It’s time the U.S. military stopped shooting journalists.
In the last three weeks, American soldiers have killed at least four journalists in Iraq each while the reporter was driving his car.
Two of the cases are especially telling.
There is the case of Yasser Salihee, an Iraqi correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers. He was driving alone in his own West Baghdad neighborhood when an American sniper’s bullet pierced his windshield and struck him in the head as he approached a U.S. military patrol.
Four days later, a news producer for Iraq’s independent (that is, not controlled by the occupation) TV-station, al-Sharqiyah, was shot to death as he drove to his in-laws home in southern Baghdad. The Associated Press reports U.S. soldiers fired on his car 15 times when he failed to pull over for an American convoy.
Those killings, plus the shooting death of a Baghdad TV editor and a stringer for a Western news agency, bring the total number of journalists killed by U.S. forces in Iraq to 17, according to the International Federation of Journalists.
So much for freedom of speech and democracy.
Unembedded journalists in Iraq are also frequently arrested by the U.S. military. On June 17, the director of the daily newspaper al-Sabah (which is funded by U.S. taxpayers) was detained by American soldiers during one of the military’s regular security sweeps. A week later, U.S. troops detained an Associated Press Television News cameraman in Fallujah. Both have since been released, but the situation in Iraq is hardly free. The most important Arab media outlet, al-Jazeera television, remains banned from Iraq.
Hearing these stories, I think about my own time as an unembedded journalist in Iraq. In six months reporting from the ground, I never once had a gun pointed at me by an "insurgent," but on two occasions I felt personally threatened by an American soldier’s machine gun.
The first incident occurred at the beginning of the occupation. I had just arrived in Baghdad in a beat-up orange and white checkered taxi and was pulling up to a meeting at the al-Fanar hotel across the street from the mammoth Palestine Hotel, where many military contractors were staying. The soldier, who had to be younger than 20, was under orders to block all Iraqis from entering the hotel compound. When I got out of the car to explain that I was an American journalist, my brown hair and mustache giving me the appearance of a native, he cocked his gun before I spoke. Fortunately, my traveling companion was a blond. When the soldier saw my friend, disaster was averted.
A year later, when insurgents blew up the Lebanon Hotel in Baghdad, I faced death again. Rushing over to cover the explosion, I grabbed my camera and tape recorder. But when I lifted my camera to photograph an American soldier on top of a tank, he cocked his gun and screamed, "No photos! No journalists!"
What are we to make of all these stories? At the very least, the Pentagon owes journalists an explanation because to date, no American soldier has been punished for killing or arresting a reporter.
And the obvious: U.S. soldiers need to stop shooting journalists.