The International Federation of Journalists has declared April 8th – the anniversary of the attack by United States military on a Baghdad hotel filled with foreign journalists – a day of mourning and protest over the killings of journalists during the Iraq war and the “abject failure” of the Pentagon to adequately explain why journalists died.
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 and later when a secret US investigation cleared the military of any responsibility.
“The attack on the Palestine Hotel was a shameful incident made worse by US misinformation circulated after the event and the failure to take responsibility for this attack,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The families and colleagues of the victims demand justice and a proper explanation about what happened.”
The IFJ’s renewed protest comes as Reuters news agency has criticised the US military's investigation into the detention and treatment of its staff in Iraq in January this year, and the journalists are strongly backing the agency call for the US to withdraw statements suggesting, without evidence, that combatants posing as journalists had fired on US forces.
“These statements pose a serious threat to journalists everywhere,” said White. “They reflect the sense of impunity that exists within the US military that they can say what they like and do what they like when it comes to dealing with journalists, no matter what the consequences may be for the lives of our colleagues.”
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 seven journalists died during the war.
Besides the Palestine Hotel deaths, journalists are raising questions about the deaths of Tareq Ayyoub, 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.
The Reuters complaint concerns the maltreatment of two journalists and their driver who were arrested and detained for 72 hours by US troops who mistook them for enemy combatants.
"The US investigation of the mistreatment of Reuters staff was predictably inadequate,” said White. “It fits in with the pattern of willful disregard of available evidence, a rush to exonerate US soldiers and their commanders, and a complete lack of seriousness over the complaints of journalists and media.”
IFJ leaders are calling on journalists’ groups to protest to US authorities and to their own governments on April 8th. Journalists will also raise the issues of journalists’ safety with the United Nations and make new calls for changes in international law to strengthen the rights of journalists in times of conflict.
“The impact of the US failure to take the rights of media staff seriously is felt around the world,” said White. “It undermines the campaign by press freedom groups to challenge impunity in the treatment of journalists and sends out an appalling signal to governments everywhere that the legitimate right to report freely, even in war zones, can be set aside to suit political and military convenience.”
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries