ASJA First Amendment Committee Seeks Investigation of Allegations of Abuse of Journalists in Iraq

In a letter to Senators John Warner (R-VA), chair of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, and to the committee’s ranking minority member Carl Levin (D-MI) the First Amendment Committee of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) called for a “full, fair and independent” investigation of reports that journalists have been abused, humiliated and beaten while being detained by U.S. forces in Iraq. The committee asked that these allegations be investigated along with reports and photographs of abuse of prisoners held in U.S. controlled overseas prisons. ASJA is the nation’s pre-eminent association of free-lance non-fiction writers. Below is the text of the letter.

May 25, 2004

John Warner, Chairman
Carl Levin, Ranking Member
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services
228 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Sirs:

The members of the American Society of Journalists and Authors – the premier national organization of independent non-fiction writers – are deeply concerned by reports that journalists have been beaten, abused and humiliated while being detained by United States forces in Iraq. We ask that you include these allegations in your investigation of the reports and photographs of abuse of other prisoners being held in American-controlled overseas prisons.

According to the Reuters news agency, three of its journalists in Iraq were seized in January of this year by U. S. military. There had been a recent firefight, but the journalists were riding in a car that contained no weapons of any kind, a clear indication that they had not been involved in any shooting. Still, they were arrested, confined near Falluja and subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

An investigation by the U.S. military found “no abuse of any kind.” But that denial was made while the investigation was still underway, still not complete, still without interviews of any of the detainees. Once released, though, the journalists told Reuters about beatings and humiliations that are shockingly similar to the reports and photographs now emerging from the prison at Abu Ghraib.

According to NBC News, one of its cameramen was also arrested, confined and “subjected to a battery of abusive tactics that can only be called torture.” Although an NBC official sent a detailed complaint to the Defense Department, NBC says they have not received a response. Instead, an 82nd Airborne Division spokesman announced that it is “a closed case.”

These charges of demeaning and degrading treatment by Americans are shocking. We cannot help but wonder whether they occurred in a climate set by the earlier deaths of journalists by “friendly fire.” As we wrote to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the time, we believe that those incidents also were investigated in an inadequate and unsatisfactory way.

We are calling for a full, fair and independent investigation into these latest episodes. Such an investigation would reassure the journalists who risk their lives to report the facts of war. A thorough investigation would also be a way of showing respect for the majority of our service men and women who are performing their duties with courage and honor. We hope that you will agree to add this important task to your mission.

Sincerely yours,
Claire Safran
Chair, First Amendment Committee

Copies of the letter were sent to all members of the Armed Services Committee.