ITN reporter Terry Lloyd was unlawfully killed when he came under fire from American troops in Iraq, a coroner ruled today.
Andrew Walker, the assistant deputy coroner of Oxfordshire, said he would take steps to see if the soldiers responsible could be brought to justice.
“Having carefully taken into account all the evidence I am satisfied so that I am sure that had this killing taken place under English Law it would have constituted an unlawful homicide,” Mr Walker said, making his ruling after a six-day inquest in Oxford.
“I shall write to the attorney general and the director of public prosecutions with a view to considering the appropriate steps to bring the persons involved in this incident to justice.”
The head of the National Union of Journalists in Britain took things a step further:
The NUJ general secretary, Jeremy Dear, said: “We welcome the coroner’s decision to report his finding to the attorney general and the DPP and believe they should immediately commence proceedings to bring the perpetrators of what is nothing short of a war crime, to justice.
“The killing of journalists with impunity must never, ever go unpunished. Any attempt to silence journalists in this way must never succeed.
“We would also like to again express our deepest sympathy to the family for their tragic loss. The inquest verdict has confirmed what we always suspected: that Terry’s death was not an accident in the theatre of war but a callous act of murder.”
The head of the International Federation of Journalists – who condemned Israel for bombing Hezbollah’s propaganda arm – told the AP, “If this was murder, as the court suggests, and the U.S. is responsible, it is certainly a war crime.”
But the facts of the case do not support these charges. According to this AP report, Lloyd was killed in a crossfire between Iraqi troops and the U.S. military during the opening days of the war. The AP report states that Lloyd was shot by Iraqi forces first. Here’s what happened next:
The coroner said Friday that a civilian drove up in a minivan, pulled a U-turn and picked up four wounded Iraqi soldiers, then saw Lloyd with a press card around his neck and helped him into the van. Lloyd was shot in the head as the van drove off toward a hospital, the coroner said.
Despite the coroner’s inflammatory accusations, he admitted that his inquest:
was unable to determine whether the bullets that killed Lloyd in southern Iraq on March 22, 2003, were fired by U.S. ground forces or helicopters.
That’s a pretty damning admission, because a colleague of Lloyd’s who survived the attack told the AP that, “the forces in a tank would have been able to see that they were firing at a civilian vehicle, but a helicopter would not.”
This AP report includes more exculpatory details:
Lloyd and the three other ITN crew members were some of the few Western reporters who covered the fighting on their own, while most others were embedded with U.S. or British forces. […]
U.S. authorities didn’t allow servicemen to testify at the inquest. Several submitted anonymous statements that the coroner ruled inadmissible.
“I should have heard all evidence from the American personnel,” Walker said. “It was not satisfactory or appropriate to read these statements in place of that evidence.”
The court watched a video Tuesday, filmed by a U.S. serviceman attached to one of the tanks accused of firing at the reporters’ cars. The tape opens with images of Lloyd’s vehicle and the Iraqi truck burning amid gunfire. The tanks drive to the cars and inspect them. A minivan – possibly the ambulance – appears and more shots are fired. At the end of the tape, a U.S. soldier shouts, “It’s some media personnel! That’s media down there!”
So 1) Lloyd and his team took a great risk in attempting to cover a war zone on their own, 2) The coroner tossed out the servicemen’s statements in their defense, and 3) the video evidence does not make clear whether the shots came from tanks or helicopters, but does indicate that the servicemen were unaware that any media personnel were involved until it was too late.
The U.S. Military, which conducted its own inquiry, looked at this same set of facts and “determined that U.S. forces followed the applicable rules of engagement.” If the UK coroner’s inquest found any evidence that contradicts that determination, it hasn’t been reported. Nevertheless, organizations like the NUJ and the IFJ have used this occasion to accuse the U.S. Military of committing “a callous act of murder” and a ”war crime”.
Several Israeli journalists quit the IFJ when that organization lobbed similar smears at their country’s military. Will any American journalist have the courage to do the same?