October 16, 2006

The Cagey Coronor

Hatched by Dafydd

Actually, it's not really a "court decision;" but that was the closest category I have, and I didn't think it necessary to create a new one for a single story.

When I first read this tale Friday the 13th, I meant to blog on it, but it slipped my mind. But then a hiccough in the finely tooled Reuters machine caused a list of old stories to bubble up on their Excite RSS feed, instead of the new stuff. Seeing this thing a second time jogged my memory; and here we are, wherever that is.

This story is so explosively anti-Bush -- yet has created so little a stir in the antique media -- that I suspect they're just as skeptical about it as I:

One of Britain's most experienced journalists was unlawfully killed by U.S. soldiers in Iraq, a British inquest into his death ruled on Friday, prompting calls for the perpetrators to be tried for war crimes.

Veteran war correspondent Terry Lloyd, 50, who worked for British television company ITN, was killed in March 2003 in southern Iraq as he reported from the front line during the first few days of the U.S.-led invasion....

The ITN News crew, which unlike most journalists covering the war was not attached to any U.S. or British unit, had first come under fire at Iman Anas, near Basra, while driving toward the port city in two vehicles marked "Press."

Lloyd, who had reported from Iraq, Cambodia, Bosnia and Kosovo during his award-winning career, was initially wounded in the stomach. He was then shot in the head by U.S. troops after he had been picked up and put in an Iraqi minibus, the inquest heard.

Note the obvious implication: the Americans must have stopped the minivan, gone inside, identified Lloyd, realized he was a journalist, and killed him execution style!

But in fact, other reporting makes clear the minivan was in a crossfire between Saddamite Iraqi and American forces, and was hit by machine-gun fire from either an American tank or helo; one bullet happened to hit Lloyd in the head. There was nothing deliberate about it, and no evidence was offered that any American had any idea a journalist was in the minivan (in fact, video evidence shows that we were shocked to find him there).

It appears from the story that nobody at the inquest took any evidence from the Pentagon; the article says that the soldiers declined to attend -- understandable, since they might have been summarily seized and held; and even the writer of this article, Eleanor Wason, seems never to have bothered calling for comment. The only response from the DoD is clearly a generic, pro-forma defense, probably lifted from some press release, probably issued at the time of the death:

U.S. Army Colonel Gary Keck, a Pentagon spokesman, said the death was a "tragic accident."

"We do not nor would we ever deliberately target a non-combatant, civilian or journalist," he said.

"We will continue to work with news organisations to do everything realistically possible to reduce the risk on an inherently dangerous battlefield but we must remember that there are inherent risks in covering a war."

A Washington Post article sheds some light on the lack of interest in contrary testimony: in fact, a number of soldiers submitted written testimony, but the coroner, Andrew Walker -- who appears to have functioned as both prosecutor and judge in this affair, making it more like an American grand-jury proceeding than a trial -- refused to allow the written testimony to be entered as evidence, since the soldiers didn't show up in person to be clapped in irons.

But videotape evidence and even testimony at the hearing show that the shooting happened in the middle of a firefight between American and Iraqi forces at the beginning of the war, before Saddam Hussein's government collapsed:

According to a videotape provided by the U.S. military and testimony from witnesses, including an ITN cameraman who was at the scene, Lloyd, 50, was killed after being caught in crossfire between U.S. and Iraqi forces near the southern Iraqi city of Basra on March 22, 2003.

The British coroner said Lloyd was shot in the back [back or stomach?] by Iraqi soldiers who had overtaken his four-wheel-drive vehicle. Lloyd then walked to a civilian minivan and was being driven away for medical treatment when U.S. forces opened fire on the van, killing Lloyd with a shot to the head, Walker concluded.

"There is no doubt that the minibus presented no threat to the American forces," Walker said. "There is no doubt it was an unlawful act of fire upon the minibus."

My first thought upon reading that was, how much combat experience does Coroner Walker have? How is he able to tell whether American soldiers -- in a war -- in the midst of combat -- with an actual enemy army -- did or did not see a moving vehicle on the battlefield as a threat? My second thought was that if this is the sort of "impartial" justice American soldiers can expect to receive in Oxford, then it's no wonder we're not willing to hand our soldiers over to such tender mercies.

The hysteria surrounding this death, including the inevitable implication that Lloyd was deliberately shot to death execution-style while he lay wounded, sounds remarkably like the fabricated claims that American soldiers "assassinated" Nicola Calipari, the negotiator who got Italian pseudo-journalist Giuliana Sgrena (a self-professed Communist who works for the Communist Party propaganda sheet Il Manifesto) out of her supposed captivity in Iraq.

In fact, the investigation in the Sgrena case ultimately showed that the car holding her tried to run a security checkpoint -- probably to avoid answering embarassing questions about whether they paid the terrorists a ransom -- and was fired upon by a National Guard specialist (a number of lefty blogs misunderstood and falsely reported that the guard was Special Forces, rather than a specialist; I suppose it fit the "assassination" theory better). The gunfire, aimed at the engine block, went through the windshield and fatally wounded Calipari.

But Sgrena instantly accused the Americans of trying to assassinate her, presumably because we were so frightened that she might denounce us in her Communist rag. And Italian authorities jumped to obey, charging the specialist with "political murder" (that is, assassination). The U.S. has said it has no intention of handing him over (I'm deliberately not using his name, and I will delete any comment that names him; he has suffered enough for just doing his job). However, the Italians now threaten to try him "in absentia."

I suspect the Terry Lloyd death will be dealt with similarly: Coroner Walker will continue insisting that we deliberately shot Lloyd... never mind the fact that there were many embedded journalists, a great many whom were anti-war from the beginning and reporting on "quagmires" and "friendly-fire incidents" and that we couldn't possibly win the initial phase; why would we be especially frightened of one more? And a foreign journalist, to boot, whose broadcasts would have significantly less impact here than those of lefty American broadcasters like Dan Rather or any of the one-the-ground reporters for CNN.

When the Pentagon refuses to yank the soldiers off of the line or pull them out of duty in Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa or wherever they heck they are to send them to a kangaroo court in Oxfordshire, I'm sure that Walker and the widow and child of Lloyd will demand they be tried not only in absentia but also anonymously. The wheels of justice grind exceeding fine indeed.

ABC ran a story, but it adds only slightly to the narrative. Here are the two most interesting parts:

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.

First of all, how does the coroner know that the minivan "drove off toward a hospital?" Did he consult a street map of Iman Anas, figure out where the hospital was, and deduce that that's where the minivan was headed?

But the second tidbit here is even more telling: before picking up Lloyd, the minivan picked up some Iraqi soldiers. The soldiers were supposedly wounded; but how should Americans know this when they see it driving around? There is no evidence we saw the minivan pick people up. Clearly, it was fired upon sometime later, because they subsequently picked up Lloyd and were shot at by the Americans after that point.

So if the Americans could see into the minivan at all, what would they see? An unmarked minivan full of Iraqi soldiers, possibly still armed, driving around a battlefield during an ongoing firefight. Yet Coroner Walker believes we should have known that the Iraqi soldiers were wounded, and that there was also a wounded British broadcaster -- shot by the Iraqis -- inside as well.

Some "war crime." The full story is a far cry from there being "no doubt that the minibus presented no threat to the American forces."

Here is a fascinating point that evidently came out at the hearing -- but was not deemed particularly important by the coroner. From the ABC story:

ITN cameraman Daniel Demoustier, the sole survivor, told the inquest that ITN's pair of four-wheel drive vehicles were overtaken by a truck carrying Iraqi forces and that gunfire erupted. [From the Washington Post story, we know that "erupted" means the Iraqis opened fire, hitting Lloyd in the back. Or the front, per Reuters.]

"The hell broke loose completely. I was absolutely sure I was going to die," Demoustier told the inquest. Driving blindly in smoke, Demoustier said he realized the passenger door was open and Lloyd was gone.

Demoustier, a Belgian, said he jumped from his flaming car and lay in the sand, waiting for the shooting to stop. Demoustier said he tried to stand to signal U.S. tanks in the area but that they resumed firing at the clearly marked ITN vehicles.

So in other words, the ITN vehicles -- and likely the minivan as well -- were right in the middle of a crossfire, with Iraqi forces on one side and American tanks on the other (unless you prefer believing we were actually sitting side by side with the Republican Guard, both of us collaborating in pumping lead into newsvans instead of fighting each other).

So even if the minivan itself were no threat, the Iraqi vehicles using it as cover to shoot at us were. Did Coroner Walker consider that possibility? Did he investigate the line of fire to see whether we were shooting at the minivan and the ITN SUVs -- or shooting at the Iraqis hiding behind them? Certainly nothing in any of the small handful of stories about this hearing tell us whether he bothered or not.

Perhaps this is why the American elite media have by and large not lined up behind this story the way they swarmed around, e.g., Abu Ghraib, the al Qaqaa ammunition dump, or even (heaven help us) Mark Foley. Maybe they remember how they got their heads handed to them following the revelation of the true story of the Sgrena "assassination", when satellite pictures clearly showed the car traveling very fast into the checkpoint and not decelerating before the soldiers fired upon it. Once bitten...

We'll see what happens over the next three weeks. At some point, the Democrats may decide that any such debunking can be suppressed until November 8th; and they may instruct their propaganda wing, the mass media, to run with it anyway. (Or maybe some Democratic candidate will use it in an ad slandering his opponent.)

But at the moment, everyone appears to be eyeing this story warily, rather than embracing it with both arms and a thigh.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 16, 2006, at the time of 5:45 PM

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The following hissed in response by: South Park Conservative

All the more reason to never let our service people be subjected to the tender ministrations of the court in Brussels. The institutional opposition to President Bush and to America is truly awful to behold.

The above hissed in response by: South Park Conservative [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 16, 2006 9:41 PM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

So, ahem, he was shot by Iraqis before he was subsequently shot by Americans? Isan't that the very definition of being caught in a cross-fire?

I love how Reuters describes him as "Lloyd, who had reported from Iraq, Cambodia, Bosnia and Kosovo during his award-winning career veteran of several foreign conflicts..." the implication being, hey, this guy would never make a dumb mistake. Therefore he could only have been killed deliberately.

And America gets the blame, since well, we were the last people who shot him. He might have lived under the tender care of the Iraqis!

Whataminute. Didn't the Iraqi shoot him when he was most clearly identifiable as a reporter? You know, driving the clearly marked ITN newsvan? The Americans shot him when he was in an Iraqi vehicle, driven by Iraqis, filled with Iraqi soldiers?


The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 17, 2006 10:00 AM

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