The International Federation of Journalists said today that revelations about how an injured television reporter being rushed to hospital was fired upon by US forces in Iraq raises “grave new concerns” about war crimes and has exposed a culture of “secrecy and deceit” among military chiefs.
Terry Lloyd and his team working for Britain’s ITN network were caught in the crossfire of fighting just south of Basra on March 22nd. It had been thought that he died later of wounds received in that attack, but this week – six months after the incident – new evidence reveals that a civilian minibus taking the wounded reporter to hospital was fired upon. Lloyd was wounded a second time and was dead on arrival at hospital in Basra.
A British national newspaper The Daily Mirror, this week published information from a Basra businessman who says he told Army investigators Lloyd was not killed in crossfire, but he died later, after his vehicle was strafed by an American helicopter gunship.
“It is shocking that six months after the event, the truth is slowly emerging of a scandalous incident that once again points the finger at military incompetence, or worse, for the killing of journalists,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “If true, this incident is a war crime and those responsible must be brought to trial.”
The IFJ says that the military cover-up of the truth about what happened in the firefight on the road to Basra – including the disappearance of two of Lloyd’s colleagues, cameraman Fred Nerac and translator Hussein Osman, who are still missing and presumed dead by colleagues – confirms the suspicion that US soldiers implicated in the killing of journalists and media staff have been acting with impunity.
“There is a culture of secrecy and deceit at work which is denying justice to the families, friends and colleagues of the victims,” said White.
Last month, the IFJ condemned the US military investigation of a tank attack on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on April 8 in which two journalists died as “a cynical whitewash.” The US cleared its troops of any responsibility but failed to explain why senior officers had not told troops that the hotel was filled with foreign media staff.
“From the beginning there has been a policy of lies and misinformation,” said White, noting that for weeks after the attack US officials claimed they were returning fire from the hotel, when they knew that to be untrue.
Another attack on the Baghdad office of the Arab television network led to the killing of reporter Tareq Ayyoub. “Again there has been no satisfactory explanation for that incident – the third strike by US military on offices of Al-Jazeera.” Altogether 19 journalists and media staff have died in Iraq, with two still missing, since the campaign started in March and seven of the killings have involved journalists being fired upon by US troops in four separate incidents.
The Lloyd case has angered ITN management who have demanded an explanation from the Pentagon over why US forces fired on a civilian Iraqi minibus taking Lloyd to hospital. In their own internal investigation they also believe a US helicopter shot at the back of the retreating minibus. A US bullet hit Lloyd in the head while in the minibus. He had earlier been struck in the stomach by an Iraqi bullet after an exchange of fire when the ITN team came between US and Iraqi troops. The findings of the ITN inquiry have been handed over to US and British military investigators with a demand for a “comprehensive explanation of the course of events and reasons the minibus came under US fire."
The IFJ believes that the US military are flouting international law, which forbids soldiers firing on civilians or ambulances. Business Hamid Aglan, whose minibus was being used to transport, Lloyd told the Daily Mirror: "The helicopter pilot killed him. It should not have happened. The journalist would have lived if I had got him to hospital.” He said he picked up Lloyd after some Iraqi soldiers flagged him down and pleaded with him to take them to hospital.
“The secrecy surrounding all the cases in which journalists have died under fire from US troops must end,” said White. “Journalists and the victims loved ones want to know the truth and to be assured that justice will be done if the law has been broken. If the Pentagon will not come clean then an independent international process of investigation should be established.”
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries