Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Coroner Decides a Soldier's Guilt, but is it Justice?

Journalists in war zones run a great risk of being killed. They know this. They take the risks for the purpose of getting accurate news as well as for a paycheck. But when they are killed on a battlefield in order to gather information one must ask, who killed them: the bullet of the combatants, or their own will to be on the field of combat? It seems clear the answer is the latter. But this logic is being question by British courts.

Today we are seeing the relatives of slain reporter Terry Lloyd wanting to blame the death on American forces who in during a battle in the Iraq war, "illegally" fired on vehicle that witnesses said was carrying the wounded Lloyd from the scene to a place where he could get treatment. A British "coroner has ruled that a British journalist who died in Iraq at the start of the war was unlawfully killed by American forces." (CNN report Oct. 14, 2006)

This is a troubling perspective, one that comes from people who are grieving the loss of their loved one, wanting "justice" for his death. But it's a perspective that comes from a detached point of view. In spite of videos and testimonies, a civilian court is in error to think that battle conditions can be put on hold so that everyone who is wounded in battle can be evacuated. The stress, confusion and chaos of a battlefield cannot preclude the possibility that a vehicle, not clearly part of a side in a fight, and not flying a flag of truce, be fired upon.

What is more troubling is that there seems to be an effort to use the death of this British citizen, by his family members and others, to make a value judgement on the behaviour of the American troops as well as a cultural statement about America, not to mention political statement condemning America's and Britain’s action in Iraq. Notice this quote from a report by CNN:

"The evidence of how Terry Lloyd was unlawfully killed has shown that this was not, I wish to stress, a friendly fire blue on blue incident or a crossfire incident. It was a despicable, deliberate, vengeful act, particularly as it came many minutes after the end of the initial exchanges in which Mr. Lloyd had been hit by an Iraqi bullet."

... "U.S. forces appeared to have allowed their soldiers to behave like trigger-happy cowboys in an area in which there were civilians travelling on a highway, both Iraqi and European."

How is it known that the soldiers acted deliberately to kill a journalist and that with the motive of vengeance? How is it known that the commanders of the soldiers permitted them to act as "trigger-happy cowboys", a statement itself that has a cultural slur as well as calling into question the training and professionalism of the commanders and soldiers?

These two statements imply value judgements that go far beyond the facts of Lloyd having been killed on a battlefield by American soldiers. It brings judgement on the motives and methods of the soldiers, judgements that are not supported by the evidence given. Unfortunately, statements such as these are not helpful in a cross-cultural situation and should be apologized for.

Has justice been served? This is not a war crime covered under international law. The accidental killing in, which must be emphasized, the midst of a battle cannot be seen as illegal or unlawful.

The death of Mr. Lloyd is a sad and tragic thing. Condolences are to be offered to the family and friends. But to blame soldiers in the heat of battle for the illegal death of journalist who willingly entered and manoeuvred on a battlefield between warring sides, is not to be accepted as justice.

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