(Reuters) Reuters demanded the immediate release on Monday of an Iraqi cameraman who was still being held by U.S. forces more than 24 hours after being wounded in an incident in which his soundman was killed.
Iraqi police said the news team was shot by U.S. soldiers.
The U.S. military said it was still investigating and refused to say what questions it was putting to cameraman Haider Kadhem. It would not say where in Baghdad he was held nor identify the unit holding him.
“Reuters demands the immediate release of Haider Kadhem,” Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger said.
“We fail to understand what reason there can be for his continued detention more than a day after he was the innocent victim of an incident in which his colleague was killed.”
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Whetstone, a military spokesman, said: “He is being questioned by our investigating officer.”
He said there were “inconsistencies” in Kadhem’s statements and officers were looking into “events that led up to the incident”. No military investigator, however, had contacted Reuters, whose senior staff offered a full account of the assignment on which they dispatched the journalists shortly before they were shot.
Soundman Waleed Khaled was buried on Monday after he was hit several times in the head and chest while driving his car, an ordinary passenger vehicle, on the assignment in western Baghdad. Kadhem was wounded in the back. Whetstone said the wound was “superficial” and he had been treated “on location.”
Kadhem, a 24-year-old cameraman based in the southern city of Samawa, had been in Baghdad only since Friday to train and to reinforce the Reuters news crews in the capital.
He was dispatched to the Hay al-Adil district, where he was shot, after a police source called Reuters to report an incident involving police and gunmen in that area.
Khaled, 35, was a veteran of reporting the conflict on the streets of Baghdad and had been a popular and jovial presence in the Reuters bureau for two years.
Distraught family, colleagues and friends, numbering some 200, attended his funeral in the west of the city.
The official Iraqi police report said U.S. troops opened fire on the Reuters journalists.
Kadhem told colleagues who were briefly detained with him at the scene: “I heard shooting, looked up and saw an American sniper on the roof of the shopping centre.”
A U.S. statement said: “Task Force Baghdad units responded to a terrorist attack on an Iraqi Police convoy … which killed and wounded several Iraqi Police. One civilian was killed and another was wounded by small-arms fire during the attack.”
Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media rights group, called the shooting “extremely disturbing” and said the Reuters soundman was the 66th journalist or media assistant killed in Iraq since the invasion of 2003, three more than died in 20 years in Vietnam.
“Our outrage is compounded by the fact that they arrested Kadhem, the only eyewitness, who was himself injured,” it said.
Two Reuters cameramen have been killed by U.S. troops in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003. A third was shot dead by a sniper in Ramadi last November in circumstances for which Reuters is still seeking an explanation from U.S. forces.
Reuters’ cameraman in the city of Ramadi, Ali al-Mashhadani, was arrested by U.S. forces three weeks ago and is being held without charge in Abu Ghraib prison. U.S. military officials have said he will face a judicial hearing shortly but have still given no access to the journalist or said what he is accused of.
A military spokesman said the hearing was “probably” taking place on Monday at a secret location in Baghdad. No access was available for an attorney or any other interested party.