ASJA Asks Secretary Rumsfeld to Investigate Death of Journalist Mazen Dana

New York, NY Aug. 25, 2003 – In a letter today to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, members of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), the nation’s leading organization of independent non-fiction writers, requested an investigation into the death of Reuters’ cameraman Mazen Dana killed by U.S. troops as he was filming in western Baghdad on August 17.

 

According to news reports, Dana had made his presence known to troops outside the Abu Ghraid prison but was shot without warning, in broad daylight, by a soldier in a tank no more than 55 yards away who reportedly mistook his camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

 

The ASJA letter was signed by Anita Bartholomew for ASJA’s First Amendment Committee. Ms. Bartholomew noted that the committee had written to Secretary Rumsfeld in April 2003 requesting an investigation into the deaths of journalists in three earlier attacks but hadn’t received a reply. One of the earlier attacks, on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, resulted in the deaths of two journalists. The hotel served as the base of operations for many journalists covering the war in Iraq. A Defense Department news release about an investigation conducted into that attack said that it was only "some time after the incident" that the American unit became aware that the structure hit was the Palestine Hotel.

 

The ASJA letter said that both the April attack and the killing of Dana warrant "much fuller investigations" to determine why they occurred and questioned whether the incidents resulted from a failure in communications or whether troops are following a "shoot first, ask questions later" strategy.

 

"The underlying problem must be addressed or the lives of journalists covering events in Iraq – as well as those of other innocent civilians – will continue to be in grave and unnecessary danger," the ASJA committee wrote.

 

Contact: Brett Harvey, Executive Director
execdir @ asja.org

 


212-997-0947 The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) is the national organization of independent nonfiction writers. Founded in 1948, the Society includes more than 1100 members who have met ASJA's exacting standards of professional achievement.

 

Text of the Letter

August 25, 2003

 

Donald H. Rumsfeld
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301-1000

 

VIA FACSIMILE (703) 697-9080

 

Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:

 

It is deeply troubling to members of the American Society of Journalists and Authors - the national organization of independent non-fiction writers -that we must again contact you to request an investigation into the death of a journalist at the hands of U.S. troops in Iraq.

 

On August 17, 2003, Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana made his presence and intentions known to U.S. troops outside Abu Ghraib prison in western Baghdad before he began filming. Yet, he was shot without warning, in broad daylight, by a soldier in a tank no more than 55 yards away who reportedly mistook his camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

 

In April 2003, this committee sent you a letter asking you to conduct a full investigation into the deaths of journalists in three earlier attacks. We never received a reply to that request. A summary of an official CENTCOM investigation into one of those attacks, at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, which resulted in the deaths of two journalists, was released just days before the Dana killing. A news release about the investigation, posted on the Department of Defense website, states, "It was only 'some time after the incident,' according to CENTCOM, that the American unit became aware that the structure hit by the tank round was the Palestine Hotel - a place many journalists were using as a base of operations while covering the war."

 

The deaths of journalists at the hands of U.S. troops in April have at least one element in common with the killing of Mazen Dana. In each instance, some members of U.S. military forces were well aware of the presence and activities of the journalists who were fired upon.

 

Our country has placed its soldiers in harm's way, in a situation where it is not always easy to identify the enemy. Still, as a force that is supposed to help the Iraqi people move toward democracy, our troops must be especially careful to protect innocent people in Iraq and to further the cause of free speech. These incidents - both the April attacks and the attack on Dana -- deserve much fuller investigations to determine not only why they happened but to ensure that such attacks are not repeated. Do the incidents result from a failure in communications procedures? Are troops following a "shoot first, ask questions later," strategy? The underlying problem must be addressed or the lives of journalists covering events in Iraq - as well as those of other innocent civilians - will continue to be in grave and unnecessary danger.

 

We look forward to hearing your plans for full, open and complete investigations leading to changes in policy that will more fully protect those covering stories in areas occupied by U.S. troops.

 

Sincerely,
Anita Bartholomew
for the First Amendment Committee

 

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