Sunday, October 15, 2006

Journalist's Death Deliberate, Part II

I received a comment on a previous column about the death of British journalist Terry Lloyd in Iraq at the hands of U.S. troops that a British deputy coroner has deemed outright murder.

The comment came from Kashmiri Nomad, a blog friend whose site I visit almost every day. He is a Muslim and I am not, and we regularly disagree on subjects related to Islam. I invite you to visit his site. Nomad’s comment contained a link to a story that he said presented the British perspective on this incident and with which I found problems.

First, let me say unequivocally that the deliberate or careless killing of civilians, particularly journalists there voluntarily doing a job, cannot be tolerated. That is also the position of the U.S. government.

This story contains errors of fact and faulty—perhaps biased—analysis. For example: Yet even if the British government were prepared to put pressure on the Bush administration, it would almost certainly come to nothing. American soldiers who kill civilians through carelessness or brutality in battle receive a remarkable degree of protection from the US authorities.

Should a government not protect its troops; should it not support them? I oppose second-guessing military personnel in the heat of battle, for if we create an atmosphere where before our troops react to defend themselves or their buddies they pause too long to analyze the situation, more of our troops will be injured and killed. In war you sometimes have to react instantly. Sometimes bad things happen.

However, what troubles me most is that there appears to be no awareness by the reporter who wrote the story that there are instances of U.S. troops being disciplined for improper behavior, such as at Abu Ghraib, and there is currently a trial of several soldiers who are charged with the deliberate murder of an Iraqi man and his family. So, the implication that the U.S. allows its military to kill and maim with impunity is demonstrably false.

Other statements also deserve attention.

Both the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defence wanted reporters to be "embedded" with their forces during the invasion. One of the reasons for embedding journalists is so that the military will know where they are, for their own safety. Lloyd’s crew was not embedded, it was on its own, and took a substantial risk in going it alone. Coalition forces do not have to allow journalists access to the fighting at all, but they do so in the interest of letting people know what is going on.

Lloyd was injured in crossfire between Iraqi troops and American tanks outside Basra. He was picked up by a makeshift ambulance. (My emphasis.)

The two cases are very different. We were bombed by accident. Lloyd and his colleagues were killed deliberately. This is an opinion, not proven fact. It was the coroner’s opinion, and it is the reporter’s opinion.

To have fired on them, and to have targeted an ambulance, were contraventions of the Geneva Convention. Remember the earlier reference to a “makeshift ambulance.” The vehicle was not an ambulance. It was not marked as an ambulance; it was a van in which injured were being transported. To charge that this apparent accident was a contravention of the Geneva Conventions is preposterous.

Perhaps because of his own experience the reporter wasn’t objective, in which case the newspaper should not have published his story.

Do I have a bias? Yes. I automatically assume that U.S. troops do not indulge in the murder of innocent civilians, or the unjustifiable killing of the enemy, and I require substantial proof, not unproved allegations, to change my mind.

This example confirms the wisdom of the U.S. government in trusting its military personnel to act properly, even when under fire, and not caving in to the emotional and factually unsubstantiated charges of U.S. critics. Our soldiers, Marines, airman and sailors are, while not infallible, highly trained professionals, who deserve and need our trust and support. To do otherwise would be unconscionable.

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