Dear General Franks:
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about two recent incidents in which U.S. forces allegedly interfered with and mistreated journalists working in Iraq.
On March 25, four “nonembedded,” or independent, journalists—Dan Scemama, of Israel’s Channel One television; Boaz Bizmuth, of the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot; and Radio Televisão Portuguesa’s Luis Castro and Victor Silva—were detained by U.S. troops near Baghdad and forced to leave the country. The men had been previously traveling alongside U.S. troops, who detained the journalists at gunpoint about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Baghdad, some of the journalists told CPJ. They said the troops accused them of spying and detained them for more than 48 hours without food before flying them to a military base in Kuwait by helicopter.
At the time of the incident, the journalists had been heading south from Baghdad after U.S forces told some of them they could not work in the area without proper protection against chemical attack. The journalists reported that men they believed to be military police ordered them to lie on the ground face down. Castro alleged that the police kicked the journalists’ hands, kept them on the ground for more than 30 minutes, and accused them of being terrorists or spies. Their cameras, phones, and car were confiscated, and they were later forced to stay in their car for several hours.
At one point, Castro asked the troops if the journalists could phone their families. In response, the soldiers threw him to the ground, placed their feet on his hands, neck, and back, and then one of the soldiers kicked him in the ribs. He was then handcuffed, brought near a truck in the troop encampment, and forced to sit on the ground before being returned to the group. Castro said a first lieutenant by the last name Shaw later apologized, saying, “Try to understand, my men are trained like dogs—they just know how to attack. No hard feelings. God bless you.” When the journalists arrived in Kuwait, their material was returned to them and they were allowed to leave after several hours.
In a separate incident, U.S. troops detained Christian Science Monitor reporter Phillip Smucker and escorted him out of southern Iraq to Kuwait on March 27. Smucker, a veteran foreign correspondent who was also reporting for London’s Daily Telegraph, had been traveling in southern Iraq as an independent journalist with a U.S. Marines unit. Megan Fox, a spokeswoman for the Office of Public Affairs in the Defense Department, said that during an interview Smucker gave to CNN on March 26, the journalist had revealed information that “could harm him and the unit.”
Monitor editor Paul Van Slambrouck wrote shortly after the incident that he had “read the transcript of the CNN interview and it does not appear to us that he disclosed anything that wasn’t already widely available in maps and in U.S. and British radio, newspaper, and television reports in that same news cycle.” Slambrouck added that Smucker had conducted a similar interview with the U.S. National Public Radio the previous day without incident. While leaving Iraq under military escort, Smucker was denied contact with his newspaper and family, according to The Washington Post.
While we recognize that embedded journalists have been given special access to coalition troops, we are extremely concerned by these reports of harassment and violence against independent journalists. As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, we call on you to launch an immediate and thorough investigation into these incidents and to make the findings public. We reiterate our call that U.S. troops allow journalists to fulfill their professional duties freely, without hindrance.
We await your response.