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[eccr] Military accused of mistreating reporters
Tue Apr 01 21:44:06 GMT 2003
Title: Military accused of mistreating reporters
Military accused of mistreating reporters
Tuesday April 1, 2003
Coalition forces: facing criticism over treatment of journalists
The international press watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres has accused US and British coalition forces in Iraq of displaying "contempt" for journalists covering the conflict who are not embedded with troops.
The criticism comes after a group of four "unilateral" or roving reporters revealed how they were arrested by US military police as they slept near an American unit 100 miles south of Baghdad and held overnight.
They described their ordeal as "the worst 48 hours in our lives".
"Many journalists have come under fire, others have been detained and questioned for several hours and some have been mistreated, beaten and humiliated by coalition forces," said the RSF secretary general, Robert Menard.
The four journalists - Israeli Dan Scemama and Boaz Bismuth and Portugese Luis Castro and Victor Silva - entered Iraq in a jeep and followed a US convoy but were not officially attached to the troops.
US military police seized the journalists outside their base and detained them even though they were carrying international press cards.
The group claimed they were mistreated and denied contact with their families.
It is thought that the fact the two Israelis held dual French nationality exacerbated the situation.
"The US soldiers said we were terrorists and spies and treated us as such," said Scemama, who works for the broadcaster Israel Channel One.
"They want all the journalists in Iraq to have one of their liaison officers with them to supervise the footage they are broadcasting. There is no doubt that this is why they treated us so cruelly," he added.
He recounted how "five gorillas" jumped on one of his Portuguese colleagues, who is "small, thin and gentle", after he begged to be allowed to speak to his wife and children to tell them he was still alive.
"They knocked him to the ground, kicked him, stepped on him, tied him up and threw him back into the camp. He came back half an hour later. He was crying like a child," Scemama told the Independent.
"There was one captain who wanted us to lie on the ground with our faces in the sand and dust. 'Stick your head in the sand and don't look,' he shouted at us. I told him I was 55 years old. He replied, 'Do it, or I'll shoot you," Scemama added.
RSF has also criticised coalition forces over the bombing of the ministry of information in Baghdad, which was the centre for the international media.
The complex has been bombed twice - on March 29 and 30 - destroying the international media "tent village" on the roof.
The watchdog said journalists had left the building just one hour before the missile strikes.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the BBC's Andrew Gilligan said journalists will no longer go to the ministry of information so Iraqi officials instead visit the Hotel Palestine, where all foreign journalists are staying.
In a lengthy account, Gilligan described how fraught reporting has become in the midst of the bombings and tight Iraqi controls on the movement of the press.
"After dark, no one will go to the press centre, a likely target which has now been attacked. Udai's [Saddam Hussein's chief spin doctor] bid to throw a grand rooftop party there on the second night of bombing was swiftly shot down by the hacks" Gilligan said.
"So the ministers come to the Palestine too. They shift their press conferences to another room at the last minute in case the Americans should try a lucky shot.
"Then they lock us in. Not just to make sure we take down every syllable of overblown rhetoric, but as another safeguard against that inconvenient cruise missile strike - and to stop us seeing the way they leave."
He described how the floor of the hotel "feels like Stalag Luft V with the Goons shaking down the hut for escape equipment as the plucky officers throw it from balcony to balcony".
He added: "But on the roof, it's all a bit more serious. Several TV stations have set up cameras. The Iraqis throw them off. Literally. Eighteen storeys down. The crews themselves are beaten and kicked."
According to RSF, many journalists in Kuwait have reported cases of non-embedded colleagues who have tried to cross the border into Iraq being questioned, threatened and sent back by the British or US military.
US freelance journalist Phil Smucker, who works for the Daily Telegraph and the Christian Science Monitor of Boston, was forced to return to Kuwait by the US military on March 27, RSF reported.
Smucker was accused of jeopardising the safety of a unit by being too specific in the information he gave in a CNN interview.
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