Iraq: Reuters inquiry finds U.S. shooting death of journalist “unlawful”

New York, April 10, 2006—Reuters news agency said today that an inquiry it commissioned into the shooting of one of its journalists by U.S. troops in Iraq found that the killing was “unlawful” and a violation of U.S. military rules of engagement. The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern at the findings.

Reuters said the inquiry by Risk Advisory Group (TRAG), a European risk management consultancy, found the August 28, 2005 shooting of Reuters soundman Waleed Khaled unjustified.

“These troubling findings reinforce the perception that U.S. troops have acted with indifference or recklessness when journalists have sought to cover their activities,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The military has consistently failed to properly investigate the deaths of journalists at its hands.”

Khaled, 35, was shot several times in the head and chest by U.S. snipers as he drove with cameraman Haidar Kadhem to investigate an attack on Iraqi police in Baghdad’s Hay al-Adil district. Kadhem was wounded and was held by U.S. forces at an undisclosed location for three days. At the time of the shooting, Kadhem had been filming through the windshield with a small hand-held camera and at one point briefly leaned out the window, Reuters said. The car was then riddled with 17 bullets. An investigation by the Army unit responsible for the shooting said that the soldiers who opened fire acted within rules of engagement that allow them to fire if they feel under threat, Reuters reported.

The conclusions of the TRAG report were summarized in a Reuters story which said the use of force by U.S. troops was neither proportionate to the perceived threat as required under the rules of engagement nor justified. Khaled’s car was stationary when it came under fire. Ballistic evidence “supports the contention that shots were fired to kill or injure the occupants” rather than disable the vehicle, the report said.

“We conclude, based on the independent evidence and the evidence of Haider Kadhem, that no hostile act took place and no act could have been legitimately mistaken as indicating hostile intent,” the TRAG report said. “The engagement was therefore in breach of U.S. Rules of Engagement and, in our opinion, on the current evidence was prima facie unlawful.”

Reuters gave the report today to the U.S. military but said it would make only an executive summary available to the media. CPJ intends to review the summary.

The report also criticized the U.S. military for the conclusions of its own investigation, and for loosing Kadhem’s video footage, a critical piece of evidence that was taken from the cameraman.

Of the 67 journalists and 24 media support workers killed in Iraq since March 20, 2003, at least 13 journalists and two media support staffers have been killed by U.S. forces. Several of these 15 media deaths suggest indifference by U.S. soldiers to the presence of civilians, including members of the press, according to CPJ analysis. In most cases, the U.S. military has either failed to investigate journalists’ deaths or it has not made its inquiries public. The findings from the few investigations that have been released have not credibly addressed questions of accountability for shooting deaths, and whether U.S. forces are taking necessary measures to differentiate between combatants and civilians in conflict areas.

“We hope this inquiry will prompt the military to properly account for the death of Waleed Khaled and other journalists killed by U.S. forces in Iraq,” Cooper added.