By Karla Adam and Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 14, 2006
OXFORD, England, Oct. 13 -- A British coroner ruled Friday that U.S. troops unlawfully killed a British television journalist during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
Coroner Andrew Walker, after an eight-day inquest, also said he would seek prosecution of the U.S. troops responsible for the death of Terry Lloyd, a veteran reporter for British television network ITN. Walker said he would ask Britain's attorney general and director of public prosecutions "whether any steps can be taken to bring the perpetrators responsible for this to justice."
The U.S. Defense Department said in a statement that U.S. military authorities had investigated the incident and determined that the American troops "followed the applicable rules of engagement."
Although it has been "an unfortunate reality that journalists have died in Iraq," U.S. troops have "never deliberately targeted" them or other noncombatants, the statement said.
According to a videotape provided by the U.S. military and testimony from witnesses, including an ITN cameraman who was at the scene, Lloyd, 50, was killed after being caught in crossfire between U.S. and Iraqi forces near the southern Iraqi city of Basra on March 22, 2003.
The British coroner said Lloyd was shot in the back by Iraqi soldiers who had overtaken his four-wheel-drive vehicle. Lloyd then walked to a civilian minivan and was being driven away for medical treatment when U.S. forces opened fire on the van, killing Lloyd with a shot to the head, Walker concluded.
"There is no doubt that the minibus presented no threat to the American forces," Walker said. "There is no doubt it was an unlawful act of fire upon the minibus."
Under British law, coroner's inquests are conducted when a person dies violently or from unknown causes.
A Lebanese interpreter, Hussein Osman, was also killed in the incident, and French cameraman Fred Nerac is officially listed as missing and is presumed dead. An ITN cameraman, Daniel Demoustier, survived the incident.
"In my opinion, the U.S. forces involved should be prosecuted for war crimes," Demoustier said after the ruling.
Lloyd's widow, Lynn, in a statement read by her lawyer, called the incident a "very serious war crime" and said the troops responsible should be tried for murder.
David Mannion, ITN editor in chief, said the network supported the family's pursuit of prosecutions. "All of us want and need to know the truth," he said. "Terry Lloyd was killed in an unlawful act by a U.S. Marine who fired directly at the civilian minibus in which Terry, already badly injured, lay helpless."
No U.S. military officials testified at the inquest, although several submitted written witness statements. Walker ruled those statements inadmissible because he did not have the opportunity to question the troops who wrote them.
U.S. military officials provided a video shot by a serviceman from one of the U.S. tanks involved in the incident. The tape, which was played at the inquest Thursday, shows two burning vehicles, one of which may have been the minibus that was carrying Lloyd. A forensic video expert testified that about 15 minutes of the tape may have been erased before it was provided to the inquest.
Lloyd's daughter, Chelsey, said Friday that "many questions" remain about her father's death, including, "Why is there 15 minutes of film missing?" The family says they believe the missing video would show the attack on Lloyd's vehicle.
Maj. Kay Roberts, the Royal Military Police officer in charge of investigating Lloyd's death, testified that she raised questions with American military authorities about whether the videotape had been altered. She said they assured her that "what we were given was everything that they had."
Lloyd was a 20-year veteran of ITN who had made previous trips to Iraq and had extensive experience reporting from conflict zones, including Kosovo and Bosnia. In his ruling, Walker praised Lloyd and his crew as "that rare breed whose professionalism and dedication in the face of great personal danger is and can only be admired by those they left behind."
Sullivan reported from London.