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The killing of journalists

This year so far 60 journalists have been killed doing their jobs. The number will undoubtedly pass the figure of 63 last year as the toll mounts. There were 53 in 2004, 40 in 2003 and 25 in 2002.

These numbers do not include the translators and assistants who work with journalist, also recorded by Reporters sans frontières. The biggest killing field is Iraq where 26 have died this year, more than the world-wide total just four years ago. This year 17 media assistants have been killed in Iraq.

Yesterday a British court ruled that Terry Lloyd, a reporter from British Independent TV news, was “unlawfully killed” by US forces in March 2003 during the early stages of the Iraq war. A French cameraman, Fred Nerac, and a Lebanese translator, Hussein Osman, died with him, but the coroner in Oxford was inquiring only into the death of Lloyd.

The court heard that Lloyd had been injured earlier and picked up by a minibus acting as a makeshift ambulance. The American troops would have seen this but Lloyd was killed by a bullet in the head. It was fired as the ambulance was moving away from the soldiers, demonstrated by the bullet holes in the back of the vehicle.

The coroner said (Daily Telegraph report) he would write to the British Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions asking “whether any steps can be taken to bring the perpetrators responsible for this to justice”.

There is little hope that this will happen with the US maintaining the killings were within the rules of engagement of the soldiers and the British government reluctant to press for action.

Gover-up is the game the British and US governments are playing. In yesterday’s Guardian, Richard Norton-Taylor, wrote about the secret trial of two men accused of disclosing a classified document.

The document is an official record of a meeting in Washington in 2004 which, it has been said, refers to Bush’s alleged proposal to bomb the Arabic TV channel al-Jazeera.

Norton-Taylor quotes from the judge’s ruling, writing:

The contents of the memo would be read “throughout the world”, he [Mr Justice Aikens] warns – a prospect, it seems, too awful to contemplate. There would be “different views on the implications of what was stated” in the memo. “It is reasonable to conclude,” he warns, that some individuals, parts of the media, and “even some states”, might react “very unfavourably” to the memo’s contents. This might be “for no other reason than the topic under discussion was US/UK policy concerning the state of Iraq at a delicate time”. And he comes with a trump card. He says: “It is also legitimate, in my view, for the court to bear in mind the ever-present threat to national safety which is posed by the possibility of terrorist acts by extremists in the UK.”Not content with hoisting the flag of the terror threat, the judge says that, had he not agreed to a private trial, the government might have dropped the case and in future would be reluctant to prosecute at all in “this type of case”.

Norton-Taylor, in his concluding paragraph, writes: “We are prevented from hearing evidence against defendants in a criminal trial simply, say some who have read the memo, to protect ministers from embarrassment. It is a genuine scandal.”

In both the Lloyd and al Jazeera cases we are looking not at some war lords in distant lands but at the actions of two governments holding permanent seats on the Security Council of the United Nations. They are meant to be the upholders of international law.

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