The International Federation of Journalists today demanded that the United States “come clean” over its record of unexplained killings of journalists and media staff in Iraq following the tragedy surrounding the release of kidnapped Italian reporter Giuliana Sgrena.
“More than a dozen media deaths at the hands of US troops await proper investigation,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Until these cases are taken seriously there can be no justice for the victims.”
The White House has rejected suggestions by Il Manifesto reporter Sgrena that the attack by US soldiers at a checkpoint near Baghdad airport on her and Italian secret agents at the weekend, in which she was injured and one of the agents, Nicola Calipari, was killed could have been deliberate because the US opposes Italy’s policy of negotiating with hostage takers and paying ransom money.
The IFJ says there should be a thorough investigation into the incident and notes that US troops have been involved in a further 13 incidents where journalists and media staff have been killed. Few of these have been properly investigated and explained to the satisfaction of the families, friends and colleagues of the victims.
“The attack on our Italian colleague is another bizarre incident that leads to speculation about whether there is a strategic intent to bring free-ranging journalists to heel or just a frightening pattern of reckless and incompetent soldiering,” said White. “Either way, the US authorities must come clean and answer all the concerns of media and journalists about their actions.”
Giuliana Sgrena had been held hostage for a month was released after a deal between the kidnappers and Italian security agents. US coalition forces fired on their car near Baghdad airport. The White House said the car was travelling in a combat zone that coalition forces “have to make split-second decisions to protect their own security and we regret this incident.” The car was hit by around 300 to 400 rounds of fire.
The U.S. military confirmed the shooting saying that coalition forces fired on a vehicle approaching a coalition checkpoint in Baghdad at a high speed and said that details of the incident were "unclear."
Although the Pentagon says soldiers at the checkpoint tried to warn the vehicle before opening fire Sgrena insists that there was no warning. After the attack she was taken to an American military hospital for an operation on her left shoulder to remove a piece of shrapnel before being flown home to Italy.
Concerns over attacks on journalists have prompted the IFJ and Iraqi journalists group to organise protests worldwide and across Iraq on April 8th, the second anniversary of the US attack on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in which two journalists died, to press demands for all cases of violence, intimidation and killing of media staff to be investigated, independently and exhaustively.
Armed groups in Iraq have abducted at least 26 journalists since April 2004, when insurgents began targeting foreigners for kidnapping. Some 24 have been released. Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni and Iraqi television anchor Raeda Wazzan were killed.
Veteran French foreign correspondent Florence Aubenas of the daily newspaper Liberation and her interpreter Hussein Hanoun Al-Saadi remain captive. Aubenas appeared in a video aired four days ago pleading for her life.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries