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United States May 25, 2005
Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington , DC 20301
Fax: (703) 695-4299
Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:
We write again to protest serious abuses by United States and Iraqi forces of journalists who are trying to cover the continuing insurgency in Iraq.
In recent weeks, at least eight journalists, most of them Iraqis and many of them working as stringers for U.S. media, have been detained on vague suspicion for prolonged periods without any charges being filed. One, a cameraman for Reuters, has been beaten; another, working for Al-Diyar TV, may have been tortured; at least one has been the victim of attempted extortion by Iraqi police. CBS stringer, Abdel Amir Hussein, was shot and wounded by U.S. troops who said they mistook his video camera for an AK-47. Even after his identity had been established, he has been held for well over a month on suspicion of “helping insurgent groups,” though no evidence supporting this charge has been disclosed.
Mr. Secretary, ever since the Iraq conflict began, there has been a clear and unmistakable pattern of U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies mistreating independent journalists and blaming the abuses on the “fog of war.” One or two such incidents would have been understandable, but there have been literally dozens. To make matters worse, U.S. military officials have often hinted that Iraqi journalists collaborate with the insurgents or have advance knowledge of their plans to attack coalition forces; several journalists have been detained after explosive residue was allegedly found on them. Their detention has often been prolonged. But as our colleagues at the Committee to Protect Journalists have documented — in every case — the journalists have eventually been released with no charges filed against them. This pattern is both transparent and increasingly intolerable.
It is difficult for defenders of press freedom to keep track of all such cases in Iraq , particularly since both U.S. forces and the Iraqis insist on extreme secrecyand often refuse to confirm the identity or whereabouts of detained journalists. However, on May 5, U.S. army spokesman, Col. Steve Bylan, told Agence France-Presse that nine journalists employed by a total of seven western news media were then detained, and that some of them have been held “for several months.” On the basis of reports from several groups, including CPJ and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), these are the prisoners we are concerned about:
Abdel Amir Hussein , the cameraman working for CBS, was wounded in the hip on April 5 near Mosul covering an exchange of shots between an Iraqi insurgent and soldiers of the 1st Brigade of the US 25th Infantry Division. The first report said he was “waving an AK-47 and inciting a crowd of civilians.” After his identity was established, he was taken for treatment to a military hospital; three days later, however, an Army statement said he was being investigated as a possible insurgent supporter, adding that there were reasons for thinking he might pose “a serious threat to the coalition forces.” According to RSF, he is being held in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison and is being investigated for yet another positive explosive residue test and evidence of prior knowledge of insurgent attacks.
Agence France-Presse has said one of its reporters, Ammar Daham Naef Khalaf , was detained by U.S. troops on April 11 in Ramadi, and a photographer, Fares Nawaf al-Issaywi , was taken by Iraqi forces on May 1 while photographing in Fallujah, and then transferred to the custody of U.S. troops. No reasons were given, but neither has been released at this writing.
Sami Shouker Naji , a cameraman for Associated Press Television News (APTN), was detained on the morning of March 30 as he was working in Bakuba, north of Baghdad . An Iraqi army general said he was being held at Abu Ghraib prison for supposedly collaborating with the insurgents. Neither APTN nor his family have had any word of him since his arrest.
Hussein Al Shimari (whose name is also reported as Shummari), a reporter with the satellite TV station Al-Diyar, was detained by the Iraqi military on April 9 in Dyala province, northeast of Baghdad, on suspicion of collaborating with the insurgents. Al-Shimari was detained while he and his cameraman filmed a gathering at a mosque in Diyala. His editor said he was tortured. He has not been allowed to contact his family, which has not received any word of him since his arrest.
Ayad Al-Tamimi , the editor of the daily newspaper, Sada Wasit, and his reporter, Ahmed Mutare Abass , were arrested on April 12 on the orders of the mayor of the southern town of Kawit . Ibrahim Al-Srage, who heads the Association for the Defense of Iraqi Journalists, said the mayor sentenced Al-Tamimi to two months in prison and Abass to four months in prison for libel. The newspaper had carried reports about violent crime and the shortcomings of the municipal authorities. Both are believed to be still in prison.
Freelance cameraman, Hassan Walid Abdul Wahab , 23, who works regularly for the German TV station Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), was arrested — along with his two brothers and his father, a retired cinema operator in his 50s — by policemen who burst into their home on April 20. A relative said that, as a pretext for holding him, the police suggested Wahab could be linked to the abductors of three Romanian journalists who were taken on March 29. A policeman later asked the family for 10,000 U.S. dollars. We do not know whether Wahab is still being held.
Reuters Television cameraman , Nabil Hussein , was arrested by police on April 24 in the northern city of Mosul , along with another journalist and their driver. The driver, Ismail Ibrahim, said the police “put sacks on our heads and beat us.” According to Reuters, Hussein’s father was also arrested when he tried to visit his son a few hours after his arrest.
Mr. Secretary, the current rationale for the U.S.-led Coalition’s presence in Iraq is to establish a beachhead for democracy in the Middle East . This sorry record suggests that our forces and those of our Iraqi allies need to be reminded that democracy depends heavily on freedom of speech and of the press, however inconvenient the free media may seem to those in authority. We urge you to repeat in the strongest terms your own commitment to press freedom, and to take all the steps in your power to enforce this policy among our own forces and in the new government of Iraq.
Thank you for your attention. We would appreciate a reply.
Very truly yours,
Norman A. Schorr
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee
President George W. Bush
Office of the President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington , DC 20500
Fax: (202) 456-2461/2886
Gen. John Abizaid
Commander, Coalition Task Force 7
Fax: (011.703) 270-0270
Office of the Prime Minister
Fax: (011.974)- 442- 6864
Republic of Iraq
Hassan Fatah Pasha
David A. Schlesinger
Global Managing Editor
3 Times Square
New York , NY 10036
Fax: (646) 223-6339
524 W. 57th Street
New York , NY 10019
News Editor, Al-Jazeera
Fax: (011.974)- 442- 6864