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U.S. Forces Who Attacked Baghdad Hotel Exonerated

August 13, 2003|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — American forces who fired a tank shell into an upper floor of Baghdad's Palestine Hotel in April, accidentally killing two journalists, have been cleared of wrongdoing, U.S. military investigators said Tuesday.

"They had a scene of very intense fighting. They acted absolutely in accordance with the rules of engagement and in an appropriate manner," said a defense official, who asked not to be identified.

The investigation found that U.S. forces had confiscated an Iraqi military radio and heard transmissions indicating that troops were being watched and that intense fire was being directed at them by a spotter in a building.

The tank round hit a 15th-floor balcony being used by Reuters news agency on April 8. Taras Protsyuk, the agency's Ukrainian-born cameraman, was wounded and died on arrival at a Baghdad hospital. Debris damaged the floor below, where Spanish cameraman Jose Couso of Telecinco television was fatally injured.

The U.S. military has said it was fired on from the hotel, but journalists there have questioned that version of events.

A Central Command statement said the investigation "concludes that a tank from A Company, 4-64 Armor properly fired upon a suspected enemy hunter/killer team in a proportionate and justifiably measured response."

The statement also said: "The activities on the balcony of the Palestine Hotel were consistent with that of an enemy combatant.... The enemy had repeatedly chosen to conduct its combat activities from throughout the civilian areas of Baghdad.

"These actions included utilizing the Palestine Hotel and the areas immediately around it as a platform for military operations.... The journalists' death at the Palestine Hotel was a tragedy and the United States has the deepest sympathies for the families of those who were killed."

Meanwhile, four months after the battle for Baghdad, a group of about 600 U.S. military families, upset about soldiers' living conditions, are launching a campaign to urge Congress and President Bush to bring the troops home.

"We're growing more and more disturbed about the conditions that are developing," said Nancy Lessin, a founder of Families Speak Out, formed last fall to oppose the war.

Susan Schuman, whose son Justin is in the Massachusetts National Guard deployed to Samarra, Iraq, said he shared a small room in a former police barracks with five other men. "They are rationed to 2 liters of water a day and it's 125 degrees. They haven't had anything but MREs," or meals ready to eat, she said, adding that uncertainty about the troops' return was "most disheartening."

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