Report finds US shooting of Reuters soundman unlawful
U.S. soldiers who shot dead a Reuters television soundman in Iraq last year breached their rules of engagement and the killing was "unlawful", an independent investigation commissioned by Reuters has found.
Waleed Khaled died and cameraman Haider Kadhem was wounded on August 28 when the troops fired on their car in Baghdad as the two Iraqis covered the aftermath of an attack on policemen.
An investigation by the Army unit involved found that its soldiers had acted within rules of engagement that allow them to fire if they feel under threat.
But The Risk Advisory Group (TRAG), a risk management consultancy asked by Reuters to examine the incident, said the use of force was neither proportionate nor justified.
It said the Army inquiry conclusions were not supported by the evidence -- including the testimony of the soldiers themselves -- and expressed incomprehension that crucial footage shot by Kadhem had somehow been lost by the military.
"We conclude, based on the independent evidence and the evidence of Haider Kadhem, that no hostile act took place and no act could have been legitimately mistaken as indicating hostile intent," the TRAG report said.
"The engagement was therefore in breach of U.S. Rules of Engagement and, in our opinion, on the current evidence was prima facie unlawful."
Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger called on the U.S. military to order "a full, independent and objective inquiry into this terrible incident". A copy of the report has been given to the U.S. Department of Defense for its review.
SHOTS "FIRED TO KILL OR INJURE"
Soldiers who fired on the car from the roof of a building testified to the military investigator that they saw a passenger hanging out of one of the windows holding what appeared to be a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher.
They said the passenger quickly moved back inside the car before they could confirm with binoculars whether he was holding a weapon. The soldiers said they initially fired warning shots and then fired to disable the vehicle.
TRAG reconstructed the incident and found it was impossible to distinguish an RPG at the distance from where the soldiers fired.
Kadhem said he was filming through the stationary car's windshield with his small, hand-held video camera and at one point turned to lean slightly out of the side window.
Kadhem said shooting began and Khaled reversed at speed. Seventeen bullets hit the car, which swerved and crashed into a barrier. Kadhem said shooting went on after it came to a stop.
"Had they not fired, it is unlikely in our view that the car would have moved in the first place," TRAG said.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 67 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the U.S. invasion of 2003. U.S. forces have killed at least 14 of them, the CPJ says.
Four Reuters journalists have been killed, at least three by U.S. forces. Reuters is awaiting results of a U.S. military inquiry into the death 18 months ago of the fourth.
TRAG found in Khaled's case that the use of force was not proportionate to the perceived threat -- as it should be under the rules of engagement -- as the car was stationary when firing began and continued after the vehicle had stopped.
Ballistic evidence from an examination of the car "supports the contention that shots were fired to kill or injure the occupants" rather than disable the vehicle, the report said.
ARMY "LOST" CRUCIAL EVIDENCE
Kadhem's video footage was seized by the U.S. military when he was detained and held for three days. The Army showed the footage to Reuters staff but then said it had been separated from the case file and subsequently lost.
"The 'lost' video contains the very best evidence of what transpired," TRAG said. "As a matter of good evidential practice, we find it very difficult to understand any circumstances in which it would have been appropriate to separate an original exhibit from the case papers."
Reuters staff and a security adviser to Reuters who saw the film testified that it supported Kadhem's statements.
TRAG's investigation was led by a former special investigator in Britain's Royal Military Police, who retired after 23 years of service, most recently in Iraq.
The 43-page report, and accompanying annexes, was reviewed by Risk Advisory Group Chief Executive Bill Waite, a barrister and former prosecutor for Britain's Serious Fraud Office.
The Risk Advisory Group noted that all Reuters Iraqi staff are made aware of how to behave in hostile environments.
Operating procedures were periodically enhanced with verbal training but not extensively, it added.
Schlesinger said the U.S. military must do more to ensure journalist safety. Some safety recommendations made by a U.S. investigation into the fatal shooting of Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana in August 2003 have yet to be implemented.
"Clearly, better training, clearer rules of engagement and understanding of journalists' special roles are a must in order to prevent further tragedies," Schlesinger said.
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