19 August 2003
The American army admitted yesterday that its soldiers killed an award-winning Reuters cameraman. Mazen Dana, a Palestinian, was shot dead by a US tank crew at close range while trying to film outside Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison on Sunday, after a mortar attack on the prison.
The Americans claimed that the soldiers mistook the camera Mr Dana was holding for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher - a claim that was immediately rejected by journalists who witnessed the killing.
"We were all there, for at least half an hour. They knew we were journalists," said Stephan Breitner of France 2 television. "After they shot Mazen, they aimed their guns at us. I don't think it was an accident. They are very tense. They are crazy. They are young soldiers and they don't understand what is happening."
Mr Dana's driver, Munzer Abbas, said: "There were many journalists around. They knew we were journalists. This was not an accident."
Mr Dana's colleagues said the tank was 30 metres from him when it opened fire. Television cameras do not look like RPG launchers: at such close range it should have been impossible to confuse the two.
A senior US Army spokesman offered condolences to Mr Dana's family, but said soldiers would not fire warning shots when they believed they were under threat. Lt-Col Guy Shields said: "I can't give you details on the rules of engagement, but the enemy is not in formations, they are not wearing uniforms. During wartime, firing a warning shot is not a necessity. There is no time for a warning shot if there is potential for an ambush."
The Reuters team had identified themselves to American soldiers guarding the perimeter of the prison, and they had been given permission to film. Nael al-Shyouki, a Reuters soundman working with Mr Dana, said: "After we filmed, we went into the car and prepared to go when a convoy led by a tank arrived and Mazen stepped out of the car to film. I followed him and Mazen walked three to four metres. We were noted and seen clearly." He said the American soldiers "saw us and they knew about our identities and mission".
Mr Shyouki described the killing: "A soldier on the tank shot at us. I lay on the ground. I heard Mazen and I saw him scream and touching his chest. I cried at the soldier, telling him, 'you killed a journalist'. They shouted at me and asked me to step back and I said, 'I will step back but please help, please help and stop the bleed'."
The soldiers did try to help but could do nothing. "Mazen took a last breath and died before my eyes," said Mr Shyouki. The 43-year-old cameraman leaves a wife and four children. "He was supposed to be going home today," a Reuters colleague said yesterday.
Mr Dana is the second Reuters cameraman to be killed by US forces in Baghdad. Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian, died when a tank fired a shell into the Hotel Palestine, which was full of journalists, as Baghdad was falling. In both cases, witnesses accused the US of knowingly killing a journalist.
Mr Dana was no novice in war zones. His hometown, Hebron in the West Bank, is a dangerous place. In 2001, he won the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) International Press Freedom Award for his work in Hebron. He was shot three times in 2000.
Reuters, the CPJ and Reporters Sans Frontières in Paris called on the American military to conduct a full inquiry into Mr Dana's death.