UK court rules IDF shooting of filmmaker in Gaza was murder

New York, April 5, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists today renewed its call for Israel to properly investigate the killing of a British cameraman in the Gaza Strip after a London court found that his shooting by an Israeli officer was murder. James Miller, an award-winning filmmaker, was filming a documentary about Palestinian children caught up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when he was hit by a single shot in the neck three years ago.

London’s St Pancras Coroner’s Court concluded today that Miller was shot deliberately.
“Based on the evidence laid before us, we, the jury, unanimously agree that this was an unlawful shooting with the intention of killing James Miller,” the jury spokeswoman told the court, according to Reuters. “Therefore we can come to no other conclusion than that Miller was indeed murdered.”

An inquest is not meant to establish guilt but to determine the cause of death. Coroner Andrew Reid had told the jury the only verdict it could return was one of unlawful killing but that it had to determine whether Miller was murdered or the victim of manslaughter.

The Israeli army last April cleared an officer, identified only as Lieutenant H, of any wrongdoing in Miller’s death, drawing an official protest from the British government.

“It’s unacceptable that nearly three years after this shocking incident no one has been held to account,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The message here is one of official disregard for the safety of journalists. It is essential that the Israeli authorities conduct a serious and transparent investigation and bring those responsible for wrongdoing to justice.”

David Siegel, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, said Israeli investigators had found no evidence to proceed with a prosecution. “A thorough and extensive investigation has been conducted by legal authorities in Israel for over two years,” Siegel told CPJ. “It was concluded that they could not provide a basis for prosecuting under criminal law,” he added.

Miller was with a crew filming an HBO documentary on May 2, 2003 in the Gaza Strip. He and several crew members came under fire as they attempted to leave the area that evening. The crew members said they tried to identify themselves as journalists to Israeli troops in armored personnel carriers about 110 yards (100 meters) away. Miller was shot once in the neck and died from his wound.

The journalists said they were wearing jackets and helmets marked “TV,” and they held a white flag illuminated by a flashlight. The Israeli army said its troops were returning fire after being attacked with rocket-propelled grenades. An investigation sponsored by Miller’s colleagues, family, and friends—conducted by British security consultant Chris Cobb-Smith of the security company Chiron Resources Limited—concluded that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers “consciously and deliberately targeted” Miller and his crew. The report noted that the area where Miller’s crew was operating had been quiet for about an hour before he was killed. Prior to that time, sporadic gunfire was heard but not in the journalists’ vicinity. (See a detailed account of the shooting.)

In a disciplinary hearing last year, the IDF acquitted the unnamed lieutenant of improper use of weapons. Earlier, the military’s prosecutor general had decided against bringing criminal charges. The IDF said then that a military police investigation showed that the officer “allegedly fired his weapon in breach of IDF rules of engagement” but that it was not “legally possible to link this shooting to the gunshot sustained by Mr. Miller.”

The London jury noted that from the outset the “Israeli authorities have not been forthcoming in the investigation into the circumstances surrounding Miller’s death.”

Miller’s family has criticized the IDF for taking excessive time to complete their inquiry; for failing to make public the army’s initial investigative findings, and for providing only portions of the military police report into Miller’s death. The family also criticized the IDF for allegedly bulldozing the scene of the shooting hours after it occurred, and of failing to immediately collect critical evidence such as the rifles of the army unit that was involved.