Saturday, October 14, 2006

US Charged With Deliberately Killing British Journalist

The Associated Press reports the following: "A coroner ruled Friday that U.S. forces unlawfully killed a British television journalist in the opening days of the Iraq war.

"Deputy Coroner Andrew Walker said he would ask the attorney general to take steps to bring to justice those responsible for the death of Terry Lloyd, 50, a veteran reporter for the British television network ITN."

This story is troubling, and for more than the obvious reason. First, it would be wrong for U.S. personnel to deliberately kill a reporter, even in the chaotic and highly emotional conditions of a firefight. But perhaps more importantly, how can a British coroner, who wasn't there, possibly conclude that U.S. personnel purposefully killed Terry Lloyd?

There are important details that need to be added to this story. First, Lloyd and three other ITN crewmembers were covering the fighting on their own; they were not embedded with U.S. or British forces, as most all other journalists were and are. U.S. and British troops undoubtedly know where embedded journalists are at nearly every moment, but journalists who are not embedded can turn up anywhere, and unexpectedly.

The AP: “Witnesses testified during the weeklong inquest that Lloyd - who was driving with fellow ITN reporters from Kuwait toward Basra, Iraq - was shot in the back by Iraqi troops who overtook his car, then died after U.S. fire hit a civilian minivan being used as an ambulance and struck him in the head.”

This is a straightforward statement that likely represents the facts.

The AP: "’Terry Lloyd died following a gunshot wound to the head. The evidence this bullet was fired by the Americans is overwhelming,’ Walker said. ‘There is no doubt that the minibus presented no threat to the American forces. There is no doubt it was an unlawful act of fire.’"

Analyzing these four statements, one and three are difficult to argue with, and the third may be true. The fourth, however, presumes facts not in evidence, and must be viewed with great and justifiable suspicion.

In fact, the AP reported the following later in the story: “The court watched a video Tuesday, filmed by a U.S. serviceman attached to one of the tanks accused of firing at the reporters' cars. The tape opens with images of Lloyd's vehicle and the Iraqi truck burning amid gunfire. The tanks drive to the cars and inspect them. A minivan - possibly the ambulance - appears and more shots are fired. At the end of the tape, a U.S. soldier shouts, ‘It's some media personnel! That's media down there!’" [Emphasis added.]

Clearly I don't have all the evidence, but neither did the coroner. Nevertheless, that scenario strongly implies that the tank personnel, who were actively involved in fighting, did not recognize the approaching vehicle was friendly.

There are many reasons why individual journalists go to war zones. Often, they do so because it is good for their careers. They do with the full knowledge and understanding that danger lurks around every corner. Journalists who go to war zones and work independently of military units put themselves at much higher risk than those who are embedded with military units.

Terry Lloyd’s death is unfortunate, and almost certainly an unfortunate accident, not a deliberate act by the U.S. military. What possible good could the U.S. expect from deliberately killing one or more British journalists? As we mourn Lloyd’s death, we must at the same time acknowledge that he took chances by being in a war zone, and he multiplied those risks by working independently of military unites operating in the area.

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