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French Journalist Describes Mistreatment by U.S. Forces During Siege of Fallujah

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French TV journalist Grégoire Deniau describes his ordeal in U.S. custody in Iraq. He was detained for a day during the siege of Fallujah in April 2004. He says despite showing his passport and French press ID, U.S. soldiers forced him to kneel for hours, gaffer-taped a hood over his face and hurled insults at him, calling him a dog and accused him, as a Frenchmen, of being pro-Arab. Deniau says he was released late at night, in the middle of the desert and was warned by the soldiers that US forces shoot everything that moves. [includes rush transcript]

It has been more than 2 years since the Bush administration began the invasion and occupation of Iraq. These have been some of the bloodiest years for journalists worldwide and in Iraq in particular. And the situation remains very dangerous for media workers operating in the country, particularly those few who dare to report from Iraq unembedded from the occupation forces. Today, two French journalists speak about their time in captivity in Iraq. I met them this weekend in Riccione, Italy where I was attending the annual conference remembering Ilaria Alpi—a young Italian woman journalist who was killed in 1994 covering Somalia. One of the French journalists I met, Christian Chesnot, was kidnapped for four months by the Iraqi resistance. We’ll hear his story in a moment.

But first, we turn to one of France’s most experienced war correspondents, Grégoire Deniau, of France 2. He too was detained–for a day–by the US military. His ordeal in US custody begins in April 2004 in the besieged city of Fallujah. US forces picked Grégoire Deniau up in Fallujah where he and a photographer colleague were documenting the story of the siege of the city from the inside. At the time, he was the only Western journalist there. Deniau says he and the photographer were taken by US soldiers along with two Red Crescent workers.

He says that US soldiers forced them to kneel for hours, gaffer-taped hoods over their faces. Deniau says he showed the soldiers his passport, his ID and his French Press Identification. He says the soldiers hurled insults at him, called him a dog and accused him, as a Frenchmen, of being pro-Arab. When the US forces finally released them, they did so late at night, in the middle of the desert and warned them that US forces shoot everything that moves. This is French TV journalist Grégoire Deniau.

  • Grégoire Deniau, French journalist with France 2.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is French TV journalist, Gregoire Deniau.

GREGOIRE DENIAU: In April, when the American tried to come inside Fallujah, you know, there is very big bombing at this moment, and I was the only reporter inside the city. So it was a little bit difficult to enter the city because around the city was all of the American and some Kurdish people helping the American to fight the people of Fallujah. And when I was inside, I stay one week inside, and at one time I was with some people of the Red Crescent in a house trying to find some dead people or wounded people in the morning, and the American soldier come. They saw that there is some people in the house. So they come in the house. They break the door. And I just had the time to say that I am a journalist, and so they don’t kill me. But after I show them my identity card, my French passport, my press card, they see my camera. But they say, ok, we go first to the headquarters. And when we come to the headquarters, they put us — I was with a photographer, camera photographer, and with two people of the Red Crescent. And they put, you know, something on the head. They led us in the desert in the knees. And during hours and hours they just say some stupid thing about the French people that we don’t do the war with them. We have — we are not men. We are just like dogs and all this time with something on the head, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean something on the head?

GREGOIRE DENIAU: I have my — you know, they put us —- yeah, with some gaffer to be sure that it is impossible to see nothing and -—

AMY GOODMAN: They put a hood on your head and gaffers tape over your head? So you look like what we’ve seen at Abu Ghraib, when a bag is put over someone’s head?

GREGOIRE DENIAU: Exactly, but then on this time we don’t know nothing about Abu Ghraib. You know? It was before. So nobody knows about that, and when I go out, I tell my company that I have — said something like that happened to me. And in my company they say, “No, maybe you — they are crazy; you see one American crazy people, but it is impossible that the American army do something like that.” I say, “I tell you I was not alone. That is true, and I can show you something, because the one soldier take the camera of my friend, the camera photographer, and he say, “Okay, it’s a good souvenir for you from — and it’s something, a souvenir from the American, okay? Bye-bye.” And take a photo of us with the camera of my friend, so we have the photo of this moment. And after one day they take us in a visit with a truck, and they say —

AMY GOODMAN: Before that, you had the bag over your head and what did they do with you? How long did you have the bag over your head? Did you just stand in a certain position?

GREGOIRE DENIAU: I stand just in my knees, you know, like I am praying. They say you have to stay like that during hours and hours. It was on the morning, and I was released during the night. So, you know, it’s a long — a long day. A very long day. And they release us in the desert in the middle of nothing and just saying to us — it was a young lieutenant, he say, “On the south Baghdad — on this way is Baghdad, on that way it’s Fallujah, but take care, because we shoot everybody who is walking during the night.” So I say, “What are you doing? You are going to kill us.” “You do what you want. It’s not my problem, that there are others and I just keep — let you here.” And they go. So, we are alive, we stay alive, so there is no problem for the moment. But it was before Abu Ghraib, and nobody knows that this kind of comportment for the American, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: When they had you on your knees for hours with a bag over your head with gaffers tape around it, they knew you were a French journalist? Did they say things to you throughout the day?

GREGOIRE DENIAU: Of course, they know that I am a French journalist. I show them my press card, my identity card, my passport, my French passport. They have my camera with the tape inside the camera. They see the tape. They see that I was filming during the morning inside Fallujah, but I was filming some dead people in the streets and going with an ambulance and some people of Red Crescent taking the people to put it in the cemetery, and something like that. So they see the work I was doing. They knew. They knew. And they say, “Yeah, yeah, we know. You are French. But in France, there is no journalist. You are — you prefer the Arabic people. You prefer the Iraqi. You are like — you don’t like the Americans, so we don’t care about you. You are like nothing, like dogs.” And one moment I asked for water. And that, they say, “No, the water is only for the U.S. soldiers. There is no water for you.”

AMY GOODMAN: So you got out. Did you go back to Fallujah? Can you talk about your coverage of Fallujah? What happened in Fallujah? You were the only journalist inside at the time of the first siege?

GREGOIRE DENIAU: So, of course, I was the only journalist inside. So, first of all, I have to go back in Fallujah to take all the — all my tapes, because when the American catch me, I have only tape with me. Fortunately I have only one tape because they don’t take all the tapes I make inside the city. And two days after I go back to Fallujah, I try during two days, and I enter in Fallujah again, and everybody in Fallujah knows that I was a prisoner, that I was a prisoner and an American prisoner, so it was easier for me to work after, because for them, I’m some — I’m like them, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: And so what did you observe in Fallujah? Who were the resistance?

GREGOIRE DENIAU: You know, in Fallujah there is a — there is some foreigners. Yeah, some fighter, foreigners fighters. But the majority of the fighters are Iraqis coming from the army of Saddam Hussein. Many are coming from the army of Saddam Hussein and some Islamists, but they’re not all Islamists. They’re fighting against the American because they don’t like the way that the American come in the city of Fallujah. They come in the city to — the people of Fallujah, you know, they were the first people in Iraq fighting against Saddam Hussein. And when the American come the first time, they say, “Okay, we have no problem with the American, but you have to stay just out of the city, not coming in the city. In the city, we do the job, no problem. We give you all the — all the things that you want, but don’t come inside the city.” And the Americans say, “We win the war. We go inside the city.” And they go. They put the headquarter in the school. And the Iraqi, they are not very happy with that. And, you know, you remember, of course, they — at this time they kill and they burn some four American workers.

AMY GOODMAN: Blackwater contractors.

GREGOIRE DENIAU: Yeah. So at this time everything is going on and after, Fallujah comes to be a special place for all the people who want to resist against the American. So for that, many people coming from outside Fallujah come to help the fighter of Fallujah. So you can see some people coming from Palestine. You see some people coming from Syria. You can see some people coming from Jordan. You can see some people coming from France, some French Algerian, you know, people. And so there is many people, many fighters coming from outside. But if the people come from outside it is because the American go inside Fallujah. Before the entering of the American in Fallujah, there was no foreigners fighters in Fallujah.

AMY GOODMAN: How do the Iraqis feel about foreign fighters coming in?

GREGOIRE DENIAU: It depends from the Iraqis. Some Iraqis, you know, they are very strong Islamists and they are very happy to make an international war, an Islamic war against the American, against the Occidental world. But most of the Iraqi, they don’t like the foreigners fighters. They say it’s our fighting. It is not for the foreigners to fight here. We are Iraqi. We have to save our country. We want to save our country. We’re not okay with the American inside. But we don’t need the foreign fighters. So for the moment there is some problem between Iraqi fighters and foreigner fighters. But some Iraqi fighter like the foreigner fighters. And it is not all the Iraqi fighters, but there is a little problem. Some — a big part of the Iraqi fighters say, now we have to take care, we don’t have to work too much with the foreigner fighters. But they’re inside now. It is very difficult to say to them: go outside. They are strong fighters, you know, so many of the Iraqi fighter are afraid about the foreigner fighters now.

AMY GOODMAN: Afraid of what?

GREGOIRE DENIAU: Afraid, because they are very dangerous. If an Iraqi fighter, an Iraqi group said, “Okay, you have to go out now, we don’t like you,” they’re afraid to be killed by these foreigners, you know, because they’re very strong. There are some groups very strong. I see some groups in Fallujah, inside Fallujah. I seen some group — my driver we speak of was Iraqi. He know very well. So they’re a beacon and they know from which country they are coming. So he’d say, “That group, they’re coming from Jordan.” It was a very, very big group with many guns and very modern guns, you know, not like the Iraqis. They have a good material to fight. So the other fighters, the Iraqi fighter, they was afraid about this group.

AMY GOODMAN: French TV journalist, Gregoire Deniau, detained by U.S. forces for a day when he was covering Fallujah.

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