Journalism watchdogs demand inquiry into shooting of cameraman by U.S. Army in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Journalism watchdogs called for an investigation Monday into the killing of a Reuters cameraman by U.S. troops. The military offered condolences, calling the shooting a mistake, but said its soldiers will not fire warning shots if they believe there is a threat.
Mazen Dana’s death sent a chill through the hundreds-strong community of journalists covering the U.S. fight against Iraqi guerrillas.
“I am deeply saddened to report the death of another Reuters journalist in Iraq — once again at the hands of U.S. troops,” Reuters Chief Executive Officer Tom Glocer said in a statement.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders demanded that Washington launch a full investigation and public accounting into the shooting of the 43-year-old Palestinian on Sunday.
Dana, a father of four, was shot and killed by U.S. soldiers while videotaping near a U.S.-run prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. The Army said its soldiers mistook his camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
In Dana’s hometown of Hebron in the West Bank, mourners lashed out at the United States Monday, stepping on an American flag laid out as a doormat at his family’s home.
“An American bullet prevented a father from seeing his 1-year-old girl take her first steps,” the slain journalist’s brother, Najeh Dana, said angrily.
Najeh Dana, 39, said the two had spoken by phone the day before his brother was killed. Mazen Dana was to return home soon, and was excited to see his children, particularly his baby daughter Bisan, Najeh said.
About 200 friends and colleagues marched through Hebron, holding photos of Dana and demanding that more be done to protect journalists. Some held signs saying “Don’t kill the truth” and “The occupations kill journalists in Iraq, Palestine.”
Dana was the second Reuters cameraman — and the 17th news organization employee — to die since the war began on March 20. Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk died April 8 after an American tank fired at the Palestine hotel in Baghdad as U.S. troops took the city.
The U.S. military recently absolved American forces of wrongdoing in that incident, saying they fired in self-defense. Witnesses said there was no gunfire from the hotel when an American tank opened fire.
“Coming so soon after the death of Taras Protsyuk, also killed by a U.S. tank — this latest death is hard to bear,” Glocer said. “That’s why I am personally calling upon the highest levels of the U.S. government for a full and comprehensive investigation into this terrible tragedy.”
The top U.S. military spokesman offered condolences to Dana’s family, but said U.S. troops would not fire warning shots when they felt threatened.
“I can’t give you details on the rules of engagement, but the enemy is not in formations, they are not wearing uniforms. During war time, firing a warning shot is not a necessity. There is no time for a warning shot if there is potential for an ambush,” Lt. Col. Guy Shields told a news briefing.
Reporters Without Borders demanded Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld carry out an inquiry that is “honest, rapid and designed to shed full light on this tragedy, not whitewash the U.S. Army.”
In New York, the Committee to Protect Journalists called Dana “a calm but determined witness who took constant risks in order to tell the world the news.”
“He was a great and well-respected friend,” CPJ executive director Ann Cooper said.
Dana was described by Reuters as one of its best cameramen and had won several awards for his coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was shot and beaten several times by Israeli troops, and acknowledged the risks of working in one of the most volatile areas of the West Bank.
Dana was killed by U.S. tank forces while filming outside the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, scene of a mortar attack the day before.
His last pictures, shown repeatedly on satellite television broadcasts seen in Baghdad, showed two tanks approaching, the nearest about 50 yards away when six shots rang out and the camera fell to the ground from Dana’s shoulder. Dana was believed to have been killed by the first shot, which penetrated his chest and left a huge exit wound in his back.
“I saw Mazen. He screamed one time, and he was putting his hand on his chest and fell down on the ground and start screaming,” said Nael al-Shyoukhi, who was working with Dana as a sound technician. “I saw him bleeding. I looked I saw the American soldiers around us, and I screamed to the same soldier who shot him, ‘Why did you shoot him? We are TV. You see him with a camera, why did you shoot him?”‘
No gunshots had been heard in the area before the military opened fire, al-Shyoukhi said.
“I don’t understand why they start shooting at us. It was his last day in Baghdad, he was supposed to go to Amman (in neighboring Jordan), meet with his wife and children for a wedding of his nephew in Amman,” al-Shyoukhi said.
In other developments Monday:
— Huge fires burned in warehouses in northeast Baghdad, where 50 gunmen looted spare parts from buses and other state vehicles and set fires, a guard told The Associated Press. Mohammed Jabber said an American Army patrol passed the area about 30 minutes later but took no action.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Associated Press writer Lara Sukhtian in Hebron contributed to this report.