July 15, 2024

Press Freedom

United States

United States November 27, 2006

Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington , DC 20301
Fax: (703) 695-4299

Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:

Before you leave office as Secretary of Defense, the Overseas Press Club of America hopes you will take firm steps to end abuses by the U.S. military of journalists working in Iraq . In particular, we join the International Federation of Journalists and other press freedom groups in urging a new and comprehensive Pentagon investigation into the very first killing of a journalist by U.S. forces in Iraq — International Television News reporter, Terry Lloyd.

As you must know, a British coroner recently ruled that Lloyd’s death in March of 2003 was an “unlawful killing.” According to the IFJ, witnesses said Lloyd was shot in the head by American troops as he was being driven to a hospital in an unarmed civilian minibus. He had been wounded in the stomach while covering a firefight between U.S. and Iraqi forces outside Basra . “If this was murder as the court suggests and the U.S. is responsible, it is certainly a war crime,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White has declared.

“This decision gets us one step closer to justice. It also signals that it is now time for the United States to abandon its policy of cover-up and tell the whole truth about other cases where media staff have died in unexplained circumstances at the hands of its soldiers,” White has said. Of more than 120 journalists and media support staffers killed in Iraq since March, 2003, the press watchdog group, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), finds that at least 17 have been killed by fire from U.S. forces. According to the IFJ, many of the incidents were apparently targeted attacks that have gone unpunished.

At this critical juncture in the Iraq war, as the nation and the world re-evaluate U.S. strategies, tactics and motives in Iraq , the OPC again protests high-handed treatment of journalists that undermines America ‘s credibility and its stated goals of freedom and the rule of law. “Arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and unlawful searches are all routine” in Iraq , the press freedom group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has found.

In one recent case, according to RSF , U.S. forces on October 26, 2006 arrested two journalists working for Dar Al Salam, a radio station linked to an Islamist party, and detained them without explanation. Rabiaa Abduhl Wahab and Ali Burhan were reportedly detained because of their suspected links with armed groups, but RSF has concluded that the “lack of transparency with which the U.S. authorities operate in Baghdad ” made it impossible to learn the nature of any evidence against them or the conditions of their detention.

Similarly, we join RSF in protesting an October 23, 2006 raid by U.S. forces on the headquarters of Al Furat, a Shiite-linked TV station, during which guards were disarmed, the premises searched and computer material seized — all without a warrant.

Finally, we reiterate our support for previous calls by the CPJ and the Associated Press to resolve the seven-month incarceration by the U.S. military of Bilal Hussein, a freelance photographer working for the AP in Ramadi and Fallujah over the last two years — either by bringing formal charges or releasing him.

In an e-mail to AP international editor, John Daniszewski, in May, U.S. Army General John Gardner, who overseas all coalition detainees in Iraq, said Hussein had been “afforded access to insurgent activities outside the normal scope afforded to journalists conducting legitimate activities.” But Daniszewski says the AP, following its own investigations, has “come more and more to believe that the real reason he was arrested is because of his pictures. They were not welcome.”

Mr. Secretary, we understand the need for effective anti-terrorist operations in Iraq . But as we have pointed out previously, the current rationale for the U.S.-led Coalition’s presence in Iraq is in no small part to establish a model for democracy in the Middle East . The continuing mistreatment of journalists in Iraq suggests that our forces need to be reminded that democracy depends heavily on freedom of speech and of the press, however inconvenient a free media may seem to those in authority.

We urge you to repeat in the strongest terms your own commitment to press freedom and that of the Bush Administration; to release, formally try or at least bring clear charges against journalists now in custody; to issue a full report on the killing of Terry Lloyd, and to encourage U.S. commanders and Iraqi officials to ensure the safety of those journalists risking their lives daily to provide the full and fair account of a crucial conflict that Americans, Iraqis and a watching world demand and deserve.

Thank you for your attention. We would appreciate a reply.

Very truly yours,
David M. Alpern
Larry Martz
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

Dr. Robert M. Gates
Office of the President
Texas A&M University
College Station , Texas
77843 president@tamu.edu

General George Casey
Commander, Coalition Task Force 7
Fax: (703) 270-0270

International Editor
CBS News
524 West 57th Street
New York , NY 10019

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad
Embassy of the United States of America
APO AE 09316
Baghdad , Iraq

Sen. John Warner, Chairman
Senate Armed Services Committee
225 Russell Building
Washington , DC 20510
Fax: (202) 224-6295

His Excellency Nouri Kamal al-Maliki
Prime Minister
c/o Embassy of the Republic of Iraq
1801 P Street, NW
Washington , DC 20036

John Daniszewski
International Editor
Associated Press
450 West 33rd Street
New York , NY 10001

His Excellency Jalal Talabani
President of Iraq
c/o Embassy of the Republic of Iraq
1801 P Street, NW
Washington , DC 20036
News Editor

Fax: (011.974) 442-6864

Hassan Fatah Pasha
Iraq Today

Pierre Taillefer
Executive Editor
Agence France-Presse