Reuters News Agency has submitted a letter to Senator John Warner (R-VA), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, requesting that Secretary Donald Rumsfeld address the deaths and arrests of journalists at the hands of US troops in Iraq when he appears before the committee this Thursday.
In the letter to Warner, Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger cites “a long parade of disturbing incidents whereby professional journalists have been killed, wrongfully detained, and/or illegally abused by U.S. forces in Iraq.”
U.S. forces acknowledge killing three Reuters journalists, most recently soundman Waleed Khaled who was shot by American soldiers on August 28 while on assignment in Baghdad. But the military say the soldiers were justified in opening fire.
Reuters believes a fourth journalist working for the agency, who died in Ramadi last year, was killed by a U.S. sniper.
Reporters Without Borders has the count at 72 journalists and media assistants.
Schlesinger is concerned that this atmosphere in Iraq is impeding journalists from properly covering the war and that this “creates a serious chilling effect on the media overall”. He also blasted the US military for refusing to conduct independent investigations.
Detentions of journalists are escalating with some spending time “long periods” in prison at Abu Ghraib or Camp Bucca without charge.
A cameraman working for the U.S. network CBS has been detained since April despite an Iraqi court saying his case does not justify prosecution. Iraq’s justice minister has criticized the system of military detentions without charge.
On behalf of journalists, media organizations have attempted to work on the situation with the Pentagon but the efforts have failed, says Schlesinger.
It remains to be seen if Senator Warner forwards these concerns to the Senate Armed Services Committee and, more specifically, to Donald Rumsfeld – whose scorn for the press knows no bounds.
Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Senate armed services committee, raised the issue at a hearing with Rumsfeld and top U.S. generals after receiving letters from Reuters and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and a telephone call from Paul Steiger, CPJ chairman and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal.
“I raised the question of the safety of the press in Iraq and their ability to carry out the very important function of reporting to the American people,” Warner told reporters after the hearing.
“I’ve discussed it with the secretary. He’s going to take it under immediate consideration,” he said.