US blamed for journalists' deaths

The killing of two journalists in a Baghdad hotel was the result of criminal negligence for which the US government is partly responsible, a media watchdog has claimed.

    Two journalists were killed in the US attack on the hotel

    Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a special report on Thursday that the Palestine Hotel killings were not

    a deliberate attack on the media.

    However, it said US soldiers should have been told by their commanders that many journalists were based in the hotel.

    Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk and Spanish television

    colleague Jose Couso were killed by the shell fired by a US

    tank in the Iraqi capital on 8 April

    .

    "The shooting at this building was therefore not

    deliberately aimed at journalists or the press in Baghdad, as

    some people have claimed," the watchdog said

    .

    'Criminal negligence' 

    "It was, however, an act of criminal negligence for which

    responsibility should clearly be established."

    The report called for a reopening of a US army inquiry

    which ruled last August that American forces acted "in an

    appropriate manner" when they fired into the hotel.

    RSF Secretary-General Robert Menard told a news conference

    that the US army's inquiry had done little more than

    excuse its own military of all responsibility.

    He demanded more access to information on the death of the

    journalists and added: "We have the right to ask a big democracy

    to shed light on what happened."

    The report criticised US authorities for maintaining before

    the inquiry that the reason for the firing of the shell was

    legitimate self-defence in response to shooting from the hotel.

    Official lie

    "This first version of events became the official version

    and was a lie by the authorities," RSF said.

    RSF says the Bush administration
    must take some of the blame

    The report said the key to the tragedy was that soldiers in

    the field were never told that a large number of journalists

    were in the Palestine Hotel, nor was it marked on maps used by

    artillery support soldiers.

    "If they had known, they would never have fired," RSF said.

    The report said Captain Philip Wolford, who gave permission

    for the shell to be fired at the hotel, and Sergeant Shawn

    Gibson, who fired the shell, were not responsible for the

    deaths.

    But heavy responsibility should be borne at a higher level,

    at the headquarters of General Buford Blount, commander of the

    3rd Infantry Division, "for not providing the necessary

    information that would have prevented the death of the

    journalists".

    US government responsibility

    RSF said since the US government had "supreme authority

    over its army in the field", it must also bear some responsibility

    for the shelling.

    The tank shell hit a 15th floor balcony used by Reuters

    international news agency in the 17-storey hotel.

    Reuters Ukrainian cameraman Protsyuk was wounded and died on

    arrival at a Baghdad hospital, and debris damaged the floor below,

    where cameraman Couso of the Spanish television company

    Telecinco was fatally wounded. Three other Reuters staff were

    also seriously hurt.

    A spokeswoman for Reuters said: "The main conclusions in

    this report are generally consistent with the finding of our own

    investigation which identified a breakdown in communications

    between military commanders and troops on the ground.

    "Since this attack, the safety of journalists in Iraq has

    not improved and we are taking every possible step, including

    actively engaging with the US military, to try and change

    this."

    SOURCE: Reuters


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