CPJ urges ‘vigorous’ investigation into Baghdad shooting

Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the events of March 4 when a car carrying the freed Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena came under fire from U.S. forces while en route to Baghdad International Airport. Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari was killed and Sgrena, a reporter for the Rome-based daily Il Manifesto, was wounded. Sgrena, who was held by kidnappers for a month, had just been released.

CPJ is writing to you to reiterate our call for a vigorous and open investigation of all questions regarding the shooting. Such an inquiry is made all the more necessary by conflicting accounts of the circumstances.

According to a statement issued by the U.S. Army’s Third Infantry Division, soldiers tried to warn the driver to stop before firing at the vehicle’s engine block. “About 9 p.m., a patrol in western Baghdad observed the vehicle speeding towards their checkpoint and attempted to warn the driver to stop by hand-and-arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots in front of the car,” the statement said.

Sgrena has disputed the military’s account in published comments. She said “there was no bright light, no signal” and that her car was traveling at “regular speed.” Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini also challenged the U.S. account, saying that the car was “traveling at a velocity that couldn’t have been more than 40 kilometers (25 miles) per hour” and that no attempts were made to warn the driver to stop, The Associated Press reported today. Fini said Calipari had “made all the necessary contacts with the U.S. authorities,” including officials in charge of airport security and military forces patrolling the area around the airport.

Since March 2003, at least nine journalists and two media support staff have been killed by U.S. forces’ fire in Iraq. The circumstances surrounding some of these incidents suggest that U.S. troops may have used reckless or indiscriminate force that endangered the lives of all civilians, including members of the press. In some cases, the circumstances also suggest a failure by commanders to communicate critical information to their troops on the ground.

In ongoing discussions with the Pentagon and U.S. military officials over the past two years, CPJ has urged the military to take steps to improve communication between soldiers and journalists in the field, and to closely examine its rules of engagement to reduce the likelihood that civilians, including journalists, would be killed. CPJ has also called for comprehensive investigations when journalists are fired on by U.S. forces.

We urge you to ensure that the military inquiry now under way in the Sgrena shooting fully and appropriately considers the conflicting accounts of Friday’s incident, and that investigators interview all witnesses and review all evidence in determining the facts. We also urge that the results of the investigation be made public in a timely manner.

We await your response and the results of your investigation.


Ann Cooper
Executive Director