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Families of six dead or missing journalists urge US Congress to act

(RSF/IFEX) - The families of six journalists who were killed or disappeared as a result of United States (US) military actions in Iraq have called on the US Congress to thoroughly investigate the incidents.

The families said they were "deeply dismayed and grieved" about "the silence, lack of information and untruths" from the US government about their loved ones.

The letter was signed by the dead or missing journalists' wives and children and was sent to members of the US House of Representatives. It was prepared on RSF's initiative. In the letter, the families deplored the fact that the investigations carried out to date had been rushed and always concluded that the US army was not at fault and had simply acted in "legitimate self-defence".

The families called for further information and serious investigations to establish full responsibility for the deaths, which occurred between 22 March and 17 April 2003, while the men were reporting on the war in Iraq. Journalists Fred Nérac and Hussein Osman disappeared on 22 March after being caught in gunfire between US Marines and Iraqi fighters.

The letter was released on 8 April 2004 to mark the anniversary of a tragic day for the media in Iraq. On 8 April 2003, three journalists were killed in Baghdad when US forces bombed the Baghdad offices of the Qatar-based television network Al-Jazeera and opened fire on the Palestine Hotel, where many journalists were staying.

"What happened to Tarek, Mazen, Terry, Fred, Hussein and Taras cannot be dismissed as just 'regrettable incidents.' A few half-hearted apologies and supposed enquiries that always conclude the army acted in accordance with the rules of warfare and in 'legitimate self-defence' are not enough. On the contrary, they fill us with bitterness and deepen our grief", the journalists' wives and children said in the letter.

"Can we not expect a leading democracy claiming to defend freedom around the world to honestly admit its mistakes and take full responsibility for them? Time has stopped for us and despite your silence we will not allow the loss of our loved ones to be forgotten. We ask you to give us further information, reopen the prematurely-closed investigations and take all necessary steps to see that these tragedies are not repeated", they added.

RSF called on the US Congress to carefully consider the families' legitimate requests and respond to them quickly and effectively. The organisation noted that Iraq is currently one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists. Four have been killed since the beginning of 2004. At least two of them, and possibly three, were killed by US gunfire. RSF has previously expressed concern about the aggressive attitude of US troops in Iraq and the lack of clear rules to ensure journalists' safety.

The letter to Congress was signed by:
- Dima Tahboub-Ayyoub, wife of Al-Jazeera correspondent Tarek Ayyoub, who was killed in Baghdad on 8 April 2003.
- Suzan Dana, wife of Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana, who was killed in Baghdad on 17 August 2003.
- Chelsey Lloyd, daughter of Terry Lloyd, a senior reporter for the British television station ITN, who was killed near Basra on 22 March 2003.
- Fabienne Nérac, wife of French cameraman Fred Nérac, who disappeared near Basra on 22 March 2003.
- Samira Kaderi-Osman, wife of Lebanese interpreter Hussein Osman, who disappeared near Basra on 22 March 2003.
- Lidya Litvinchuk, wife of Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk, who was killed in Baghdad on 8 April 2003.

English and French-language versions of the letter can be found at http://www.rsf.org.

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