By Dean Yates
BAGHDAD, July 11 (Reuters) - Reuters has urged the U.S. military to hand over video footage from U.S. attack helicopters and other materials relating to the killing of two Iraqi staff in Baghdad a year ago.
Photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, and driver Saeed Chmagh, 40, were killed in a U.S. helicopter air strike in eastern Baghdad on July 12, 2007.
Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh had gone to the area after hearing of a military raid on a building around dawn that day, and were with a group of men at the time. It is believed two or three of these men may have been carrying weapons, although witnesses said none were assuming a hostile posture.
The U.S. military said the helicopter attack, in which nine other people were killed, occurred after security forces came under fire.
Video of the incident from two U.S. Apache helicopters and photographs taken of the scene were shown to Reuters editors in Baghdad on July 25, 2007 in an off-the-record briefing.
U.S. military officers who presented the materials said Reuters had to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to get copies. This request was made the same day.
"It has now been approximately one year since our original request was submitted and we still have not received a formal response or written initial determination in accordance with FOIA’s statutory requirements," Reuters News Chief Counsel Thomas Kim wrote in a letter to the U.S. Central Command.
Reuters wants all the materials to be able to study closely what happened. Access to the video could also help improve Reuters’ safety policies in Iraq, the world’s most dangerous country for journalists.
Indeed, Kim noted that a recent Pentagon probe into the killing of another Reuters journalist by U.S. troops in Baghdad in 2005 identified a "serious inconsistency" between media safety practices and the expectations of U.S. forces in Iraq.
That report, by the Defense Department’s inspector general, the Pentagon’s watchdog agency, predicted additional shootings were "likely to reoccur" unless the situation was resolved.
"The materials requested by this FOIA request may contain information relevant to the recommendations for avoiding a re-occurrence of this tragedy; accordingly, we believe that there is a compelling need for their release and that such release should be made as quickly as possible," Kim wrote.
There had been reports of clashes between U.S. forces and gunmen but there was no fighting on the streets in which Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh were moving about with the group of men.
Besides Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh, four other journalists working for Reuters have been killed by American soldiers in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
The U.S. military has said its troops acted lawfully in all those cases. An Iraqi working as a translator for Reuters was also shot dead by unknown gunmen in Baghdad on July 11, 2007.
At least 179 reporters and media assistants have been killed in Iraq since the invasion, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Noor-Eldeen and Chmagh were much loved members of the Reuters Baghdad bureau.
(Editing by Janet McBride)