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JOURNALISTS AMONG THOSE ABUSED BY U.S. TROOPS

In the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, it has emerged that Iraqi journalists were among those reportedly abused and tortured by American soldiers, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

On 18 May 2004, the Reuters news agency revealed that three of its employees - cameraman Salem Ureibi, journalist Ahmad Mohammad Hussein al-Badrani and their driver, Sattar Jabar al-Badrani - were abused and tortured while under U.S. detention. They had been arrested on 2 January while reporting on the crash of a U.S. helicopter near Fallujah. They were reportedly detained at Forward Operating Base Volturno and released three days later.

According to Reuters, the men were forced to undergo humiliating acts, deprived of sleep and physically beaten, CPJ reports. American soldiers also threatened to send them to the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, placed bags over their heads and forced them to remain in stressful positions for long periods.

Another journalist, NBC cameraman Ali Mohammed Hussein al-Badrani, was detained in the same facility, notes CPJ. He was kicked and forced to wear a bag over his head but not sexually abused.

Reuters says it decided to go public about the incident only after U.S. military authorities claimed that there was no evidence of such abuse and after the media reported on the Abu Ghraib affair. In a summary of its inquiry into the incident sent to Reuters on 28 January, the military said it had interviewed the soldiers responsible and said "none admit or report having knowledge of physical abuse or torture," notes RSF. The three Reuters employees were never interviewed.

A few weeks later, Reuters received a letter from Lieutenant General Richardo Sanchez, the commanding officer of U.S. forces in Iraq, which said the inquiry had been "thorough and objective."

CPJ, RSF and IFJ are demanding a new investigation into the incident and punishment for those responsible.

RSF is also calling for an investigation into the alleged torture of Al-Jazeera cameraman Hassan Saleh, who was detained in November 2003 at Abu Ghraib prison. The U.S.-based weekly "The Nation" reported that Saleh was stripped naked and "forced to stand hooded, bound and naked for 11 hours." He was released in December after an Iraqi Governing Council court found no evidence against him.

Meanwhile, the death toll among journalists and media personnel in Iraq continues to mount. On 20 May 2004, Hamid Rashid Wali, a technician for Al-Jazeera, was shot and killed in Kerbala while covering clashes between United States troops and Iraqi insurgents, reported RSF, CPJ and IFJ.

Wali was shot in the head and died instantly, according to RSF. His Al-Jazeera colleagues, a journalist and cameraman, were not hurt. CPJ says it is not known who fired the shot. The group is investigating further.

Since January 2004, Iraqis have borne the brunt of attacks on journalists and media personnel in the country. Eighteen of the 20 journalists and media personnel killed so far this year have been Iraqis, according to CPJ's recently released report on Iraq. In contrast, nearly all of the 13 journalists killed in Iraq in 2003 were foreign correspondents.

As foreign journalists find it increasingly dangerous to report in Iraq, more local media personnel are being sent into the field to cover breaking news. "Western journalists are not wanted at the present time in Iraq, especially in areas where there is resistance. The [insurgents] suspect that these foreign journalists could possibly be spies," an Iraqi journalist tells CPJ.

Given the situation, providing basic safety support, such as flak jackets and armoured cars, would be one measure that would help to protect the lives of those who report from the frontlines, says CPJ.

Visit these links:

- CPJ Report on Iraq: http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2004/iraq_journ_5_04/iraq_journ_5_04.html

- RSF: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/58986/

- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?index=2509&Language=EN

- Index on Censorship on Rebuilding Iraq's Media: http://www.indexonline.org/news/20040503_iraq.shtml

- Details of the Abuse Suffered by Reuters Journalists: http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000513625

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