Report: Shooting of Cameraman Tragic But Justified

From the archive (legacy material)

Reuters/Yahoo! | 22 March 2004

LONDON (Reuters) – An American soldier who killed Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana in Iraq was justified in opening fire, a U.S. army report said on Monday.
The report, made public seven months after Dana died, found that the soldier’s “decision to fire at Mr. Dana, though tragic and regrettable, was justified based on the information available to him at the time.”
Reuters said it could not agree that the death of Dana, a prize-winning Palestinian cameraman, was justified and called for the urgent implementation of recommendations in the report to improve the safety of journalists in war zones.
It said Dana would not have died in the shooting outside Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison on August 17 if the recommendations had been in place.
The Army report said the soldier, who shot from a tank, had a “reasonable certainty” that Dana was about to fire a rocket- propelled grenade (RPG), having mistaken his camera for a launcher. But it said the tank commander recognized Dana was holding a camera immediately after the fatal shots were fired.
The report concluded that lack of procedures for communicating the presence of journalists among U.S. troops contributed to the tragedy.
It made a series of recommendations, including better communication and coordination between U.S. units and wider dissemination of knowledge about the presence of journalists and other civilians in war zones.
Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger welcomed the thoroughness of the report but said: “In recent months the safety of journalists in Iraq has deteriorated significantly. To avoid further needless loss of life it is imperative that these recommendations be implemented immediately throughout all areas of conflict.”
Journalists working in Iraq say most of the recommendations do not appear to have been enforced although the report was completed several months ago.
Dana was the second Reuters cameraman killed in Iraq.
The first, Ukrainian Taras Protsyuk, died last April when a U.S. tank fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in the closing hours of the war to oust Saddam Hussein. Jose Couso, of Spain’s Telecinco television, was also killed.
Schlesinger said in a statement both Dana and Protsyuk’s deaths could have been avoided.
“We believe that the Reuters staff killed in Iraq…would both still be alive if the recommendation regarding improved communications between U.S. units in the field and the military’s high command had been implemented before their deaths.”
Dana had made his presence known to U.S. troops at the prison and the Palestine was widely known to be a media hotel. But this information was not passed the units that fired. Dana’s widow Suzan said in the Palestinian city of Ramallah: “I am not satisfied with the investigation at all. They said that Mazen did not do anything wrong, but at the same time they did not criticize the soldier who killed him. They are only trying to justify their actions.”
Schlesinger said in his statement: “The Pentagon must now accept that independent journalists will always operate in the field outside the embedding process and there need to be sensible and prudent measures to avoid them being killed.”
Schlesinger endorsed another recommendation in the report, for a review of the rules of engagement used by U.S. troops to reduce the risk of injury to non-combatants. The rules have never been made public by the Pentagon.
Other report recommendations welcomed by Reuters were weekly security briefings for media organizations and improved systematic communication between media and the military.
The Pentagon report said “sudden movements” by Dana and the glare of the sun contributed to the soldier’s decision to shoot him and the failure to identify a camera instead of an RPG.
Reuters says the evidence does not support these conclusions.
Two Iraqi journalists working for Dubai’s Al Arabiya television died last week after being shot by U.S. troops in central Baghdad. That brought the number of media staff killed since the start of the war in Iraq to 36, according to the International Federation of Journalists.
Schlesinger’s statement concluded: “The bottom line is that the military and media organizations must work together to improve journalist safety and ensure that it is approached on a programmatic, operational level that is relevant to all conflicts, not just the current one in Iraq.”