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BOSTON — “It is like fingerprints at a crime scene,” said Faris Fadhel Sultan, an Iraqi journalist, as he watched the grainy, black-and-white video images from a U.S. helicopter gunship that showed his two friends and fellow reporters being gunned down.
He winced as the footage continued, the cross hairs of the U.S. Apache attack helicopter still trained on the journalists even after they had fallen there on a Baghdad street where insurgents were mixed in among civilians. Then a van pulled up to collect the bodies and the shooting with heavy caliber macine gun rounds continued.
“That right there is a crime,” added Sultan, a correspondent for Al-Arabiya News Channel who knew both of the journalists, who were working for Reuters when they were killed by US forces along with 10 others including two children who were inside the van.
Sultan and five other Iraqi journalists came to GlobalPost in Boston today as part of an official visit hosted by WorldBoston, a non-profit organization that promotes understanding on world affairs here in Boston.
WorldBoston, which was founded in 1961, has a proud tradition of connecting emerging leaders from around the world with their counterparts in Boston. It is funded through private and corporate donations and in part by the U.S. State Department. Three of the interpreters who accompanied the five Iraqi journalists were official interpreters for the State Department.
But even if the Iraqi journalists were guests of the U.S. State Department they were pulling no punches as they commented on the disturbing footage. There was no effort to silence them or blunt their raw emotion over what they saw. This was, in its essence, what WorldBoston is all about which is to encourage open and honest dialogue. GlobalPost’s Deputy Editor Freya Petersen, who is the lead editor on our Middle East coverage, and I were listening and learning, and that’s what WorldBoston seeks to foster.
As we learned, the two journalists who were killed in the attack in 2007 were Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, who was a talented young photographer, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, a father of four and a video technician and assistant to Reuters for several years, were killed. Two children were found wounded inside a van that came to the aid of those fired upon.
A U.S. soldier is heard on the video to say: "It's their fault for bringing their kids to a battle."
Hadee Galo Meree, executive director of Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), was among the group of Iraqi journalists watching the video with us.
Meree’s organization, which is based in Baghdad, has been documenting the killing of Iraqi and international journalists in the war. By the group’s estimate, 250 journalists have been killed since the U.S. invaded in 2003. Approximately 175 were Iraqi and the other 75 were foreign correspondents.
Some were killed in crossfire and some, Meree insists, were killed intentionally by U.S. and coalition forces and Iraqi police and military.
The footage that was leaked by the website WikiLeaks, presumably from an insider in the Pentagon, is the most devastating indictment to date, Meree said. He sees the footage as proof that journalists were killed even when they were clearly identified as working in the field.
Pentagon officials have not confirmed the authenticity of the video. Pentagon officials have denied that the journalists were killed intentionally and have pointed out that the insurgents who were operating in the area were heavily armed.
Meree said his organization intends to launch a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense for the killing.
“We don’t know if we will succeed in a suit. But we will try. That’s part of having a solid judicial system. We have to try. That was a crime … The military aircraft was controlling what was clearly a civilian neighborhood with a very high density of families. So the military could have isolated those militia from the journalists and the other civilians. If it is war, they should have evacuated the injured and not just killed them all."
“They knew they were journalists and they killed them anyway. And the worst part is that it happens all the time,” he said, citing a case just 10 days ago when a female journalist, Asil al Obuedi, who was working for the Dijla Group news and talk radio channel was killed when U.S. forces opened fire West of Iraq.
“The only difference is when it is an Iraqi news organization, you don’t see the footage broadcast here in America. The only reason we know about this killing is that they worked for Reuters,” Meree added.