LONDON (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.
Reuters and other media organizations 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.