April 12, 2024

Press Freedom

United States

United States October 31, 2005

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

Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:

Yet again, we write to protest serious abuses by United States forces of journalists who are trying to cover the continuing insurgency in Iraq.

Just a month ago, on Septemberf 29, in a hearing before the Senate Armed Forces Committee, its chairman, Senator John Warner, raised this question with you. He said later that you had promised to “take it under immediate consideration.” And General George Casey, U.S. commander in Iraq, told the committee he would follow up the request. “It’s an issue that we take very seriously. And what I will do when I get back to Baghdad is I’ll get a few of the local journalists together and work through some of their concerns with them,” General Casey said. We have had no report of any such action, either in Washington or in Baghdad. Instead, the abuses continue, in what looks increasingly like a systematic effort to hinder and harass any independent reporting of the conflict.

In separate incidents on October 3, Farnaz Fassihi, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, and J.J. Sutherland, a senior producer for National Public Radio, were fired on by Iraqi and American soldiers at Checkpoint 3, the only access for media to the International Zone in Baghdad. Both were either being picked up or dropped off by their drivers, and there were no signs banning cars from stopping there. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has reported being told of several similar incidents at other checkpoints near the International Zone in recent weeks. After the March 4 checkpoint shooting that killed Italian intelligence officer, Nicola Calipari, and wounded journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, an investigation by the Pentagon recommended measures to improve the safety of civilians at checkpoints, including signs and other warnings. Obviously, these measures have not been adopted.

Your officials still have not published their completed report on the killing on August 28 of Reuters soundman, Waleed Khaled, who was trying to cover the shooting of two Iraqi policemen in Baghdad when he was shot five times by U.S. soldiers. The cameraman working with him, Haider Kadhem, was slightly wounded. General Rick Lynch, the Army spokesman, has said the soldiers acted properly when they saw a car approaching with two apparently Iraqi occupants, who might have been suicide bombers. Kadhem, the only witness to the shooting, was himself arrested and held for three days while officials investigated what they called inconsistencies in his account.

Mr. Secretary, CPJ reports that U.S. troops have killed 13 journalists since the war in Iraq began in March, 2003. Two or three such incidents might be understandable. Thirteen deaths are an outrage.

As we have previously written you, we are just as concerned about the arrest and detention of journalists, some of them for prolonged periods, without charge or the disclosure of any supporting evidence. CPJ has documented seven such cases in which reporters, photographers, and cameramen were detained, working for CBS News, Reuters, The Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse (AFP), among others. At least three documented detentions have exceeded 100 days; the others have involved detentions of many weeks. In at least five cases, the detainees were photojournalists who initially drew the military’s attention because of what they had filmed or photographed. 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. But in nearly every case, the journalists have eventually been released with no charges filed against them. This pattern is both transparent and increasingly intolerable.

The exceptions are at least four journalists who are still in U.S. custody. They are:

• Abdul Amir Younis Hussein. An Iraqi cameraman working for CBS News, Hussein was taken into custody after being wounded by U.S. fire on April 5 while he filmed clashes in Mosul in northern Iraq. CBS News reported at the time that the U.S. military said footage in the journalist’s camera led them to suspect he had prior knowledge of attacks on coalition forces. AFP also cited U.S. officials as saying that the journalist “tested positive for explosive residue.” No charges have been made public, and the evidence used to hold him remains classified. The New York Times reported last month that the U.S. military referred Hussein’s case to Iraqi justice officials, who reviewed Hussein’s file but declined to prosecute him. Nevertheless, Hussein remains in U.S. custody. U.S. military officials, meanwhile, have issued vague accusations that Hussein was “engaged in anti-coalition activity,” and that he had been “recruiting and inciting Iraqi nationals to violence against coalition forces and participating in attacks against coalition forces.” No evidence to support these accusations has been provided.

• Ali Mashhadani. A freelance photographer and cameraman for Reuters news agency, Mashhadani has been held incommunicado and without explanation by U.S. forces since August 8. His family told Reuters that Mashhadani was taken from his home in Ramadi during a general sweep of the neighborhood by U.S. marines who became suspicious after seeing pictures on his cameras. He is being held in Abu Ghraib Prison. U.S. officials told Reuters that Mashhadani would be denied access to counsel or family for 60 days, but would be granted a review of his case within 180 days. Officials have yet to specify any basis for his continued detention.

• Majed Hameed. A reporter working with the Dubai-based broadcaster Al-Arabiya who also freelances for Reuters, Hameed was arrested along with several other men at a gathering after the funeral of a relative on September 15 in Anbar province. Both Reuters and Al-Arabiya have said his arrest appears to be linked to footage found on his camera by U.S. troops. U.S. officials, however, have listed no charges.

• Samir Mohammed Noor. Noor is another freelance cameraman for Reuters, which reported that he was arrested by Iraqi troops at his home in the northern town of Tal Afar in May 2005– and has been ordered detained indefinitely by the Iraqi review board that oversees detentions in Iraq. A U.S. military spokesman told the news agency that Noor was determined to be “an imperative threat to the coalition forces and the security of Iraq,” and that his case would be reviewed within six months. Reuters said he was being held at camp Bucca in southern Iraq .

Mr. Secretary, as we have previously pointed out, the current rationale for the U.S.-led Coalition’s presence in Iraq is to establish democracy in the Middle East . This sorry record suggests that our forces 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; to release or formally try the journalists now in custody; to issue the report on the killing of Waleed Khaled; to ensure the safety of journalists and other civilians at checkpoints in Baghdad; and to keep your promise to Senator Warner.

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

Very truly yours,
Larry Martz
Norman Schorr
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee




President George W. Bush   

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