Reuters demands release of wounded journalist

BAGHDAD (Reuters) — Reuters demanded the immediate release on Monday of an Iraqi cameraman who was still being held by US forces in Baghdad more than a day after being wounded in an incident in which his soundman was killed.
Iraqi police said the news team was shot by US soldiers.

The US military said it was investigating and refused to say what questions it was putting to cameraman Haider Kadhem. It would not say where 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.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also called for Khadem’s immediate release.

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”. Senior Reuters staff have offered a full account of the assignment on which they dispatched the two journalists, but this has not been taken up.

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”.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, responding to the incident, condemned all killings of journalists on assignment.

“I would like to put on record that the secretary general [Kofi Annan] does condemn the killings of journalists trying to do their work,” UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said in New York.

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 and Waleed were dispatched to the Hay Adil district, where they were shot, after a police source called Reuters to report an incident involving police and gunmen in that area.

Waleed, 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 US troops opened fire on the Reuters journalists.

CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper called for an investigation. “We are shocked by this senseless death of our colleague, and we call on the US military to provide answers about this tragedy,” she said.

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 US 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.

Two Reuters cameramen have been killed by US troops in Iraq since the US 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 US forces.

Reuters’ cameraman in the city of Ramadi, Ali Mashhadani, was arrested by US forces three weeks ago and is being held without charge in Abu Ghraib prison. US 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.

Check Also

China, the US, and the battle for Middle Eastern technology

The US is changing its approach to dealing with China’s technology statecraft in the Middle …