British inquest rules ITN reporter unlawfully killed by U.S. troops

New York, October 13, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the finding of a British inquest that ITN journalist Terry Lloyd was unlawfully killed by U.S. troops in southern Iraq three years ago. CPJ called on the U.S. military to reopen its own investigation into the shooting.

A coroner in Oxford ruled today that Lloyd, a veteran correspondent with Britain’s Independent Television News, was killed by U.S. fire on March 22, 2003, as he was being taken to the hospital in a makeshift ambulance after being wounded. Deputy Coroner Andrew Walker said he intended to write to the attorney-general and the director of public prosecutions in an effort to bring those responsible for Lloyd’s death before a British court, Reuters said.

Lloyd, 50, was traveling to the southern city of Basra with three colleagues in the early days of the U.S.-led invasion to topple President Saddam Hussein. He was operating as a “unilateral,” a journalist who is not embedded with coalition forces. The group, which included cameramen Fred Nerac and Daniel Demoustier, and interpreter Hussein Othman, drove in two marked press vehicles. They were overtaken by Iraqi forces near Az-Zubayr and soon came under heavy U.S. fire.

Initially wounded in the stomach by what was believed to be an Iraqi bullet, Lloyd was rescued by an Iraqi civilian driving a minibus and tending to wounded soldiers, the inquest said. The minibus came under fire and Lloyd was struck in the head and killed by U.S. forces while en route to the hospital.

“Terry Lloyd died following a gunshot wound to the head. The evidence this bullet was fired by the Americans is overwhelming,” Walker was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. “There is no doubt that the minibus presented no threat to the American forces. There is no doubt it was an unlawful act of fire.”

U.S. authorities did not allow troops to testify at the inquest, although several submitted statements that the coroner ruled inadmissible, the AP reported.

In Washington, the Pentagon said an investigation in May 2003 found that U.S. forces had acted in accordance with their rules of engagement. The findings of that inquiry have not been made public.

“The investigation was limited to the engagement of the vehicle Mr. Lloyd was traveling in. The investigation determined that U.S. forces followed the applicable rules of engagement,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros told CPJ.

Demoustier survived the incident but Nerac and Othman went missing. In June 2004, British military investigators said DNA testing confirmed that remains found at the site were those of Othman. Nerac is still missing, presumed dead.

“The coroner’s findings are alarming, and should trigger a comprehensive and public accounting by the U.S. military to determine whether legal or disciplinary action is warranted,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

Of the 120 journalists and media support staffers killed in Iraq since March 2003, at least 17 have been killed by U.S. forces fire.