UK/USA/Iraq: US soldiers "murder" of journalist a war crime


In October a coroner ruled that US soldiers unlawfully killed the British television journalist, Terry Lloyd, as he covered the invasion of Iraq on 22 March 2003. Lloyd, who refused to allow his work to be compromised by becoming embedded with the invading military forces, had initially received a non-fatal wound to his back after getting caught-up in a firefight between US and Iraqi soldiers near the Shatt al-Basra Bridge. Despite the injury he was able to walk to an Iraqi civilian minibus that was acting as an ambulance, picking up the injured with the intention of taking them to hospital. As it drove off US tanks opened fire on the vehicle despite the fact that, according to coroner Andrew Walker, it "presented no threat to American forces, because it was a civilian vehicle and was facing away from the US tanks." Walker added: "I have no doubt it was the fact that the vehicle stopped to pick up survivors that prompted the Americans to fire on that vehicle". If the killing had taken place under English law, he continued, "it would have constituted an unlawful homicide".

The coroner has said that he has "no doubt that it was an unlawful act to fire on this minibus". The 1977 Protocol to the Geneva Conventions is clear that journalists operating in areas of armed conflict should "be considered as civilians" and are entitled to the full protection of the Convention and its Protocols. The "wilful" or "indiscriminate" killing of a journalist can be a "grave" breach of the Convention and therefore a war crime. When this is the case there is an obligation on the British government to bring the perpetrators, "regardless of their nationality", before its courts (Article 146). Walker had already stated that he would be writing to the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions "to see whether any steps can be taken to bring the perpetrators responsible for this to justice."

In a statement read on behalf of the reporter's widow, Ann, solicitor Louis Charalambous said:

The evidence on how Terry LLoyd was unlawfully killed has shown that this was not a friendly fire incident or a crossfire incident, it was a despicable, deliberate, vengeful act, particularly as it came many minutes after the initial exchange. US forces appear to have allowed their soldiers to behave like trigger-happy cowboys in an area where civilians were moving around and, importantly those who gave orders, should now stand trial. Under the Geneva Conventions Act that trial should be for the murder of Terry Lloyd and nothing else. (The Times 13.10.06)

The journalist's daughter, Chelsey Lloyd, also condemned the US military, telling The Times newspaper that: "The killing of my father would seem to amount to murder which is deeply shocking." The US authorities, who refused to cooperate with the inquest, said that it was "an unfortunate reality that journalists have died in Iraq" and, clearly overlooking the widely publicised assaults by the US on the Baghdad offices of Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, emphasised that "We do not, nor would we ever, deliberately target a non-combatant civilian or journalist." No US military officials were available to give evidence to the inquest. Moreover, the US withheld from the coroner 15 minutes of crucial video evidence claiming that it had been accidentally erased.

In December Walker criticised the British government for its "unforgivable and inexcusable" failure to adequately equip the first British soldier to die in the invasion of Iraq at an inquest into his death. Sgt Steven Roberts, who was killed by "friendly fire", was sent into battle lacking "the most basic piece of equipment." Walker continued: "To send soldiers into a combat zone without the appropriate basic equipment is, in my view, unforgivable and inexcusable and represents a breach of trust that the soldiers have in those in government." Walker also listed a series of flaws and inadequacies in the government's planning f

 

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