News Agencies Concerned for Safety of Journalists in Iraq

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The conduct of U.S. troops toward journalists in Iraq is jeopardizing the safety of reporters and impeding full coverage of the war, according to two media organizations. Last month Reuters News Agency and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists told U.S. lawmakers that detentions and accidental shootings are limiting journalists' ability to operate in Iraq.

There has been "a long parade of disturbing incidents whereby professional journalists have been killed, wrongfully detained and or illegally abused by U.S. forces in Iraq," wrote David Schlesinger, Reuters global managing editor, in a letter to Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Schlesinger's letter, reported Sept. 22 in the British daily The Guardian, was sent to Warner just before the armed services committee met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and U.S. senior commanders. Prior to the meeting, Warner also received a copy of a letter from the Committee to Protect Journalists to Rumsfeld outlining several security issues facing journalists in Iraq.

According to the letter, 78 journalists and media workers, many of them Iraqis, have been killed in the country since March 2003. The majority of deaths are due to insurgents but at least 13 people have been killed by U.S. troops, including several who worked for Reuters.

Reuters' soundman Walid Khaled was killed Aug. 28 when his car came under U.S. fine while he was on assignment in Baghdad, Iraq's capital. According to The Guardian, the military said they were justified in firing on the car.

In the early months of the war, U.S. troops killed two Reuters veterans. Ukrainian cameraman Taras Protsyuk died April 2003 when a U.S. tank fired a shell at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. That August, an American soldier, 50 yards away, shot Mazen Dana, an award-winning Palestinian cameraman, while he was filming a U.S. convoy outside Abu Ghraib prison. U.S. military officials later said the soldier who opened fire mistook Dana's camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

Schlesinger, who recognizes the military's need to ensure troop security, said he believed the number of journalists killed by U.S. fire could be reduced with improved communication among soldiers and training.

"When Taras was killed, everyone in the U.S. military knew journalists were staying at the Palestine Hotel except the guy in the tank," he said. He added that soldiers who are trained to identify various weaponry could easily be taught to distinguish between cameras and guns.

Schlesinger and Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the detention of Iraqi journalists is an ongoing concern for international news agencies that rely heavily on local reporters for frontline coverage.

"The local media are the ones out there taking risks that include threats from insurgents and imprisonment," Cooper said.

In her letter to Rumsfeld, she wrote, "U.S. forces have routinely detained Iraqi reporters or journalists since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. In several cases, individual journalists have been held for weeks or months without charge or due process."

The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented seven cases in 2005 in which journalists were detained for long periods without charge. The detainees included reporters working for CBS News, Reuters, The Associated Press, and Agence France Presse.

Cooper said the number of imprisoned journalists could be higher. …