By: Dean Yates, Reuters
Reuters on Monday asked the U.S. military to conduct a full and objective investigation into the killing last week of two of its staff in Iraq after evidence emerged casting doubt on explanations given for their deaths.
Photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, were killed in Baghdad on Thursday in what witnesses said was a U.S. helicopter attack and which police in a preliminary report called “random American bombardment.”
The U.S. military in a statement issued just after midnight on Thursday described the incident as a firefight with insurgents. It has said the killings were being investigated.
“Our preliminary investigation raises real questions about whether there was fighting at the time the two men were killed,” said David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief of Reuters.
“For the sake of their memory and for the sake of all journalists in Iraq we need a thorough and objective investigation that will help us and the military learn lessons that will improve the safety of journalists in the future.”
Residents and witnesses interviewed by Reuters said they saw no gunmen in the immediate area where Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh were killed in Baghdad’s al-Amin al-Thaniyah neighborhood.
They said they were not aware of any clashes in the area leading up to the Apache helicopter attack around 10.30 am local time.
Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh had gone to the area after hearing of a U.S. air strike on a building around dawn that day.
On Sunday, the U.S. military returned to Reuters two digital cameras that belonged to Noor-Eldeen which were taken by American soldiers from the site of the deaths.
No pictures taken by Noor-Eldeen on July 12 show clashes between militants and U.S. forces. The pictures show no gunmen, nor residents running for cover.
The U.S. military said last week it had called in “attack aviation reinforcement” after coming under fire from small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.
Nine insurgents and two civilians “reported as employees for the Reuters news service” were killed, the statement said.
One picture on Noor-Eldeen’s wide-angled lens camera was taken from behind a window that has a bullet hole in it. Two old women dressed in black are walking towards the window.
Other pictures on the wide-angled lens camera show what appears to be the aftermath of an earlier shooting incident. The images can be timed from the camera’s internal digital clock.
Around this time, Noor-Eldeen’s long-angled lens camera shows four frames of a U.S. military humvee at a crossroads.
What appears to be the last picture taken while Noor-Eldeen was alive is on his wide-angled lens camera. It came some 10 minutes after he photographed the two women.
The picture shows the top of someone’s head who appears to be falling to the ground or crouching as dust sprays off the top of a wall.
Some 20 minutes later several shots on the wide-angled lens camera show the lower legs of a U.S. soldier and another soldier’s shadow. It appears the camera is being carried and being bumped by a leg, resulting in several frames being shot.
More than three hours later, two more pictures were taken on the wide-angled lens camera. They show a slightly out of focus American soldier sitting in what appears to be a barrack.
ACCESS TO EVIDENCE SOUGHT
Schlesinger said Reuters was seeking the following from the U.S. military in Baghdad:
** An explanation of why the two cameras were confiscated.
** Access to any cameras onboard the Apache helicopters that were involved in the incident.
** Access to any voice communications between the helicopter crews and U.S. ground forces.
** Access to reports from the unit involved in the incident, in particular a log of any weapons taken from the scene.
Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh were among three Reuters employees killed in Baghdad in the past week.
Gunmen shot dead an Iraqi who worked as a translator for Reuters last Wednesday. His family have asked that the name of their son, 30, not be mentioned.
Two other Iraqi journalists working for Reuters have been killed by American soldiers since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Two foreigners, a Palestinian and a Ukrainian, have also been killed by American troops.
The U.S. military has said its soldiers acted lawfully in those cases.
Iraq is the world’s most dangerous country to report.
The Committee to Protect Journalists in New York has estimated that at least 149 reporters and media assistants have been killed since 2003. The vast majority have been Iraqis.