US attack on Baghdad media hotel no accident: rights group

[Agence France-Presse]

A media rights group called for a full probe into a 2003 US shelling that killed two foreign journalists at a Baghdad hotel, claiming that new evidence showed the incident was not an accident.

The International Federation of Journalists said the United States should "tell the whole truth" about the incident at the Palestine Hotel on April 8, 2003, just a day before Baghdad fell to US invading forces.

The IFJ said a former US army sergeant had reported seeing secret US documents that listed the hotel as a possible target, a statement which it said "exposed as a cover-up" the US position that the shelling was an accident.

"Slowly the awful truth about the events of that day are emerging," Aidan White, general secretary of the Brussels-based IFJ, said in a statement.

"This latest information adds to our concern that the failure to properly investigate and report on this attack is covering up the reality that the US was recklessly putting media lives at risk."

Spanish cameraman Jose Couso, who worked for the private television station Telecinco, and Ukraine-born Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk were killed at the hotel, which was home to about 150 journalists and media staff at the time.

A Spanish court last week threw out murder charges against three US soldiers over the Couso killing, saying there was insufficient evidence indicating an "intentional desire" by them to target civilians in the hotel.

The US military said that an investigation concluded it was an "unfortunate accident."

"It is an unfortunate reality that journalists have died in Iraq," the statement said. "Combat operations are inherently dangerous and we do not take lightly our responsibilities in the conduct of these operations.

"Defence department policy has never authorised or condoned the deliberate targeting of non-combatants, including journalists," the statement said, adding that the US military was working with media organisations to reduce the risks.

Iraq remains the most dangerous country to report from.

According to Journalism Freedom Observatory, a group monitoring and defending the rights of Iraq journalists, 232 media employees -- including 22 foreigners -- have been killed since the 2003 US led-invasion.

Of these, 179 of them were killed while working and the remainder were killed for sectarian reasons or in random acts of violence.

At least 14 journalists are also being held hostage by various groups, according to the media watchdog.

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