New York, May 18, 2004—Reuters news agency revealed today that three of its Iraqi employees were subjected to sexual abuse and humiliation in January, when they were arrested by U.S. troops near Fallujah while covering the aftermath of the downing of a U.S. helicopter.
According to Reuters, U.S. troops detained cameraman Salem Ureibi, journalist Ahmad Mohammad Hussein al-Badrani, and their driver, Sattar Jabar al-Badrani, on January 2. The men were released without charge three days later.
A cameraman working for the U.S.-based TV network NBC, Ali Mohammed Hussein al-Badrani, was also detained with the group, according to NBC News Vice President Bill Wheatley. Wheatley said that while U.S. troops mistreated the NBC cameraman, putting bags over his head and kicking him, he did not suffer sexual abuse.
According to Reuters, while their employees were detained, “[t]wo of the three said they had been forced to insert a finger into their anus and then lick it, and were forced to put shoes in their mouths.”
Reuters also reported that, “All three said they were forced to make demeaning gestures as soldiers laughed, taunted them and took photographs.” The employees also claimed that U.S. soldiers said they would take them to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that the soldiers “deprived them of sleep, placed bags over their heads, kicked and hit them and forced them to remain in stress positions for long periods.” One of the Reuters journalists said he feared that he would be raped because soldiers told him they wanted to have sex with him.
The employees said the abuse occurred at Forward Operating Base Volturno, near Fallujah.
According to Reuters, the employees decided to go public with the allegations only after the U.S. military claimed that there was no evidence of abuse, and after the recent allegations of similar abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison, near Baghdad, came to light.
At the time of the journalists’ arrests, U.S. military officials told journalists that troops at the scene of the helicopter crash had come under fire from Iraqi insurgents posing as members of the press. However, a military official said later that there was no credible evidence that the detained journalists were responsible for shooting at the troops. It is unclear whether U.S. troops mistook the Reuters and NBC journalists for armed guerrillas.
While the detentions were widely reported, many of the specific allegations of abuse were not made public until today. On January 21, CPJ sent a letter to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez urging him “to ensure that [the investigation into the abuse of the Reuters journalists] is conducted in a thorough and expeditious manner in order to address growing concerns about the conduct of U.S. forces toward working journalists in Iraq.”
In a summary of its investigation dated January 28 and sent to Reuters, the military said it had interviewed the soldiers responsible for the detainees, and that “none admit or report knowledge of physical abuse or torture.” However, the U.S. military did not interview any of the detainees as part of its investigation.
Yesterday, Reuters received a letter from Lt. General Sanchez dated March 5 claiming that the initial military investigation had been “thorough and complete.”
“The U.S. military’s superficial investigation is an affront to the dignity of these journalists, whose allegations are extremely serious,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Clearly, a more vigorous investigation is called for, along with punishment for anyone found responsible for abuse.”
NBC’s Wheatley told CPJ that NBC has sent several letters to U.S. military officials but has yet to see the results of the investigation.
Also yesterday, CPJ released a detailed report about the dangers faced by Iraqi journalists, who regularly endure harassment, threats, and attacks from both U.S. troops and Iraqi insurgents.
CPJ is investigating other incidents of alleged abuse of Iraqi journalists by U.S. troops, including the case of Al-Jazeera cameraman Suhaib al-Baz, who in a recent interview claimed that he had also been abused while in U.S. custody.