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Deaths of 2 Journalists in Iraq May Have Been Avoided, Report Suggests

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists released its report on Tuesday into the April 8 shelling of Baghdad's Palestine Hotel by U.S. forces and subsequent deaths of two news cameramen.

An investigation by the independent journalist group into the shelling of the Palestine Hotel suggests the attack by U.S. forces could have been avoided. About 100 international journalists were staying in the hotel. Among them were veteran Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk and Spanish cameraman Jose Couso of Telecino who were killed in the attack. Three other journalists were wounded.

Joel Campagna, the Committee's senior program coordinator, wrote the report. "There appears to have been some sort of communications bottleneck, a failure of commanders to inform other units of the presence of journalists in a very well-known civilian location in central Baghdad," he said.

The international press freedom group interviewed a dozen reporters who were in the hotel during the attack, including two journalists who monitored the military radio traffic before and after the shelling occurred. The report said commanders on that day were rushing to locate what they believed to be an Iraqi artillery observer, someone directing fire from a building onto an approaching tank unit.

The report said U.S. commanders in Baghdad were aware that the Palestine Hotel, located on the East side of the Tigris River, was housing journalists. Mr. Campagna said commanders had taken extraordinary measures to prevent the hotel from being hit by a U.S. air strike, when a single round from a U.S. tank struck the 15th-floor balcony killing the two journalists.

"It was a very frantic situation, one that was recounted by two U.S. embedded journalists who were with these units and were both monitoring radio traffic at the time, and noticed commanders trying to locate what was a very serious threat. Eventually, there was an order given to a tank commander to open fire and that was the shell that hit the hotel," he said.

Journalists covering the U.S. military command headquarters in Baghdad that morning told investigators that commanders knew the Palestine Hotel was in the vicinity of the fighting, and that journalists were staying at the hotel. But that information was never passed on to the tank battalion.

"There was clearly a very significant battle taking place in Baghdad, one that had gone on for several hours that day on April 8. There was considerable fighting on the West side of the river, and later in the morning, on the East side of the river. Commanders reported they had come under fire from that side of the river, the same side as the Palestine Hotel," he explained.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is asking Pentagon officials to conduct a thorough public investigation of the incident to prevent similar episodes from happening in the future. U.S. officials have expressed regret over the shelling, calling the incident a tragic accident of war.