US pressured to explain deaths

The US has come under pressure to explain the circumstances surrounding media deaths in the war in Iraq, writes Wale Azeez.

The move comes on the first anniversary of the US attack on Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel, in which two journalists died.

The demands also brought into sharp relief the dangers still facing journalists in Iraq almost a year after the war was declared over, as they now also face the relatively new risk of abduction by Iraqi insurgents.

This week, the Foreign Office re-emphasised its advice to travel to Iraq only “on essential business”.

BBC director of news Richard Sambrook and NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear wrote a joint letter to Donald Rumsfeld demanding publication of the US Department of Defense’s investigation into the Palestine Hotel attack.

In addition, relatives of six journalists killed by US soldiers, backed by Reporters Without Borders, wrote to Congress castigating the US Army for “not having co-operated sufficiently with British investigators, and so reduced the chances of finding out what really happened”.

The family members included Chelsey Lloyd, daughter of ITV News reporter Terry Lloyd, who was killed near Basra on 22 March; and the wives of ITV News cameraman Fred Nerac and interpreter Hussein Osman, who vanished on the same day and who remain missing more than a year later. The wives of Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk, Al-Jazeera correspondent Tarek Ayyoub and Reuters journalist Mazen Dana also signed the letter.

“Can we not expect a leading democracy claiming to defend freedom around the world to honestly admit its mistakes and take full responsibility for them? “We ask you to give us further information, reopen the prematurely closed investigations and take all necessary steps to see these tragedies are not repeated,” the families said.

“Unions representing thousands of journalists in the US called for an independent inquiry into these deaths,” Sambrook and Dear said in their letter to Rumsfeld.

The letters coincided with a day of protest on 8 April to mark the anniversary of the deaths in the hotel attack of Tara Protsyuk and José Couso, and to highlight the deaths of other journalists at the hands of US troops.

“The failure of the US military to provide an honest and open accounting of what occurred and make public their investigations in full keeps alive questions about whether US forces are taking the necessary steps to avoid endangering journalists,” Sambrook and Dear added.

“These questions are urgent because hundreds of journalists continue to work in Iraq, and their reporting is vital for the public to understand events in this post-war period. We await your response and the results of your investigation.”

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