Report Says U.S. Shooting of Reuters Worker Was ‘Unlawful’

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By: E&P Staff

U.S. soldiers breached their rules of engagement when they killed an Iraqi working for Reuters last year, says an independent report released today. The shooting was “prima facie unlawful,” added the report, which was commissioned by Reuters.

Soundman Waleed Khaled was killed and cameraman Haider Kadhem was wounded on Aug. 28, 2005, when U.S. troops opened fire on their car in western Baghdad as they covered the aftermath of an insurgent attack on Iraqi police.

Investigating the incident at the request of Reuters, the Risk Advisory Group said the use of force was neither proportionate nor justified.

“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,” said the report. “The engagement was therefore in breach of U.S. rules of engagement and, in our opinion, on the current evidence was prima facie unlawful.”

One key piece of evidence — video footage filmed by Kadhem immediately before and during the shooting — was seized by the U.S. military after the incident. The military showed the footage to several Reuters staffers 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,” the Risk Advisory Group 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.”

The investigation was led by a former special investigator in Britain’s Royal Military Police, who retired from the military after 23 years of service. The findings were reviewed by the Risk Advisory Group’s chief executive, a barrister and former prosecutor for Britain’s Serious Fraud Office. A copy of the report has been given to the U.S. Department of Defense for its review.

An earlier U.S. army investigation concluded that soldiers had acted within the rules of engagement when they opened fire.

“The report shows that Waleed Khaled’s death was avoidable and his killing was not justified,” said Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger. “We call upon the U.S. military to order a full, independent, and objective inquiry into this terrible incident.”

Schlesinger added: “It is clear that Khaled was a journalist acting as a professional. He was not a threat, he did nothing hostile, and he should not have been shot and killed. A tragedy like this must not be allowed to pass without us truly learning the lessons from it.”

Several safety recommendations made by a previous U.S. investigation into the fatal shooting of Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana in 2003 have yet to be implemented.

“There have been too many cases of journalists being killed by U.S. troops while reporting the news in Iraq,” Schlesinger said. “Clearly, better training, clearer rules of engagement, and understanding of journalists’ special roles are a must in order to prevent further tragedies.”

The Risk Advisory Group’s investigation included interviews with witnesses and Reuters staff, examination of U.S. military documents, ballistic evidence from the car, and a reconstruction of the incident to establish what the soldiers could have seen.

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