Journalists’ groups in Washington, London, Madrid, Brussels and other world capitals delivered letters of protest, petitions and held demonstrations today to mark the first anniversary of the American attack on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in which two journalists died.
They were responding to a call from the International Federation of Journalists for a world-wide day of mourning and protest over the unexplained deaths of media staff during the conflict and the failure of the US authorities to make public their own investigations which, where they have been carried out, have exonerated US soldiers of any responsibility.
“This is a protest against secrecy and impunity,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “But most of all it is a demand for justice on behalf of the families, friends and colleagues of those who have died. They have a right to know the truth.”
In all, seven journalists perished in four separate incidents of so-called “friendly fire” by US troops in Iraq since hostilities began in March 2003.Two journalists, Taras Protsiuk working for Reuters and José Couso, a cameraman for the Spanish network Telecinco, were killed in the Palestine Hotel, which was hit the day before Baghdad fell.
The attack provoked outrage among journalists and media groups when the US falsely claimed that troops had been fired on from the hotel. Besides the Palestine Hotel deaths, the IFJ is raising questions about the deaths of Tareq Ayoub, a journalist killed during a US air-strike on the offices of Al-Jazeera in Baghdad; the deaths of British ITN reporter Terry Lloyd and his colleagues Fred Nérac and Hussein Osman, whose bodies are still missing, in a fire fight between US and Iraqi troops near Basra, and the shooting by US soldiers of Reuters cameramen Mazen Dana in August last year. The killing of two Al-Arabya media staff by US troops last month, Ali Abdel Aziz and Ali al-Khatib, have raised further concerns.
“The attack on the Palestine Hotel was a shameful incident made worse by US misinformation circulated after the event,” said Aidan White. “It has come to symbolise the notion of impunity that characterizes official treatment of journalists in Iraq.”
The IFJ has published a detailed report – Justice Denied on the Road to Baghdad – outlining dissatisfaction within journalism about the failure of the US to properly investigate incidents in which journalists died and has called for new international laws to protect journalists and to investigate such cases.
Today letters of protest and petitions signed by thousands of journalists and media staff have been circulated to US embassies in a number of major capitals by unions and associations in membership of the IFJ. “We demand the truth, pure and simple,” said Aidan White. “There is no exemption for journalists and media staff when it comes to casualties in war-time, but we must have answers to the unanswered questions about why our colleagues died.”
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries