U.S. faulted in newsman's death

`Unlawful' gunfire killed British journalist in Iraq, coroner rules

October 14, 2006|By Kim Murphy | Kim Murphy,Los Angeles Times

LONDON -- U.S. forces unlawfully fired the heavy-caliber machine gun bullet that killed British newsman Terry Lloyd after an Iraqi civilian loaded him into his car and attempted to take him to the hospital when he was wounded shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in 2003, a coroner ruled yesterday.

After an eight-day inquest that included testimony from Lloyd's surviving cameraman at ITN news, Oxfordshire deputy coroner Andrew Walker said that he had "no doubt" that the firing was "an unlawful act" and concluded that Lloyd could have survived an earlier attack by Iraqi forces if U.S. soldiers had not opened fire on his rescue vehicle.

The official said he would ask senior British legal officials to seek to hold those responsible criminally liable, but U.S. authorities denied any wrongdoing and said the U.S. Marines deployed in southern Iraq during the early days of the war in 2003 were following appropriate rules of engagement.

Also yesterday, the British government sought to defuse an embarrassing public debate over remarks by its top military commander that Britain should withdraw its troops from Iraq "sometime soon."

The comments were interpreted by government critics as a challenge to the authority of Prime Minister Tony Blair, because they seemed to be a direct contradiction of his insistence that a retreat from Iraq would be "a craven act of surrender."

The officer, Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, modified some of his remarks in a series of radio and television interviews to expand on his comments in the Daily Mail tabloid. But he did not completely retract his assessment that the presence of British forces in Iraq "exacerbated" the violence there. "I have withdrawn none of the comments that I have made," he said in a radio interview. `'I have given a little more explanation about what I meant by `sometime soon'; that's not backtracking."

Dannatt's comments drew widespread approval among anti-war legislators and campaigners and on unofficial Web sites used by military bloggers. Britain has about 7,000 troops based primarily around Basra in the south of the country.

In the Lloyd inquest, U.S. officials declined to provide troops to testify, and the coroner refused to accept what he said were anonymous "self-serving statements" offered in their stead, so no U.S. explanation was part of the deliberations.

"The Department of Defense has never deliberately targeted noncombatants, including journalists," the Pentagon said in a statement. "We have always gone to extreme measures to avoid civilian casualties and collateral damage."

Lloyd's family called the shooting a "very serious war crime" and said the evidence proved that Lloyd was able to stand and walk until shot through the head by American servicemen while lying in the back of the minibus that had stopped to help him.

"This was not a friendly-fire incident, or a crossfire incident, it was a despicable, deliberate, vengeful act, particularly as it came many minutes after the initial exchange" between U.S. military forces and Iraqi troops, Lloyd's widow, Lyn, said in a statement.

Kim Murphy writes for the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times contributed to this article.

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