Israeli army 'lied' about Miller death

From the archive (legacy material)

Mark Townsend | The Observer | 24 April 2005

Leaked report returns Gaza Strip death of British film-maker to the spotlight
Israeli soldiers stand accused this weekend of ‘lying’ and tampering with evidence in an attempt to obstruct an inquiry by military prosecutors into the death of British film-maker James Miller, according to internal army documents seen by The Observer.
A 79-page report by the chief lawyer of the Israeli army’s southern command into the shooting of Miller in the Gaza Strip details how soldiers questioned over the killing changed earlier testimonies. The version of events offered by the soldier originally implicated in the shooting, identified only as Second Lieutenant H, were so contradictory that his accounts were described in the report as coming ‘full circle’.
‘Evidence shows that Second Lieutenant H heard his soldiers lying in their testimonies during the investigation, and unfortunately did not mention that fact to his commanders, that his soldiers are giving them details that are not true,’ the report says.
In addition, the report alleges the barrel of the rifle understood to have been used in the shooting two years ago was changed. Rifles submitted as part of the investigation could not have been those used in the shooting because it was ‘impossible’ that bullets found at the scene in Rafah belonged to the weapons surrendered, adds the report.
‘It is important to point out that during the investigation a concern was raised, based on intelligence information, that some of the soldiers later changed the barrel they used during the event with a different barrel,’ it continues.
Concern over a possible cover-up is underlined by the disappearance of videotapes that would have been recorded by the army’s observation system and may have filmed Miller’s death. Despite several attempts to locate them, the tapes from 3 May 2003 have never been found. The report’s contents, disclosed here for the first time, come days after the Israeli advocate general announced he would appeal against a decision to acquit the officer of charges of misuse of his weapon. He was never charged with the killing after the Israeli army’s judge advocate general said that there was insufficient evidence.
Released on 7 April, the report was circulated to all senior Israeli Defence Force commanders, including the chief of staff.
Although the report stops short of recommending the suspect should face criminal charges, its catalogue of highly damaging revelations will tarnish the reputation of the Israeli army in the Occupied Territories.
The high-profile case of Miller has become a source of increasingly strained diplomatic tension between the Israel authorities and the British government. Last Sunday, Miller won a Bafta award for his film following the lives of Palestinian children during the intifada. He was shot just after 11pm on the last day of filming Death in Gaza .
The 34-year-old, who was wearing journalist insignia and waving a white flag when he was shot in the neck, was targeted as he emerged from the home of a Palestinian family in the Rafah refugee camp. Initially, Israeli troops claimed they had come under fire, accounts now disproven. Radio conversations from the day confirm that Israeli soldiers knew there were journalists in the area.
‘By allowing vital evidence to be tampered with, the Israeli army was complicit in my son’s murder,’ said Miller’s father, Geoffrey.
The report says that all the soldiers interviewed changed their testimonies from accounts given to an earlier inquiry by the military police.
‘Their versions paint a poor picture, to say the least,’ it states. ‘Not only that there are differences and contradictions between one soldier’s version to another soldier’s version, but there are also contradictions and differences within one soldier’s testimony itself, many times in the same version one could not find any coherence.’
By contrast, army lawyers said all journalists and Palestinian witnesses interviewed gave reliable accounts.
However, the Israeli army report said that they could ultimately find no evidence that troops exchanged weapons or attempted to obstruct their investigation. They also concluded that the results of ballistic tests meant that it was not possible to establish a ‘reasonable connection’ between shots fired by Second Lieutenant H and Miller’s death.
‘There is a real suspicion that Second Lieutenant H is the one who hit the deceased with the shots he fired, but after reviewing the evidence as a whole, I find that it is impossible to charge him with the legal responsibility for shooting the deceased,’ the report concludes.
The report also offers a wider insight into the operations of the Israeli army, in particular the tensions and lack of unity among soldiers stationed there. ‘There is a possibility that some soldiers were trying to frame others and “get back at them”, as this is a common thing between them,’ it says.
The report goes on to cast suspicion upon the army’s entire chain of command. Senior officers assumed without question that the soldiers when questioned were telling the truth. Attempts to explain the contradictions were based on assumptions that ‘they were confused because of the fighting,’ the report concludes.