April 8th 2003 is a date that haunts the world of journalism. It was a year ago that more than 150 journalists at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad came under fire from US forces. Two journalists were killed and three others wounded. To this day there has been no satisfactory explanation about why that attack took place. The US authorities have issued a whitewash report clearing their military of any responsibility – but they steadfastly refuse to make the report public.
In all, seven journalists perished in four separate incidents of so-called “friendly fire” by US troops in Iraq since hostilities began in March 2003. 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. 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.
But it is the attack on the Palestine Hotel, a shameful incident made worse by US misinformation circulated after the event, that has caused widespread anger and come to symbolise the notion of impunity that characterize official treatment of journalists in Iraq.
Earlier this year Reuters news agency 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.
In addition the television news station Al-Jazeera presented an IFJ-FAJ mission to Baghdad in January (IFJ-FAJ Iraq Mission Report Jan 2004) with a list of a dozen instances of harassment of its staff by the military.
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.
We are asking all member unions on April 8th to send letters of protest to the US embassy and to support the enclosed petition at national level. We ask you also to send copies of this protest to your national government and to seek national support for the IFJ’s call for stronger action to enhance the safety of journalists with the United Nations and to seek for changes in international law to strengthen the rights of journalists in times of conflict.