New York, October 8, 2003—Exactly six months after the U.S. shelled the Palestine Hotel in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, and an air strike hit the Baghdad bureau of the Qatar-based satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) filed three new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests related to the incidents with the U.S. Defense Department.

In addition, CPJ reiterated its recommendations, including urging U.S. Central Command (Centcom) to ensure that U.S. forces take all necessary precautions to avoid harming members of the media.

The FOIA requests seek information regarding the two April 8 attacks, as well as the August 17 killing of Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana by a machine-gunner near the Abu Ghraib Prison, outside Baghdad, and the March 22 death of British ITV News reporter Terry Lloyd, whose two colleagues remain missing. The requests seek information, including but not limited to military investigations that have been conducted into these incidents, the details of which U.S. officials have not made public.

CPJ was disturbed to discover this week that no investigation into the attack on Al-Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau has been launched. CPJ calls on the U.S. Defense Department and Centcom to ensure that a thorough and public investigation is started immediately.

José Couso, a cameraman with Spanish television station Telecinco, and Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk were killed on April 8 when a U.S. tank fired on the Palestine Hotel, where the majority of the international press corps in Iraq was headquartered during the U.S.-led war. (see CPJ’s investigation of the Palestine Hotel attack.) Al-Jazeera correspondent Tareq Ayyoub was killed earlier that morning when U.S. aircraft bombed the Baghdad bureau’s generator.

In addition to Ayyoub, Couso, Dana, and Protsyuk, recent information indicates that U.S. and Iraqi forces may also be responsible for the death of ITV News’s Lloyd.

Twelve journalists have been killed in action since the U.S.-led war in Iraq began on March 19. While these deaths have called attention to the well-known dangers associated with covering conflict, the deaths of Ayyoub, Cuoso, Dana, Lloyd, and Protsyuk have raised troubling questions about the conduct of U.S. troops and whether they have taken adequate precautions, as required under international humanitarian law, to avoid endangering media workers.

To date—and despite CPJ’s earlier FOIA request for information about the attacks on the Palestine Hotel and Al-Jazeera—U.S. military authorities have provided only summary explanations, or, in some instances, no explanation at all, for these deaths, leaving many questions unanswered.

“The failure of the U.S. military to provide an honest and open accounting of what occurred keeps alive questions about whether U.S. forces are taking the necessary steps to avoid endangering journalists,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “These questions are urgent because hundreds of journalists continue to work in Iraq, and their reporting is vital for the world’s understanding of events in this post-war period.”

Postwar safety
In the post-combat phase in Iraq, U.S. troops are understandably tense, with more than 90 soldiers killed in guerrilla attacks since May 1. At he same time, however, as the occupying power, U.S. forces are bound to uphold international humanitarian law by taking all necessary steps to avoid harming journalists and other civilians.

To that end, CPJ calls on U.S. officials at the Pentagon and at Centcom to adopt the following recommendations:

  • Ensure that U.S. troops take all necessary measures to avoid harming members of the media;
  • Order U.S. commanders to review their operational guidelines and rules of engagement to address the need to pay special attention to protecting journalists; and
  • Work closely with journalists and media organizations to establish guidelines for how journalists should interact with troops on the ground and how they can avoid being harmed.