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U.S. Reporters Unable to Probe Killings in Fallujah

The accusations of mass killings in Fallujah, and on a smaller scale in other cities in the past week, have led some Iraqi Governing Council members to criticize the U.S. military and threaten to resign. It has also fed rising anti-American anger in the country. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both expressed concerns about the civilian toll.

American reporters may be eager to provide some objective answers, but most are unable or unwilling to venture out of the relative security of downtown Baghdad.
U.S. Reporters Unable to Probe Killings in Fallujah

By E&P Staff

Published: April 15, 2004 10:25 AM EST

NEW YORK Normally, when charges of high civilian casualties in war emerge -- as they have this week in Iraq -- independent reporters attempt to arrive on the scene for a full assessment. But with kidnappings and other threats to the security of journalists rising in Iraq, those kinds of eyewitness probes, at least from Western reporters, may be few and far between.

This has already had dire consequences, with the truth in hot dispute, as the U.S. military denies wrongdoing in the siege of Fallujah while Arab television and other press accounts document an estimated 600 dead in that city and 1,200 wounded, many of them women and children.

The accusations of mass killings in Fallujah, and on a smaller scale in other cities in the past week, have led some Iraqi Governing Council members to criticize the U.S. military and threaten to resign. It has also fed rising anti-American anger in the country. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both expressed concerns about the civilian toll.

American reporters may be eager to provide some objective answers, but most are unable or unwilling to venture out of the relative security of downtown Baghdad.

Rick Atkinson, who covered the Iraq invasion last spring for The Washington Post (Click for QuikCap) and wrote the current bestseller on the experience, "In the Company of Soldiers," told E&P that the newspaper's Baghdad bureau chief indicated to him last week that "it's just so dangerous and hard to move about. Reporters have pulled back. It's very difficult to move around in a meaningful way, difficult to get a complete picture there."

Writing in The Wall Street Journal this week, Julia Angwin reported that no major U.S. news organizations had completely pulled out of Iraq but "the street violence has become so intense and unpredictable that many reporters are staying indoors, taking only short trips or traveling with the military rather than risk being kidnapped or killed."

Several journalists have been kidnapped or detained in Iraq in the past 10 days, including staffers from The New York Times (who were quickly released).

Paul Slavin, a senior vice president of ABC News, told Angwin the situation was "out of control. If it does stay out of control, we will have a huge problem in how we cover this story." Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, said his reporters in Baghdad had been asked to stay within city limits and admitted to Angwin, "I think you have to ask yourself periodically, 'Is it safe to be there at all?'"

A few American and British reporters have penetrated Fallujah, including Lourdes Navarro of The Associated Press and Jeffrey Gettleman of The New York Times.

The issue has become particularly significant, with the threats, and the toll of urban warfare casualties, now expected to go on for some time. Already this week, the American administration in Iraq has accused the Arab media of exaggerating civilian casualties with its footage of rows of dead in the streets and wounded children in hospitals, and accounts of families shot while trying to flee the city. The U.S. Marine commander in charge of Fallujah said that most of the 600 or more killed were legitimate targets, explaining that "95% of those were military age males."

Al-Jazeeera has rejected the complaint, calling it "a threat to the right of the media to cover the reality in Iraq."

Francis Harris, deputy news editor at London's Daily Telegraph, was quoted yesterday as warning, "If it becomes too dangerous you end up with journalists locked up in secure zones interviewing each other and relying on the authorities for information."

On Wednesday, Christine Hauser of The New York Times covered the carnage in Fallujah, but from a hospital in Baghdad, where some of the victims had been taken. Writing from Fallujah, her colleague Jeffrey Gettleman noted that the Marines in that city "have orders to shoot any male of military age on the streets after dark, armed or not."

A lance corporal told Gettleman he had seen an American helicopter fire a missile at a man with a slingshot. "Crazy, huh?" the soldier said.

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Better Title 15.Apr.2004 12:14

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U.S. Reporters Unwilling to Probe Killings in Fallujah

Pathetic lapdog corporate media.