Group Blames Pentagon for Reporters’ Deaths

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(AP) U.S. commanders bear “criminal” responsibility in the deaths of two reporters killed when a tank fired at a Baghdad hotel because the commanders did not tell troops that the building housed journalists, a press freedom group charged Thursday.

Reporters Without Borders said it did not appear that soldiers deliberately attacked journalists. The group demanded that the deaths of cameramen Jose Couso of Spanish network Telecinco, and Taras Protsyuk of Reuters, be investigated again.

The Pentagon had no immediate comment on the report.

They were killed April 8 when a U.S. tank fired on the Palestine Hotel, which housed correspondents covering the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The U.S. military absolved American forces of wrongdoing, saying they fired in self-defense.

But Reporters Without Borders said it was “in this case criminal” that U.S. military commanders did not tell tanks units that reporters were in the hotel.

“This presence was never mentioned to the troops on the ground or marked on the maps used by artillery support soldiers,” the Paris-based group said. “The question is whether this information was withheld deliberately, because of misunderstanding or by criminal negligence.”

The deaths could have been avoided because troops “would never have fired” had they known reporters were there, the group said.

“The firing of a tank shell at the hotel was not therefore a deliberate attack on journalists or the media,” it added.

But it charged that the troops’ commanders in the 3rd Infantry Division bear “a heavy responsibility for not providing the necessary information that would have prevented the death of the journalists.”

The U.S. government also “must bear some of the responsibility,” the group said, because “its top leaders have regularly made statements about the status of war reporters in Iraq that have undermined all media security considerations and set the scene for the tragedy that occurred.”

It was referring to U.S. statements that reporters ignored warnings that Baghdad was too dangerous and that the U.S. military could not know where all reporters were operating.

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