New York, April 5, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain a copy of the classified investigation into the March 18 shooting by U.S. troops in Baghdad of two Iraqi journalists working for the Dubai-based Arabic satellite news channel Al-Arabiyya.
On Monday, March 29, the U.S. military said it had completed its investigation into the incident and accepted responsibility for the deaths of the two journalists, cameraman Ali Abdel Aziz and reporter Ali al-Khatib, who were shot in their car while leaving the scene of an attack on a Baghdad hotel near a U.S. military checkpoint.
A statement posted on the Combined Joint Task Forces 7’s Web site expressed “regret” for the deaths and said the investigation determined that the incident was an “accidental shooting.” Press reports quoted U.S. military officials saying that the soldiers who opened fire acted within the “rules of engagement.”
Abdel Aziz and al-Khatib were shot in their car as they pulled away from the checkpoint moments after a car driven by an elderly man approached the U.S. troops, crashing into a small metal barrier near a military vehicle at the checkpoint, according to two Al-Arabiyya employees at the scene. The employees estimated their car was about 110 to 165 yards (100 to 150 meters) away from the checkpoint, set up at the scene of a rocket attack on a Baghdad hotel, when the shooting occurred.
The military’s statement said the “investigation concluded that no soldiers fired intentionally” at the Al-Arabiyya car. The military has said that the full investigation is classified.
“While we welcome the military’s swift response, its investigation must be made public so it can be determined whether the inquiry was conducted fairly and comprehensively,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We remain troubled by the deaths of our colleagues and seek a fuller explanation of why these journalists were shot, as well as what officials are doing to prevent future incidents.”
In a March 25 letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, CPJ expressed alarm at the shootings, stating that the deaths of a number of journalists by U.S. forces gunfire “raised the issue of whether U.S. forces are adequately taking into account the presence of journalists working in conflict areas in Iraq and using appropriate measures to avoid endangering them.” The letter called on the U.S. military to immediately adopt a number of its own recommendations calling for improved communication among the military regarding the presence of journalists in areas of operation and a review of the Army’s rules of engagement.
While journalists in Iraq face myriad risks from armed insurgents and common criminals, gunfire from U.S. forces has killed at least six journalists.