Reporters: U.S. Troops Negligent

Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana is shown in the West Bank city of Hebron in this Oct. 18, 2001 file photo. Dana was shot dead on Sunday Aug. 17, 2003 while working near a U.S.-run prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, witnesses said. A spokesman for the Iraq U.S.-led administration confirmed a journalist had been killed and said an investigation was under way. (AP Photo/Nayef Hashlamoun, HO)
AP
Fellow journalists accused U.S. troops of negligence in the shooting death of a Reuters cameraman, saying it was clear the victim was a newsman when soldiers on two tanks opened fire. Press advocacy groups called for an investigation.

Mazen Dana, 43, was shot and killed by U.S. soldiers Sunday while videotaping near a U.S.-run prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. The U.S. Army said its soldiers mistook his camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

Press advocacy groups Reporters Without Borders and the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists demanded a full investigation into the shooting.

Reporters Without Borders urged Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to conduct an "honest, rapid" investigation. The group also noted that there have been isolated cases in which soldiers in Iraq have been hostile to the news media.

"Such behavior is unacceptable and must be punished. It is essential that clear instructions and calls for caution are given to soldiers in the field so that freedom of movement and work of journalists is accepted in Iraq," the group said in a statement.

The film Dana shot showed a tank driving toward him. Six shots were heard, and the camera appeared to tilt forward and drop to the ground after the first shot.

Dana was working outside the Abu Ghraib prison after a mortar attack there Sunday in which six prisoners were killed and about 60 wounded. Witnesses said Dana was dressed in civilian clothes.

"We were all there, for at least half an hour. They knew we were journalists. After they shot Mazen, they aimed their guns at us. I don't think it was accident. They are very tense. They are crazy," said Stephan Breitner of France 2 television.

Breitner said soldiers tried to resuscitate Dana but failed.

A U.S. military official said on condition of anonymity that American soldiers saw Dana from a distance and mistook him for an Iraqi guerrilla, so they opened fire. When the soldiers came closer, they realized Dana was a journalist, the official said.

"This is clearly another tragic incident, it is extremely regrettable," Central Command spokesman Sgt. Maj. Lewis Matson said.

Dana's driver, Munzer Abbas, said Dana had got out of the car when he saw the tanks approaching.

"We saw a tank, 50 meters away. I heard six shots and Mazen fell to the ground. One of the soldiers started shouting at us, but when he knew we were journalists, he softened. One of the soldiers told us they thought Mazen was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade," said Abbas.

"There were many journalists around. They knew we were journalists. This was not an accident," he said.

Reuters quoted soundman Nael al-Shyoukhi, who was with Dana, as saying that the U.S. soldiers "saw us and they knew about our identities and our mission.

"After we filmed we went into the car and prepared to go when a convoy led by a tank arrived and Mazen stepped out of the car to film. I followed him and Mazen walked three to four meters (yards). We were noted and seen clearly," al-Shyoukhi said.

"A soldier on the tank shot at us. I lay on the ground. I heard Mazen and I saw him scream and touching his chest.

"I cried at the soldier, telling him you killed a journalist. They shouted at me and asked me to step back and I said 'I will step back but please help, please help and stop the bleed."'

He said they tried to help him but Dana was bleeding heavily.

"Mazen took a last breath and died before my eyes."

Dana's death brings to 13 the number of journalists who were killed in Iraq since the start of the war on March 20. Two Independent Television News journalists, cameraman Fred Nerac of France and translator Hussein Osman of Lebanon, have been missing since shooting incident March 22 in southern Iraq in which correspondent Terry Lloyd was killed.

An outspoken critic of the Israeli government's treatment of journalists, Dana was honored by the Committee to Protect Journalists with an International Press Freedom Award in November 2001 for his work covering conflict in his hometown of Hebron in the West Bank. He was shot at least three times in 2000, according to the citation on the group's web site.

Dana was married and had four children.

Just last week, an investigation by Central Command into the April 7 attack by a U.S. tank on Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, which killed two journalists, found the attack was "fully in accordance with the Rules of Engagement."

The probe found that troops were under heavy attack and suspected a spotter was operating in the area around the hotel. When the tanks spied what looked like a spotter on a balcony of the hotel, the commander gave the order to fire.

"They fired a single round in self-defense," the report said. Journalists from Reuters and from a Spanish television station were killed.

"Baghdad was a high intensity combat area and some journalists had elected to remain there despite repeated warnings of the extreme danger of doing so," the report found. "The journalists' death at the Palestine Hotel was a tragedy and the United States has the deepest sympathies for the families of those who were killed."

The same day, U.S. forces killed an Al Jazeera correspondent. The next day, Centcom said: "These tragic incidents appear to be the latest example of the Iraqi regime's continued strategy of using civilian facilities for regime military purposes." Central Command repeatedly blamed the deaths of civilians on Iraqi tactics.