Letters   |   Iraq, USA

CPJ seeks Pentagon investigations in Iraq journalist deaths

April 26, 2010 

Robert M. Gates 
Secretary of Defense 
The Pentagon 
Washington, D.C. 20301

Via facsimile: 703-697-3501 

Dear Secretary Gates:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is disturbed by a video recently disclosed by the Web site WikiLeaks showing a U.S. military strike that took place on July 12, 2007. The attack killed an unspecified number of individuals, including Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his assistant, Saeed Chmagh.

Noor-Eldeen (Reuters)

CPJ has made numerous calls for thorough and transparent investigations into the deaths of these two men, as well as into all other cases of journalists and media workers killed by U.S. fire in Iraq. The U.S. military's Central Command said it has no current plans to reopen an investigation, Reuters reported on April 8. But in light of the fact that at least 16 journalists and three media support workers have been killed by U.S. forces’ fire, according to CPJ’s research, a systematic and comprehensive investigation is clearly warranted. The findings should be made public and lessons learned should be incorporated into military training to reduce the likelihood that journalists covering combat operations will come under fire.

The recently disclosed tape has been viewed by millions around the world. Several experts on international humanitarian law, including Amnesty International’s Malcolm Smart and Bibi van Ginkel, a lawyer and senior fellow at the Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations, have called for investigations to determine whether U.S. forces complied with international humanitarian law.

In the video, U.S. forces can be seen opening fire on a group of men—some of whom they said they believed were armed—killing or critically injuring at least a dozen people. We are particularly concerned that the troops in the helicopter mistook a camera for a weapon. This is not the first such claim by the U.S. military. In August 2003, a U.S. soldier killed Reuters photographer Mazen Dana after mistaking, according to the military’s investigation, Dana’s camera for a rocket-propelled grenade.

Chmagh (Reuters)

The WikiLeaks tape identifies one of the injured men in the July 12 strike as Chmagh. Soldiers are heard urging him to pick up a weapon so that they can fire. A van approaches to evacuate the man identified as Chmagh. Someone in the helicopter is heard informing a commander that the van is “possibly” picking up bodies as well as weapons. Despite the fact that no weapons are visible in the video, the helicopter is granted permission to fire and does so, killing Chmagh and several people in the van and injuring children.

It is crucial that any future investigation satisfactorily determine why an injured media worker who posed no threat to U.S. personnel was fatally shot as he was being evacuated from the scene of an initial attack, also perpetrated by U.S. fire.  

The attached appendix lists the 16 journalists and three media support workers who have been killed by U.S. forces’ fire in Iraq. (Another three media workers were killed by fire from the U.S. security contractor Blackwater Worldwide.) While we have not found evidence that U.S. troops intentionally targeted journalists in any of these cases, our research shows that the majority of the killings were either not sufficiently investigated or that the military failed to publicly disclose its findings.

In the aftermath of each of the journalists’ killings caused by U.S. troops, CPJ has called on the Department of Defense to perform timely, thorough, and transparent investigations. Unfortunately, the Defense Department has conducted such investigations in only a limited number of instances. Since May 15, 2003, CPJ has submitted six Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests to the Pentagon Freedom of Information and Security Review office as well as one FOIA request to the U.S. Central Command. Three of those seven FOIA requests remain unaddressed to date. In January 2009, CPJ also called on then President-elect Obama to order thorough investigations into these killings.

We renew our call for comprehensive, impartial, and public inquiries into all of these cases, including the events of July 12, which led to the deaths of Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh. These investigations would benefit both the military and the media so long as the lessons learned are integrated into future training.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon

Executive Director


Appendix: Journalists and media workers killed by U.S. forces’ fire in Iraq

Includes addresses to CPJ’s online database of killed journalists

Namir Noor-Eldeen, Reuters

     July 12, 2007, in Baghdad, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2007/namir-noor-eldeen.php

 

Saeed Chmagh, Reuters

     July 12, 2007, in Baghdad, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2007/saeed-chmagh.php

 

Khaled Fayyad Obaid al-Hamdani, Nahrain

     April 12, 2007, in Abu Ghraib, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2007/khaled-fayyad-obaid-al-hamdani.php

 

Mahmoud Za'al, Baghdad TV

     January 25, 2006, in Ramadi, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2006/mahmoud-zaal.php

 

Waleed Khaled, Reuters

     August 28, 2005, in Baghdad, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2005/waleed-khaled.php

 

Ahmed Wael Bakri, Al-Sharqiyah

     June 28, 2005, in Baghdad, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2005/ahmed-wael-bakri.php

 

Maha Ibrahim, Baghdad TV

     June 25, 2005, in Baghdad, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2005/maha-ibrahim.php

 

Dhia Najim, freelance

     November 1, 2004, in Ramadi, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2004/dhia-najim.php

 

Mazen al-Tumeizi, Al-Arabiya

     September 12, 2004, in Baghdad, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2004/mazen-al-tumeizi.php

 

Asaad Kadhim, Al-Iraqiya TV

     April 19, 2004, in near Samara, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2004/asaad-kadhim.php

 

 

Burhan Mohamed Mazhour, ABC

     March 26, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2004/burhan-mohamed-mazhour.php

 

Ali al-Khatib, Al-Arabiya

     March 19, 2004, in Baghdad, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2004/ali-al-khatib.php

 

Ali Abdel Aziz, Al-Arabiya

     March 18, 2004, in Baghdad, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2004/ali-abdel-aziz.php

 

Mazen Dana, Reuters

     August 17, 2003, in outside Baghdad, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2003/mazen-dana.php

 

Hussein Saleh, Al-Iraqiya TV

     April 19, 2004, in Near Samara, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2004/hussein-saleh.php

 

Taras Protsyuk, Reuters

     April 8, 2003, in Baghdad, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2003/taras-protsyuk.php

 

José Couso, Telecinco

     April 8, 2003, in Baghdad, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2003/jose-couso.php

 

Tareq Ayyoub, Al-Jazeera

     April 8, 2003, in Baghdad, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2003/tareq-ayyoub.php

 

Kamaran Abdurazaq Muhamed, BBC

     April 6, 2003, in an area near Mosul, Iraq

http://cpj.org/killed/2003/kamaran-abdurazaq-muhamed.php 

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