Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is shocked by the death of Reuters television cameraman Mazen Dana, who was killed by machine gun fire from a U.S. tank near Baghdad yesterday. We demand a full, public investigation into this incident. According to several press accounts, Dana was struck in the chest while filming near Abu Ghraib Prison outside Baghdad, late in the afternoon on August 17. Dana had been reporting near the prison after a mortar attack had killed six Iraqis there the previous night. Eyewitnesses quoted by international media said that several journalists had been near the prison at the time of the incident and that a soldier in the tank fired on Dana as he filmed it approaching him from about 50 meters (55 yards).
Reuters quoted Dana’s soundman Nael Shyioukhi as saying that prior to the incident both he and Dana had asked for and received permission from U.S. troops in the area to film the prison from a nearby bridge. “After we filmed we went into the car and prepared to go when a convoy led by a tank arrived and Mazen stepped out of the car to film,” Shyioukhi told Reuters. “I followed him, and Mazen walked three to four meters. We were noted and clearly seen.” He then said that a “soldier on the tank shot at us. I lay on the ground. I heard Mazen and I saw him scream and touch his chest.”
U.S. officials have said that the troops mistook Dana’s camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Dana is the twelfth journalist killed in action in Iraq since the U.S.-led war began in March. Of that number, five were killed by U.S. fire. While we recognize the dangers faced by U.S. forces in Iraq, the preliminary accounts of yesterday’s shooting raise serious questions about the conduct of U.S. troops and their rules of engagement. From the eyewitness accounts, it appears that Dana was fired on without warning. He was filming in an area where no hostilities were taking place, raising questions about whether U.S. troops acted recklessly in targeting him.
International humanitarian law requires military forces in conflict situations, including U.S. soldiers currently in Iraq, to take necessary steps to avoid harming journalists and other civilians. U.S. officials have called Dana’s death a “terrible tragedy,” and have said the incident is under investigation. Under the circumstances, this investigation must be carried out immediately, it must examine the incident thoroughly and impartially, and its findings must be made fully public.
Hundreds of journalists continue to cover Iraq, providing the world with news about the ongoing conflict there. Their reporting–including television images such as those filmed by Mazen Dana–offers essential information for people all over the world. It is vital that you ensure that attacks like this do not occur in the future, and that journalists are given proper protection in accordance with international humanitarian law.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.
Ann K. Cooper