IFJ Condemns Secrecy and “Denial of Justice” As US Clears Soldiers Who Killed Journalist in Iraq

An action taken by United States military investigators clearing US soldiers of any responsibility for the killing of Mazen Dana, an award-winning cameraman shot dead last month outside a Baghdad prison, has been attacked as “arrogant, secretive and a denial of justice” by the International Federation of Journalists today.

An internal military report clears the soldiers who killed Dana saying they thought his camera was a launcher for rocket-propelled grenades and says the incident was “regrettable”. However, the military is refusing to release the full report to the public.

“This is the arrogant and secretive style of power exercised without any responsibility,” said Aidan, White, IFJ General Secretary. “It is a scandalous denial of justice that will only reinforce demands for changes to international rules to provide more protection for journalists and media staff in conflict areas.”

Eyewitnesses challenge the report’s findings. Dana’s colleagues said the fatal shots were fired from a tank 30 metres away. They said television cameras do not look like rocket propelled grenade launchers and in broad daylight at such close range, it would have been impossible to confuse the two.

The IFJ says the report is the latest example of the military’s “casual disregard” for the killing of journalists by US soldiers in Iraq. The attack on the Palestine Hotel on April 8th led to two deaths and a report, which the IFJ condemned as a “cynical whitewash.” The US attack on the offices of the Al-Jazeera television network the same day in which a journalist was killed has not yet brought any satisfactory explanation. Reports are still awaited over the killing of ITN journalist Terry Lloyd and the fate of two missing colleagues in an incident outside Basra on March 22nd.

The Mazen Dana killing has added to concerns over military treatment of journalists. He was part of a Reuters team that went to the Abu Ghraib prison, on the western outskirts of Baghdad, to investigate a suspicious incident reported the day before, in which the US authorities said three mortar bombs fired at the prison had killed six prisoners and wounded some 60 others. The Reuters team identified themselves to US soldiers guarding the perimeter of the prison. They were refused permission to film inside the prison, but were told they could film an overview of the prison from a nearby bridge.

Nael al-Shyouki, a Reuters soundman working with Dana, said: “After we filmed, we went into the car and prepared to go when a convoy led by a tank arrived and Mazen stepped out of the car to film. I followed him. We were noted and seen clearly.” He said the American soldiers “saw us and they knew about our identities and mission”.

Dana, married with four children, was a veteran of numerous assignments working in dangerous conditions under military occupation. During 14 years working for Reuters in Palestine, he survived bullet wounds and beatings inflicted by Israeli authorities, who sought to block his reporting of attacks on Palestinians.

“This death deserves a full and proper investigation by independent authorities,” said Aidan White. “The chaos of war cannot be used to cover up this appalling incident.”

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries