US has ignored the unanswered question as to why commanders did not tell their troops that the Palestine Hotel, one of the tallest buildings on the Baghdad landscape, was a centre for foreign media staff and should not be targeted.
The hotel was the base for scores of journalists covering the Iraq conflict. On April 8 as US troops moved into the centre of Baghdad a tank round was fired at the hotel hitting the15th floor. Taras Protsyuk, a Ukraine cameraman working for Reuters news agency was wounded and pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. A second cameraman, Jose Couso of the Spanish television network Telecinco, was working on the floor below. He was hit by debris and died from his wounds. Other media workers nearby were hurt.
The United States Central Command said this week that its investigation of the incident concluded that soldiers determined that an Iraqi "hunter-killer" team was using a spotter in the hotel to fire at them and was well within the rules of military engagement in responding.
“Of course, if soldiers had known the hotel was filled with news reporters, they would have understood why people with cameras or binoculars were at the windows,” said White. “But they were never told.”
The IFJ says that journalists worldwide still want to know why the information that the hotel was being used by journalists was not passed on to operational units. “The families, friends and colleagues of the victims have a right to know why this knowledge was not passed on and who was responsible,” said White.
The IFJ says that the report makes little of the false claims by US officials and press staff immediately after the attack that troops were fired upon first from the hotel. This version was revised only after dozens of journalists on the spot denied there was any shooting from the hotel.
“This whole event from the very beginning has been shrouded in lies and deceit and shows the continuing failure of the military and political authorities to take responsibility for what happened,” said White.
The IFJ’s action is supported by the Newspaper Guild / CWA, representing media staff in the US. Linda Foley, President of the TNG/CWA and Vice President of the IFJ, said that, “there will be no justice served or lessons learned and the incident will always remain marked by unresolved questions until an independent investigation has been carried out.” The IFJ and all its US media union affiliates are thus calling for such an independent investigation into the incident with specific recommendations on how to prevent this from happening again.
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The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries