LONDON, Sept 28 (Reuters) - The conduct of U.S. troops in Iraq, including increasing detention and accidental shootings of journalists, is preventing full coverage of the war reaching the American public, Reuters said on Wednesday.
In a letter to Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Reuters said U.S. forces were limiting the ability of independent journalists to operate. The letter from Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger called on Warner to raise widespread media concerns about the conduct of U.S. troops with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is due to testify to the committee on Thursday.
Schlesinger referred to “a long parade of disturbing incidents whereby professional journalists have been killed, wrongfully detained, and/or illegally abused by U.S. forces in Iraq.”
He urged Warner to demand that Rumsfeld resolve these issues “in a way that best balances the legitimate security interests of the U.S. forces in Iraq and the equally legitimate rights of journalists in conflict zones under international law”.
At least 66 journalists and media workers, most of them Iraqis, have been killed in the Iraq conflict since March 2003.
U.S. forces acknowledge killing three Reuters journalists, most recently soundman Waleed Khaled who was shot by American soldiers on Aug. 28 while on assignment in Baghdad. But the military say the soldiers were justified in opening fire.
Reuters believes a fourth journalist working for the agency, who died in Ramadi last year, was killed by a U.S. sniper. “The worsening situation for professional journalists in Iraq directly limits journalists’ abilities to do their jobs and, more importantly, creates a serious chilling effect on the media overall,” Schlesinger wrote.
“By limiting the ability of the media to fully and independently cover the events in Iraq, the U.S. forces are unduly preventing U.S. citizens from receiving information…and undermining the very freedoms the U.S. says it is seeking to foster every day that it commits U.S. lives and U.S. dollars,” the letter said.
“SPIRALING OUT OF CONTROL”
Schlesinger said the U.S. military had refused to conduct independent and transparent investigations into the deaths of the Reuters journalists, relying instead on inquiries by officers from the units responsible, who had exonerated their soldiers.
The U.S. military had failed even to implement recommendations by its own inquiry into one of the deaths, that of award-winning Palestinian cameraman Mazen Dana who was shot dead while filming outside Abu Ghraib prison in August 2003. Schlesinger said Reuters and other reputable international news organisations were concerned by the “sizeable and rapidly increasing number of journalists detained by U.S. forces”.
He said most of these detentions had been prompted by legitimate journalistic activity such as possessing photographs and video of insurgents, whichU.S. soldiers assumed showed sympathy with the insurgency.
In most cases the journalists were held for long periods at Abu Ghraib or Camp Bucca prisons before being released without charge.
At least four journalists working for international media are currently being held without charge or legal representation in Iraq. They include two cameramen working for Reuters and a freelance reporter who sometimes works for the agency.
A cameraman working for the U.S. network CBS has been detained since April despite an Iraqi court saying his case does not justify prosecution. Iraq’s justice minister has criticised the system of military detentions without charge.
Schlesinger’s letter said: “It appears as though the U.S. forces in Iraq either completely misunderstand the role of professional journalists or do not know how to deal with journalists in a conflict zone, or both.”
Reuters and other media organisations in Iraq had repeatedly tried to hold a dialogue with the Pentagon to establish appropriate guidelines on how to safeguard journalists. These efforts had failed “and the situation is now spiraling out of control”, Schlesinger said.
He asked Warner to question Rumsfeld specifically about the rules of engagement towards professional journalists, the failure to hold independent investigations into shooting incidents and to ask what was the guidance to U.S. forces on how to distinguish legitimate journalists from insurgents.
Text of a Letter from the President to the Congress of the United States: National Emergencies Act
TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES:
Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless, prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date. Consistent with this provision, I have sent to the Federal Register the enclosed notice, stating that the emergency declared with respect to the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, is to continue in effect for an additional year.
The terrorist threat that led to the declaration on September 14, 2001, of a national emergency continues. For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect after September 14, 2005, the national emergency with respect to the terrorist threat.
GEORGE W. BUSH
THE WHITE HOUSE,
September 8, 2005.
Notice: Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Certain Terrorist Attacks
Consistent with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency I declared on September 14, 2001, in Proclamation 7463, with respect to the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, New York, New York, and the Pentagon, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States.
By Executive Order 13223 of September 14, 2001 and Executive Order 13253 of January 16, 2002, I delegated authority to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Transportation to order members of the Reserve Components to active duty and to waive certain statutory military personnel requirements. By Executive Order 13235 of November 16, 2001, I delegated authority to the Secretary of Defense to exercise certain emergency construction authority. By Executive Order 13286 of February 28, 2003, I transferred the authority delegated to the Secretary of Transportation in Executive Order 13223 to the Secretary of Homeland Security.
Because the terrorist threat continues, the national emergency declared on September 14, 2001, and the measures taken on September 14, 2001, November 16, 2001, and January 16, 2002, to deal with that emergency, must continue in effect beyond September 14, 2005. Therefore, I am continuing in effect for an additional year the national emergency I declared on September 14, 2001, with respect to the terrorist threat. This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.
GEORGE W. BUSH
THE WHITE HOUSE,
September 8, 2005.
Gee, lots o’ headlines over this one.
By extrapolation, the “National Emergency” in Louisiana & Mississippi ought to last about 2 centuries.
Message to the Congress of the United States Regarding Hurricane Katrina
I hereby report that I have exercised my statutory authority under section 3147 of title 40, United States Code, to suspend the provisions of 40 U.S.C. 3141-3148 in the event of a national emergency. I have found that the conditions caused by Hurricane Katrina constitute a “national emergency” within the meaning of section 3147. I have, therefore, suspended the provisions of 40 U.S.C. 3141-3148 in designated areas in the States of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
This action is more fully set out in the enclosed proclamation that I have issued today.
GEORGE W. BUSH
THE WHITE HOUSE,
September 8, 2005.
It seems that rebuilding the Southern coast is a national emergency. We’ll see if it’s truly treated as an emergency and the work proceeds “quickly” and “efficiently”. I’m not optimistic.
In New Orleans, where a quarter of the city was poor, the prevailing wage for construction labor is about $9 per hour, according to the Department of Labor.
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) [as reported in the Washington Post, Friday, September 9, 2005; Page D03]
$9??? We’ll be paying people less than $9/hour. How are these individuals supposed to rebuild their own worlds at this level of income? How are they to fixup their own lives when they can barely afford housing and groceries let alone insurance and the other ‘necessities’ of American life?
The callous would say that “they chose to live there, this is what they get and they can just go find a job elsewhere if they don’t like the pay”. But this attitude is simply a self-serving lie. The poorest of these displaced people are living there because that’s where the jobs are. What would the affluent of Memphis do if no one worked the docks to unload the bananas? Would they go pick their own? I think not - they’d bitch about how “those lazy bastards won’t work”.
We can’t have it both ways - either we allow people to work where the jobs are and support them when they most need it or we do without their sweat and labor, without complaint.
As to Bush’s suspension of the law: It may be that the rebuilding of the Southern Coast constitutes a National Emergency (certainly from a moral standpoint it does) but to say that Federal contractors are essentially free to pay starvation wages and bust the local unions is simply wrong. It’s going to strain the local and state systems beyond what they’re capable of now (which isn’t much). Even wider economic discrepencies will be the result.
Jon Stewart: The president has vowed to personally lead the investigation into the government’s failed response to Katrina? Isn’t that a job perhaps someone else should be doing?
Samantha Bee: No, not at all, Jon. To truly find out what went wrong, it’s important for an investigator to have a little distance from the situation. And it’s hard to get any more distant from it than the president was last week.