Journalists Killed  |  Iraq

Mazen Dana

Reuters

August 17, 2003, in outside Baghdad, Iraq

Dana, a veteran conflict cameraman for Reuters news agency, was killed by machine gun fire from a U.S. tank near the capital, Baghdad. Dana was struck in the torso while filming near Abu Ghraib Prison, outside Baghdad, in the afternoon. He had been reporting with a colleague near the prison after a mortar attack had killed six Iraqis there the previous night. The soldier in the tank who fired on Dana did so without warning, while the journalist filmed the vehicle approaching him from about 55 yards (50 meters).

U.S. military officials said the soldier who opened fire mistook Dana's camera for a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher. There was no fighting taking place in the area, and the journalists had been operating in the vicinity of the prison with the knowledge of U.S. troops near the prison gates.

In an August 18 letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, CPJ protested the shooting, stating that it raised "serious questions about the conduct of U.S. troops and their rules of engagement."

On September 22, the U.S. military announced that it had concluded its investigation into the incident. A spokesman for U.S. Central Command (Centcom) in Iraq told CPJ that while Dana's killing was "regrettable," the soldier "acted within the rules of engagement." No further details were provided. The results of the investigation have not been made public. A Centcom spokesman said other details of the report are classified.

Dana's soundman, Nael Shyioukhi, who witnessed the incident, told CPJ that he and Dana arrived at the prison with their driver, Munzer Abbas, in the late afternoon. According to Shyioukhi, several journalists were also in the area. Shyioukhi said that after a short while Dana suggested that they approach the prison gates to begin filming. At one point, Dana identified himself to a U.S. soldier as a journalist from Reuters and asked if a spokesman was available to comment on camera about the attack the previous night. The soldier replied that he could not comment, and no spokesmen were available. Dana then asked the soldier if he and Shyioukhi could film the prison from a nearby bridge. According to Shyioukhi, the soldier politely told them they were welcome to do so.

After filming from the bridge, located between 330 and 660 yards (300 and 600 meters) from the prison, Dana and Shyioukhi, who were wearing jeans and T-shirts, packed their equipment in their car and began to head off for the Reuters office. As they approached the main road to the prison, Dana noticed a convoy of tanks approaching and told Abbas to stop so he could film it. According to Shyioukhi, he and Dana were not apprehensive because the area was calm, and it was apparent that U.S. troops were in complete control. Neither Dana nor Shyioukhi were wearing flak jackets, and their car was not marked press.

Dana exited the car and set up his blue, canvas-encased camera with a white microphone facing the tanks while Shyioukhi lit a cigarette. Shyioukhi said Dana filmed for about 10 seconds, when suddenly, without warning, several shots rang out from the lead tank, which was approximately 55 yards (50 meters) away.

Shyioukhi ducked for cover then heard Dana scream and place his hand on his stomach, which was bleeding profusely. He said that within moments of the shooting, approximately six U.S. soldiers, including the one who shot Dana, surrounded them. Shyioukhi recounted that the soldier who shot Dana screamed at Shyioukhi to "stand back."

A doctor arrived on an armored personnel carrier (APC) after about 10 minutes and tried to stop the bleeding. The APC took Dana back to the prison complex for treatment and to get him evacuated to a hospital.

U.S. military spokesman Col. Guy Shields called Dana's death a "tragic incident" and promised to do everything to avoid a similar incident in the future. When questioned by London's Independent about the rules of engagement for U.S. troops, Shields said, "I can't give you details on the rules of engagement, but the enemy is not in formations, they are not wearing uniforms. During wartime firing a warning shot is not a necessity. There is no time for a warning shot if there is potential for an ambush."

Some journalists at the scene questioned how troops could mistake the camera for a weapon. And according to experts who train war correspondents, although one might easily mistake a camera for an RPG launcher at a distance, a camera would be clearly visible from 55 to 110 yards (50 to 100 meters)-the distance at which Dana was hit.

Medium: Television

Job: Camera Operator

Beats Covered: War

Gender: Male

Local or Foreign: Foreign

Freelance: No

Type of Death: Crossfire/Combat-Related

Suspected Source of Fire: Military Officials


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