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August 22, 2003

Secret Burials in the Desert, Ultimate Disrespect for U.S. Army Personnel in Iraq

By Kawther Salam

Did the Pentagon order the assassintaion of a Journalist in order to cover up secret mass burials of dead U.S Soldiers in the desert around Baghdad ?

What is really behind the killing of my colleague, the Palestinian Reuters Cameraman Mazen Dana, in Bagdad? Is the Pentagon really scared of the media telling the U.S public what is really going on in Iraq? Do the criminals in the Pentagon want to cover their crimes against their own soldiers by killing journalists in Iraq? If, then this is what can be called organized terror.

The U.S. troops obviously felt themselves threatened and in big danger of the Palestinian Reuters Cameraman Mazen Dana, who was developing a story about secret burials of U.S. mercenaries and soldiers in mass graves in far-away places in deserts strips around Baghdad, which had obviously been authorized by the commanders of the U.S. army. Mazen's scoop began when he realized that that the U.S. troops were burying human bodies wrapped in plastic in the desert. He thought that these were the bodies of Iraqi people. He kept watching and investigating the activities of the U.S. troops in the desert. He kept developing his scoop, working around different U.S. units and military jails, trying to figure out from were the bodies could come from, wether they belonged to Iraqis or not.

He could ultimately develop a source, a U.S. mercenary, who told him that those buried were not Iraqis, but mercenaries who had been promised green cards and U.S. citizenship in return for serving in the U.S. army. According to this source, not few of those interred were americans who had been killed in combat. Mazen had been able to film the activities of the U.S. army, and their secret mass graves. Mazen Dana was experienced in journalistic work in areas of conflict and under dangerous conditions. In our hometown Hebron, he had been covering the Israeli Duvdevan units, essentially death squads of the Israeli army, which can not normally be filmed. Since he had become aware of what the americans were doing in the desert, he kept the secret for himself. The intelligence units of the U.S. army probably knew that Mazen was beating about the bush, and they must have feared that their secret desert burials would expose the Pentagon and the army to a big scandal. The U.S. Army pride themselves of always bringing home their dead, and this ultimate disrespect for their own would probably be frowned upon by the american society at large, even if not few of them were mercenaries. The story also had the potential of making foreigns think twice before joining the U.S. military forces as mercenaries, nobody wants to be disrespected in this most abject and impious way, not even those who will sign up as mercenaries.

During his last days, Mazen felt that the U.S. Army were observing him. Ten days before his death, he called home to Hebron and told his family that he feared for his life because of the story he was developing, and he promised them to return as soon as he had finished his investigating work. On Sunday, August 17, 2003, at noon and under shining sun, Mazen Dana was assasinated by the U.S. Army outside Abu Ghraib prison, where they had previously given him permit to film.

According to my colleague Nael al-Shyoukhi, who was with Dana at the time of his death, the camera team was known to the U.S. military personnel at the prison. al-Shyoukhi said that they had asked for permission to interview an officer, what had been denied. The soldiers had seen their I.D.s and knew about their mission and intentions. 2000 - Nael al-Shyoukhi, who was with Mazen when he was shot, here at Gross square in Hebron.

Nael Al-Shyioukhi said "after we filmed we went into the car and prepared to go when a convoy led by a tank arrived and Mazen stepped out of the car to film, I followed him then, Mazen walked three to four meters. We were noted and clearly seen at the mid of the day. The soldier on the tank shot at us. I lay on the ground, I heard Mazen I saw him scream and touch his chest with covered bloody hand".

The Pentagon Response: The U.S officials said that the troops mistook Mazen's camera for an RPG launcher. This was obviously a lie which nobody, not even naive people will be able to believe. How can it be that the U.S. troops have the most tecnologically advanced sensors on their weapons, but will not be able to distinguish a camera from an RPG launcher at 50 meters ? Did the U.S. troops learn to lie from their friends at the IDF ? This killing was a prepared assassination by the U.S troops in order to cover up their criminal activities, which Mazen had discovered and was about to expose.

When I received the news of killing my colleague Mazen Dana in Iraq, I thought for the first moment that the Israeli government was involved or in some way behind it. Mazen Dana had troubled the israeli occupation more than enough.

The Israeli occupation targeted Dana several time during the Intifada, and even before that during the peace time. He was shot in Hebron in 1998 by the IDF, together with his colleague Nael Al-Shyioukhi. Mazen Dana had been exposed to the daily daily crimes of killing and collective murdering in the Hebron and the occupied territories, and he was shot again by the IDF during 2001. The Israelis were obviously not interested in his return from Iraq to Hebron.

All Palestinians know that the U.S Pentagon and the Israeli Defense Ministry do work together. Maybe we do not realize this, but we are killed by the IDF soldiers who use U.S. bullets, grenades, rockets and missiles, airplanes. The U.S is constantly providing Israel with developed killing machineries. They U.S soldiers trained the Israeli soldiers to raid the Jenin refugee camp and other cities, they trained the Israelis in assassinating, killing and chasing "wanted" people. They also offered the P.A Minister Muhammad Dahlan to train his forces to do that. Probably soon the P.A. forces will be chasing and murdering Palestinians instead of the IDF.

When I called Hebron to offer my condolences to Mazen Dana's family and to inquire about his death, I was informed about his investigation in Iraq about secret mass burials by the U.S soldiers in Iraqi desert. This made me worry about my other colleague Nael Al-Shyioukhi, who was still in Iraq, so I delayed writing this story until after Nael's safe return to our home town Hebron.

Mazen Dana in brief: Mazen Dana held a B.A. in English Literature from Hebron University. He was remarked as a member of the Popular Front during his time in the University. For this he was a targeted and harassed by the Israeli occupation even after he stopped his political activities.

During the first Intifada I worked for a short while with Dana as a correspondent of Voice of Palestine Radio in Jerusalem. After that I worked with Al Fajir Newspaper, and Dana continued his work with the different journalistic offices. He was requested several times by the Israeli civil administration in Hebron. He became a peace supporter after the signing of the Oslo Agreement, and he became a member of Fatah Peace Wing. He had been employed by Reuters since 10 years as a Cameraman to cover the conflict in his hometown Hebron. Mazen Dana and Nael Al-Shyioukhi had been working together for eight years when Mazen was shot last Sunday.

The Israelis occupation intelligence continued considering Mazen Dana as a member of Popular Front party even after he discontinued his activities with them, and they did not grant him the an Israeli Government Press "GPO" Card, or a travel permit to visit the Reuters office in Jerusalem.

2000 - Journalists Imad Al-Saidi, Mazen Dana, Majdi Ibedo at a demo in Ramallah

Dana was attacked several times by Jewish settlers and the IDF soldiers in Hebron. In May 2000, Dana was shot in the leg with a rubber-coated bullet while filming Palestinian youths throwing stones towards the Hebron area H2 under Israeli control. Dana was arrested hundreds of times. In 1997 Dana was arrested as a result of filming the IDF soldiers arresting me during an incident at the Halhol bridge border, were the IDF soldiers had caused the death of a nine year old child death by preventing him from reaching hospital in hebron during a curfew which was imposed on the city during the peace time.

Dana established the Journalist House of Hebron during the year 2002 despite the daily attacks and the constant threat of arrests made by the IDF soldiers against all Hebronite journalists.

The last time I met my colleague Mazen Dana was at the end of May 2002 at our colleague's house Hossam Abu Allan, the AFP photographer who was arrested by the IDF soldiers. At 10:30 at the same night Mazen drove with me in his Jeep to "Al-Beweareh" mountain to film the IDF war tanks, 54 armed vehicle were arriving to Hebron on the road 60 as the military was preparing to re-occupy the city of Hebron, the area H1 under the PA control.

Mazen Dana had a long experience as a television cameraman, and he had experienced the hardships and harsh working conditions of journalistic work under military occupation.

Mazen Dana left behind him a wife and four cute children in Hebron. He left a courageously historical journalistic experience and signs for other journalists behind him. To most people, his death is but one more display of the abjectly criminal behavior of the gang in control at the Pentagon. To those of us who knew him and who worked with him, he will be a missed and respected colleague, friend, community and family member. 1997 - Scans of an article published in Ma'ariv in Hebrew about the arrest of Mazen Dana who had filmed my own arrest after I had been subject of sexual harassment by the soldiers at the border, who had let a child bleed to death at his checkpoint. The soldier arresting Mazen in this picture is Shai Sanduri, who caused the death of a child at his checkpoint and subjected me to sexual harassment when I was researching the story.


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