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IFJ challenges US over media deaths after UK court says shooting of journalist in Iraq was "unlawful killing"

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

IFJ Challenges United States over Media Deaths after UK Court Says Shooting of Journalist in Iraq was "Unlawful Killing"

The IFJ today called on the United States to "tell the whole truth" about a series of media deaths in Iraq at the hands of US troops after a British coroner ruled that the death of ITN reporter Terry Lloyd in Iraq, during a fire-fight between Iraqi and US troops, was an "unlawful killing."

Witnesses gave evidence that Lloyd was shot in the head by American troops as he was being driven to hospital following a clash outside Basra in the first days of the Iraq conflict.

"If this was murder as the court suggests and the US is responsible, it is certainly a war crime," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, backing the response of its affiliate in the UK and Ireland, the National Union of Journalists.

The IFJ welcomed the verdict, which it says will invigorate the global campaign for justice in another 19 cases where there have not been credible reports to explain the killing of journalists and media staff who died as a result of American fire.

"This decision gets us one step closer to bringing Terry Lloyds's killers to justice," said White. "It also signals that it is now time for the United States to abandon its policy of cover-up and tell the whole truth about other cases where media staff died in unexplained circumstances at the hands of its soldiers."

The IFJ, the world's largest journalists' group, has organised a global campaign over the mystery surrounding a number of media deaths, starting with the United States military attack on the Palestine Hotel, a media centre, in Baghdad on April 8th 2003 in which two journalists died. On the same day the US attacked the Baghdad office of Al Jazeera, killing a reporter.

Last year a court in Spain which had issued an arrest warrant for three American soldiers over the killing of cameraman Jose Couso in the Palestine Hotel had to abandon the case because of non-co-operation by the United States authorities. The IFJ has accused the United States of "callous indifference" over media killings, criticising its failure to produce credible reports, always exonerating its own personnel whenever they are involved and refusing to respond to appeals for independent and inclusive investigations.

"So long as the United States remains indifferent and refuses to explain the actions of its soldiers in these killings there will be speculation about deliberate targeting of media staff," said White.

The IFJ says journalists covering conflicts are non-combatants whose safety is protected under international law.

Lloyd, a 50-year-old Briton, died on March 22, 2003, while on assignment with three colleagues in Basra. Belgian cameraman Daniel Demoustier was wounded in the attack and, after the incident, the bodies of French cameraman Fred Nérac and Lebanese interpreter Hussein Osman, were missing. Although Osman's remains were identified by DNA testing in June 2004, there has never been any trace of Nérac's body.

"The inquiry and review of this incident and the focus on Terry's death has allowed some truths to be established about his death and that of his colleagues," said White. "It is a step forward, but now we need to go further and review every case and press the American authorities to explain the actions of their people," said White.

The inquest verdict of "unlawful killing" in Britain now paves the way for legal action against the United States to bring those responsible for Lloyd's death to justice.

Lloyd and his colleagues were the first media professionals killed in the Iraq War. In the three years since their deaths, at least 148 other journalists and news staff have been killed, the IFJ says, many in targeted attacks. Virtually all of the killings have gone unpunished.

Threats, attacks, kidnappings and killings are a part of daily life for Iraqi media. The IFJ has seen the atmosphere for journalists get increasingly dangerous as the general security situation in the country has deteriorated.

"Many of these deaths are at the hands of political thugs and extremists over whom we have no control," said White. "But now, after three years, we can at least demand that justice is delivered to those who have died at the hands of democratic forces. It's time to tell the truth and clear the air over a shocking period in which journalists and media people have been the victims of cover-up and misinformation."

The IFJ has over 500,000 members in more than 100 countries worldwide.

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