The American people have a vital interest in the events currently taking place in Lebanon. This country has lost many American lives in the struggle to bring peace to that area, and the continuing violence there is a matter of the utmost concern.
The American people have a right to full and accurate reporting of the events now taking place. We do not believe the press should be deterred in any manner from their obligation to cover this story fully and completely.
We are not encouraged by Prime Minister Shimon Peres' response to CBS News protests. I have therefore sent Mr. Peres a reply, the text of which follows, urging a complete, vigorous and independent investigation into yesterday's deaths, and urging him and other high-ranking government officials to meet with CBS News Vice President Ernest Leiser, who is on his way to Jerusalem, to discuss the incident and its implications for the future. The text of my response follows: TO: Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Jerusalem, Israel
CBS News is grateful for your expression of sorrow at the death of our camera crew in Lebanon, but is disappointed that you chose to ignore the testimony of eyewitness journalists on the scene who made it clear that the group fired upon was not armed or engaged in hostilities, that the cameras as well as the press markings on the cars were in clear view of the tank crew and that the Israeli attack was entirely unprovoked.
The recent pattern of actions by Israeli forces against journalists, including the shooting of a UPITN camera car minutes before the shelling of our crew, suggests that your expressed commitment to a free press may not be shared by your military personnel in the field. Your endorsement of the earlier statement by the IDF Israel Defense Forces that the Israeli tank fired at an armed group despite independent eyewitness testimony to the contrary is less than reassuring.
We are fully aware of the risks entailed in covering a combat zone, but the calculation of such risks never contemplated the possibility that they would include deliberate fire by Israeli forces on unarmed and neutral journalists. Many of us now fear that possibility has now become a reality.
We again urge a complete, vigorous and independent investigation of yesterday's tragedy. I am sending Ernest Leiser, a CBS News vice president, to Jerusalem. He will arrive on Sunday, March 24. I urge that you and high-ranking members of your government meet with him to discuss this incident and its implications for the future.