U.S. troops delete images of civillian killings

From Seattlepi

By Amir Shah

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan journalists covering the aftermath of a suicide bomb attack and shooting in eastern Afghanistan Sunday said U.S. troops deleted their photos and video and warned them not to publish or air any images of U.S. troops or a car where three Afghans were shot to death.

Afghan witnesses and gunshot victims said U.S. forces fired on civilians in cars and on foot along at least a six-mile stretch of road in Nangarhar province following a suicide attack against the military convoy. The U.S. military said militants also fired on American forces during the attack. The U.S. military and Afghan officials said eight Afghans died and 34 were wounded in the violence. One U.S. soldier was also injured.

A freelance photographer working for The Associated Press and a cameraman working for AP Television News said a U.S. soldier deleted their photos and video showing a four-wheel drive vehicle in which three people were shot to death about 100 yards from the suicide bombing. The AP plans to lodge a protest with the American military.

The photographer, Rahmat Gul, said witnesses at the scene told him the three had been shot to death by U.S. forces fleeing the attack. The two AP freelancers arrived at the site about a half hour after the suicide bombing, Gul said.

“When I went near the four-wheel drive, I saw the Americans taking pictures of the same car, so I started taking pictures,” Gul said. “Two soldiers with a translator came and said, ‘Why are you taking pictures? You don’t have permission.'”

It wasn’t clear why the accredited journalists would need permission to take photos of a civilian car on a public highway. Gul said the U.S. soldiers took his camera, deleted his photos and returned it to him. The journalists came across another American soldier, showed their identification cards, and he agreed that they could take pictures.

A Western military official who asked not to be identified said the troops were Marine Special Operations Forces, the Marine Corps component created in February 2006 of the U.S. Special Operations Command. “The same soldier who took my camera came again and deleted my photos,” Gul said. “The soldier was very angry … I told him, ‘They gave us permission,’ but he didn’t listen.”

Gul’s new photos were also deleted, and the American soldier, speaking through a translator, warned him that he did not want to see any AP photos published anywhere. The soldier also raised his fist in anger as if he were going to hit him, but he did not strike, Gul said.

Lt. Col. David Accetta, a U.S. military spokesman, said he did not have any confirmed reports that coalition soldiers “have been involved in confiscating cameras or deleting images.”

Khanwali Kamran, a reporter for the Afghan channel Ariana Television, was in a small group of journalists working alongside Gul. Kamran said the American soldiers also deleted his footage.

“They warned me that if it is aired … then, ‘You will face problems,'” Kamran said. Taqiullah Taqi, a reporter for Afghanistan’s largest television station, Tolo TV, said American soldiers were using abusive language.

“According to the translator, they said, ‘Delete them, or we will delete you,'” Taqi said.

A freelance cameraman for AP Television News said that about 100 yards from the bomb site, a U.S. officer told him that he could not go any closer to the scene but that he could shoot footage. The cameraman asked not to be named for his own safety.

“Then I started filming the suicide attack site, where there was a body and U.S. soldiers, and farther away, there was a four-wheel drive vehicle in which three people were shot to death,” he said.

As he was filming, a U.S. soldier and translator “ordered us not to move.” The cameraman said they were very angry and deleted any footage that included U.S. soldiers, as well as part of an interview from a demonstration. Hundreds of Afghans had gathered to protest the violence.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the actions of the U.S. forces, saying they dealt with the press poorly.

“Why did the soldiers do it if they don’t have anything to hide? The situation is very tense in Afghanistan, and the media should be able to report about it freely and safely,” said Jean-Francois Julliard, a spokesman for the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.