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Tuesday, August 19, 2003 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | PREVIOUS: "The Kleptocrats Have Taken Over" –...
2003-08-19

"Don’t Kill the Truth" – Hundreds in Hebron Mourn Palestinian Journalist Mazen Dana Who Was Shot Dead by U.S. Troops in Baghdad

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Mazen Dana was killed covering a mortar attack on a prison in Baghdad for Reuters on Sunday. U.S. soldiers claimed they mistook the cameraman’s camera for a rocket propelled grenade launcher. The Pentagon said the soldiers accidentally "engaged a cameraman."

"DON’T KILL THE TRUTH"

This was one of many messages delivered yesterday in Hebron by hundreds of mourners marching for award- winning Reuter’s cameraman, Mazen Dana who was shot and killed by U.S. troops in Baghdad on Sunday.

Mazen Dana was killed covering a mortar attack on a prison in Baghdad on Sunday. U.S. soldiers claimed they mistook the cameraman’s camera for a rocket propelled grenade launcher and shot him in the chest. Mazen Dana was 43 years old and considered by Reuters to be one of its finest cameraman. He is survived by his four children and his wife, Suzan.

His camera captured the last moments of his life. The video shows a US tank driving towards Dana outside the prison. Two shots ring out. His camera falls to the ground. Dana is hit in the chest. Blood pours from a huge exit wound in his back.

His sound engineer told reporters that they had talked to US soldiers just minutes before. He said "They saw us and they knew about our identities and our mission."

The official line of the Pentagon was that soldiers accidentally "engaged a cameraman."

A military spokesman apologized for the killing, but tried to justify it within the context of the ongoing guerilla war in Iraq. He said "During war time, firing a warning shot is not a necessity. There is no time for a warning shot if there is potential for an ambush."

Reuters Press, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders all expressed outrage yesterday at the killing of Dana. They demanded a full, public investigation by the U.S. military and contested U.S. troops’ rules of engagement.

Dana is the eleventh journalist to die in combat in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in March. That makes Iraq one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists, outranking hot spots like the West Bank and Colombia.

Dana was the second Reuters cameraman to die since the war began March 20. Taras Protsyuk died April 8 after an American tank fired at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad as U.S. troops took the city.

The U.S. military recently absolved American forces of wrongdoing in that incident, saying they fired in self-defense. Witnesses said there was no gunfire from the hotel when the American tank opened fire.

In 2001, the Committee to Protect Journalists awarded Mazen Dana its International Press Freedom Award for his determination to keep working despite several close calls.

In his acceptance speech Dana told CPJ, "[A]ll journalists have a message, and they are carrying the message. They are not part of the story of the conflict. They are filming what’s going on. And journalists and especially the camera man showing the people the truth."

  • Paul Holmes, Worldwide General Editor of Political and General News, Reuters. He is the former Bureau chief of the Middle East where he supervised Mazen Dana during his reports of the situation in Israel and Palestine.
  • Abed Qusini, Reuter’s cameraperson and a good friend of Mazen Dana. He joins us today from the West Bank. He last spoke to us in April__ after he witnessed the death of Nazeh Darwazeh, an Associated Press cameraman gunned down by an Israeli soldier.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Democracy Now! As we move now to the Middle East. "Don’t kill the truth", the message of hundreds of mourners yesterday marching in Hebron to remember Mazen Dana the award-winning Palestinian journalist shot and killed by U.S. troops in Baghdad on Sunday. Mourners marched holding photos of Dana, demanding more be done to protect journalists.

Some held signs saying "Don’t kill the truth, the occupations kill journalists in Iraq/Palestine". Dana was covering a mortar attack on prison in Baghdad for Reuters.

U.S. soldiers say they mistook the cameraman’s camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and shot him in the chest. Mazen Dana was 43 years old, considered by Reuters to be one of its finest cameramen. He’d earlier received permission to film in the area and several other reporters were filming were unhurt. Military spokesman apologized for the killing, but tried to justify it within the context of the ongoing guerrilla war in Iraq. He said quote "during war time firing a warning shot is not a necessity.

There is no time for a warning shot if there is potential for an ambush." Reuters pressed the committee to protect journalist Reporters Without Borders all expressed outrage yesterday at the killing of Dana. They demanded a full public investigation by the U.S. military and contested U.S. troops’ rules of engagement. Dana is the 11th journalist to die in combat in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in March.

That makes Iraq one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists out ranking hot-spots like the West Bank and Colombia, actually 17 journalists have died in Iraq since the invasion began.

Dana was the second Reuters cameraman to die since March 20. Nazeeh Darwasag died April 8 after a U.S. tank fired on the Palestine hotel in Baghdad as U.S. troops took the city. The U.S. military recently absolved American forces of wrongdoing in that incident saying they fired in self defense. Witnesses said there was no gunfire from the hotel when the American tank opened fire.

Defending against what? In 2001 the committee to protect journalists awarded Mazen Dana its international press freedom award for determination to keep working despite several close calls. In his acceptance speech, Mazen Dana told the committee to protect journalists, quote, "all journalists have a message and they’re carrying the message. They’re not part of the story or the conflict. They’re filming what is going on, and journalists especially cameramen show people the truth."

We go now to Hebron, to the west bank where Mazen Dana was from and we’re going to speak with Paul Holmes, who is the former bureau chief of Middle East for Reuters, worked closely with Mazen Dana. On the line with us from the west bank is Abed Quisini Reuters camera person and good friend of Dana. Abed Quisini, welcome, where are you now?

ABED QUISINI: I’m leaving Hebron.

AMY GOODMAN: We had you on April 21 on Democracy Now! And you were on that day remembering another friend, another journalist and cameraman he was killed in the occupied territory.

ABED QUISINI: Yeah. He was talking about that. On the 29 of April.

AMY GOODMAN: Paul is on with us now, worldwide general editor of political and general news, Reuters. Can you talk about who Mazen Dana was?

PAUL HOLMES: Well Mazen Dana was, and it’s a tribute to him when I say this, but for so many years, Mazen Dana was an anonymous name outside the journalistic profession.

As you said in your introduction, Mazen believed that his mission was to bring the truth to bring events into people’s living rooms through his camera. And day in and day out he recorded events in Hebron. Largely anonymously. People were aware of events in Hebron thanks to Mazen’s courage, thanks to his commitment and thanks to his professionalism. But they were not aware of Mazen as a person.

I want to say here that any journalist who has covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for any length of time knew Mazen and knew his commitment to the story and he will be very sadly missed by the entire journalistic community.

AMY GOODMAN: Mazen Dana was a number of journalists who went to the prison. So in a sense he was in a pack.

He went to the prison because there has been a mortar attack there. This is a description, Mazen Dana’s camera captured the last moment of his life. The video shows a U.S. tank driving towards him outside the prison, two shots ring out, his camera falls to the ground, Dana is hit in the chest. Blood pours from a huge exit wound in his back, his sound engineer told reporters they had talked to U.S. soldiers just minutes before. He said, quote, "They saw us, they knew about our identities and our mission." The official line of the Pentagon was that soldiers accidentally, quote, engaged a cameraman. Your response.

PAUL HOLMES: Well, we’ve asked for a full and thorough investigation into this incident. It’s not really sufficient for the American military simply to say, we mistook this cameraman for a combatant and we opened fire and that’s the end of the story.

There are questions here that need to be answered about the rules of engagement. There are questions that need to be answered about how troops in a situation like Iraq interact with the media. This is the most covered conflict in history. And American and British forces have welcomed international coverage of this conflict. And welcoming coverage of conflict comes with responsibility. So we really do insist here on a complete investigation. And we want the findings to be made public. We’ll draw our conclusions from that about how better to protect our journalists in situations of conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Holmes, Reuters has been hit very hard. First the attack on the Palestine hotel hits the office of Reuters and you have a cameraman killed there. And now Mazen Dana.

PAUL HOLMES: Right.

Well that’s partly why we’re insisting so strongly this time on an investigation. In the prior case on April 8, we conducted our own investigation into that incident, into the killing of Darwasag and so did the committee to protect journalists in New York. Independently we reached the same conclusion. That was that although there was not deliberate attack on journalists, there was a break down in communication as far as we found out in the American chain of command. The Palestine hotel was quite clearly known to the military as a base for most journalists during the invasion of Iraq and their conclusions appear to suggest that that was not a consideration in the decision to open fire.

AMY GOODMAN: Abed, your two close friends and colleagues now dead. The associated press cameraman in April Nazeeh Darwasag gunned down by an Israeli soldier and now Mazen Dana. You are a cameraman yourself. Does it make you question what you’re doing?

ABED QUISINI: Of course, yes. What I’m doing, when they were killed not just me asking the whole family when you have the wife and children, we have five children. You think about the future of your family. In Iraq, for example, even Palestine is very dangerous place to cover the conflict. But Iraq is — I’m afraid to go there so my family, my wife, my mother, telling me, don’t. I never think that — one was in Baghdad he was on his way back to the Palenstinian area.

He called me and told me —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Abed Quisini, I want to thank you for being with us, close friend of Mazen Dana, the Reuters cameraman who has just been gunned down in Iraq and Paul Holmes worldwide general editor of political and general news of Reuters. Thank you.

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