The U.S. military’s inadequate checkpoint procedures in Iraq endanger civilians, including journalists, as well as U.S. service members, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists said today in a joint letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
The letter called on Rumsfeld to immediately implement a series of recommendations contained in the military’s internal investigation into the March 4 checkpoint shooting that killed the Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari and wounded Giuliana Sgrena, an Italian journalist just released by kidnappers.
U.S. military investigators recommended installing temporary speed bumps and spike strips at checkpoints to slow down vehicles, launching a public awareness campaign to educate the Iraqi population about how to safely approach checkpoints, and using signs in both Arabic and English to warn drivers.
“Iraqi civilians and U.S. forces alike continue to face unnecessary danger at checkpoints,” said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch. “It’s time for the Pentagon to follow its own recommendations to implement basic safety procedures.”
The military’s recommendations were similar to those made in October 2003 in a Human Rights Watch report on civilian casualties in Iraq. The report, titled “Hearts and Minds,” documented 18 deaths resulting from actions by U.S. soldiers between May and September 2003. Eleven of these came at checkpoints.
“Developing and implementing new checkpoint procedures should be a priority for U.S. commanders,” the letter noted. “Checkpoint shootings have sparked outrage among Iraqi citizens, undermining public confidence in the U.S. military.”
Three journalists and a media worker have been killed by soldiers at U.S. checkpoints. Journalists in Iraq have told the Committee to Protect Journalists that approaching a U.S. checkpoint remains a terrifying experience.
CPJ is a New York–based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.