by Fiona O'Brien | Reuters/Yahoo! | 8 April 2004
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The brother of a Spanish journalist killed by U.S. troops in Baghdad on April 8 last year laid flowers in the Iraqi capital in his memory on Thursday and demanded those responsible be brought to account.
Jose Couso, a cameraman with Spanish television Telecinco and Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian, were killed when a U.S. tank fired a shell into the Palestine Hotel, where most foreign media in Baghdad were staying during the U.S.-led invasion.
Tarek Ayoub, of Qatar-based Al Jazeera television, was killed in a U.S. air raid in Baghdad the same day.
Couso's brother Javier traveled to Baghdad a few days ago to commemorate his brother and publicly demand an independent investigation into the attacks. At least six journalists have been killed by U.S. troops since the war began.
"I'm here to remember you and at the same time to remind your killers that we will not stop until justice is done," Javier Couso said, standing beside pictures of the six journalists.
Roses were laid in the spirals of razor wire which surround the Palestine, the balcony where the tank shell hit visible in the background behind concrete blast walls and U.S. tanks. Still mainly used by foreigners, the hotel is heavily defended.
Spanish journalist Joana Garcia read a statement demanding an investigation into the journalists' deaths.
"Tarek Ayoub, Taras Protsyuk and Jose Couso were murdered even though no combat had taken place in the areas where they were working," she said.
"Their locations were known to all sides, including the Pentagon (news - web sites), which had the coordinates of all media sites.
"A year after these events there has not been a single independent, credible investigation, as the U.S. government has issued self-exculpatory reports that go so far as to call these acts 'self-defense."'
A Pentagon report into the deaths of Protsyuk and Couso said the incident was tragic and regrettable, but that its forces acted properly in self-defense when they fired at the hotel.
Couso, Protsyuk and Ayoub were killed a day before Baghdad fell to U.S. troops, but a year later the city is still racked by violence and patrolled by American forces.
Outside the hotel on Thursday, U.S. soldiers told the small crowd gathering to pay homage to get well away from the fortified checkpoints where no filming is allowed.
JOURNALISTS IN DANGER
"The sad truth is that since Taras was killed last year, the safety of journalists in Iraq (news - web sites) has not improved," said Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger.
"In fact it has deteriorated considerably. This situation cannot continue and we urge the Pentagon to address this by immediately implementing the recommendations it has made to improve the safety of journalists. We cannot afford to wait until another tragedy happens."
A spokesman for Al Jazeera said channel still wanted an official investigation into the air raid that killed Ayoub.
"Al Jazeera has always called for an investigation to bring closure and to give respect to the family of the deceased and to allay concerns among international media. In other cases, there were investigations conducted." Jihad Ballout said.
U.S. Central Command has said that its forces had come under "significant" enemy fire" that day from the building in Baghdad where the network had set up its office. Jazeera said its reporters were sure there had been no firing from the building.
At least three other journalists have been killed by U.S. troops in Iraq in the past year.
On August 17 a U.S. soldier shot dead award-winning Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana, a Palestinian, outside Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad. The U.S. army said the soldier mistook Dana's camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
On March 18 this year, cameraman Ali Abdelaziz from the Dubai-based Al Arabiya channel, was shot in the head by U.S. troops in Baghdad. Arabiya correspondent Ali al-Khatib died the next day from wounds sustained in the same incident.
(Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai)