Are the killers of Terry Lloyd getting away with his murder?

John Simpson, the veteran TV reporter who was himself hit by 'friendly fire', on the shooting of his ITN colleague by US troops
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The Independent Online

It is highly unlikely that the US soldiers who killed the ITN correspondent Terry Lloyd and two members of his team during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 will be brought to justice.

Lloyd was injured in crossfire between Iraqi troops and American tanks outside Basra. He was picked up by a makeshift ambulance. As it drove away, the Americans fired on it and Lloyd was killed. His translator, Hussein Osman, and his cameraman, Fred Nerac, whose body has never been found, were also killed.

At last week's inquest on Lloyd's death, there was a verdict of unlawful killing. His daughter, Chelsey, said his death amounted to murder; his widow, Lynn, called it a war crime. The coroner will ask the Attorney-General to press charges.

Yet even if the British government were prepared to put pressure on the Bush administration, it would almost certainly come to nothing. American soldiers who kill civilians through carelessness or brutality in battle receive a remarkable degree of protection from the US authorities. There is little investigation, and a soldier can usually clear himself by saying he opened fire because he believed his life was in danger.

Recently, allegations that US soldiers have massacred Iraqi civilians have been taken more seriously, but there has been no action over civilian killings during the invasion itself.

Lloyd was an excellent and brave journalist who chose to work independently of the US and British forces in Iraq. Both the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defence wanted reporters to be "embedded" with their forces during the invasion. Embedded journalists were subject to censorship, and it was hard for them to get an independent view of what was going on.

The Pentagon and the MoD disapproved of the so-called unilaterals like Lloyd. By the time this atmosphere of disapproval has filtered down to the front-line soldiers, it can occasionally seem like a licence to kill.

Some days earlier, in northern Iraq, my television team and I were bombed by a US navy plane while we were with a group of US and Kurdish special forces. Eighteen people, all Kurds, died. One of those killed was my translator.

The plane was flying at a height of only 300 metres. The pilot must have seen that many of the 20 vehicles below were US Humvees, and that every vehicle carried the big orange markings which showed they were from the Coalition. Even so, he dropped a 1,000lb bomb on us.

Later, I had an off-the-record meeting with the pilot's overall commander. He was apologetic. But it was clear that the pilot responsible had only been questioned once, and that he had not been disciplined.

I investigated the possibilities of taking legal action on behalf of the 18 people who had been killed. But the lawyer I consulted told me not to waste my time and money.

The two cases are very different. We were bombed by accident. Lloyd and his colleagues were killed deliberately. To have fired on them, and to have targeted an ambulance, were contraventions of the Geneva Convention.

But the response of the US authorities was the same in both incidents. They showed their armed forces that criminal brutality and criminal carelessness would not be punished.

Since the First World War, every war in which the Americans have fought has been marked by unnecessary civilian deaths and wholly avoidable "friendly fire" incidents. Now, it seems, there may be a new distinguishing feature of American wars: the killing of journalists.

John Simpson is the BBC's world affairs editor. He is currently reporting on the trial of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad