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Editors complain of harassment of reporters by U.S. troops in Iraq

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Editors complain of harassment of reporters by U.S. troops in Iraq

  • Dozens of media bureau chiefs recently sent a letter to the Pentagon complaining that U.S. troops were attacking journalists and destroying reporters’ equipment.

Nov. 17, 2003 — Journalists covering America’s occupation of Iraq have increasingly come under attack by U.S. soldiers.

In a Nov. 12 letter to Larry Di Rita, acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for public affairs at the Pentagon, dozens of media bureau chiefs complained of “numerous examples of U.S. troops physically harassing journalists and, in some cases, confiscating or ruining equipment, digital camera disks and videotapes.”

The letter was coordinated by The Associated Press’ Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief, Sandy Johnson, who said there were no such problems during the actual war, when journalists were embedded with U.S. troops. Johnson said problems are now occurring because reporters are arriving at the scene of attacks against U.S. troops independent of coalition forces.

There have been 281 deaths of American soldiers since President Bush declared the end of major combat in Iraq, bringing the total number of American military casualties to 420. Loyalists to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein have been credited with the guerilla-style attacks on coalition troops.

“Guidance has been passed to units throughout the coalition explicitly stating that reporters are not to be interfered with or cameras and films seized,” Maj. William Thurmond, a spokesman at the Coalition Press and Information Center (CPIC), said in an AP story Nov. 12. “Does that take place all the time? No. We are aware that individual soldiers have not followed those instructions.”

The CPIC and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs are the two main governmental organizations that handle relations between the military and the media.

Pentagon guidelines sent to troops before the war outlined fair treatment of the press. Section 6.A.2 of the guidelines states, “Media products will not be confiscated or otherwise impounded. If it is believed that classified information has been compromised and the media representative refuses to remove that information, notify the CPIC and/or OASD/PA as soon as possible so the issue may be addressed with the media organization’s management.”

The AP has written about numerous incidents involving troops harassing reporters. Two weeks ago, coalition troops detaining a pair of staff members of the Arab-language TV news station Al-Jazeera after a car bombing. They were later released. On Nov. 7, Sami Awad, a Lebanese freelance cameraman working for a German TV network, said his crew was thrown to the ground and held at gunpoint by troops after being given permission to pass a roadblock to check out a story about hand grenades being thrown at U.S. patrols in Baghdad.

The letter from the media bureau chiefs requested a meeting with Di Rita to discuss the recent hostility toward journalists. John Henry, Washington, D.C. bureau chief for the Houston Chronicle, said he hopes the military reins in its soldiers and begins letting news organizations do their job.

“It is vital that journalists be allowed to tell the story of what’s happening in Iraq, good, bad or indifferent,” Henry said. “It’s part of our role in a democratic society to keep folks informed of what we’re doing abroad.”


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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