The International Federation of Journalists today vigorously condemned Israel over the killing of British cameraman James Miller by its soldiers almost two years ago, accusing the authorities of a “cruel and heartless whitewash” that has shocked colleagues, family and journalists around the world.
This week Brigadier General Avichai Mandelblith told members of Miller's family that the soldier responsible for the killing could only be disciplined for violating rules of engagement and changing his story about the incident – which he did six times. He said there was a lack of ballistics evidence to justify graver charges.
“This is a criminal response to the injustice of the death of James Miller,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It is a cruel and heartless whitewash and underlines once again the way the military, even from democratic countries, attack and kill journalists with impunity.”
Although the soldier concerned was questioned six times by military police and each time gave a different account of what happened, he did admit violating rules of engagement. An autopsy carried out on Miller’s body in May 2003 at the Israeli national forensic institute established beyond doubt that he was shot and killed at close range by an Israeli type bullet. The cameraman’s family says they will appeal against the decision and plan to launch a civil action for wrongful death.
“The Israeli Defence Force handling of this case is a mixture of incompetence and neglect,” said White. “We share the family’s dismay at the excessive time to complete the inquiry; at the secrecy over the army's initial findings; and the extraordinary failure to gather up critical evidence such as the rifles of the army unit involved.”
Crucially, the soldiers concerned were not asked to hand in their weapons for inspection until a month after the killing, and there is some evidence that the guns may have been swapped. The IFJ supports the Miller family’s contention that the evidence suggests the army ignored, destroyed or sabotaged vital evidence.
Although the IDF report concludes that an IDF lieutenant at the site allegedly fired his gun in breach of rules, “it is not legally possible to link this shooting to the gunshot sustained by Mr. Miller."
“The way this case has been handled is a disgrace and should itself be subject to proper independent investigation,” said White. “Miller died because of a reckless disregard for life on the part of Israeli forces.”
Miller, an award-winning cameraman was filming the demolition of houses for a documentary in the Gaza town of Rafah, the scene of earlier disturbances, when he was shot. Israeli army spokesmen initially said he was hit as troops fired in defence, but other witnesses say Miller and two colleagues were simultaneously filming and waving a white flag as they walked toward the tank.
At least nine journalists and media staffers have been killed in the Occupied Territories since 2000, all by Israeli gunfire. In most cases, the army has failed to conduct serious investigations or publicly account for them.
“This is an intolerable toll of willful neglect and disregard for the lives of media people,” says the IFJ which is supporting efforts by the International News safety Institute, a global coalition of media and journalists groups, to investigate ways to ensure independent investigation of all unexplained killings of media staff in conflict zones.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries