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Journalists Safer, Pentagon Says

Despite recent deaths, the Pentagon says it has improved the safety of journalists covering the war in Iraq, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The Pentagon last month finally officially responded to inquiries launched last fall into journalist safety at Iraqi checkpoints and the open-ended detention of journalists in that country without charges.

In a letter to the committee, Dorrance Smith, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs and a former broadcast journalist, said that drop-off and pick-up areas for journalists entering the Green Zone are more clearly identified and new barricades have been erected.

Military commanders have also promised to work with journalism organizations to more quickly resolve issues of detentions. All seven journalists detained for long periods of time without charges have been released, but the last to be let go a few weeks ago, a cameraman working for CBS, had been detained for over a year before he was cleared. CPJ confirmed that the checkpoint improvements had been made but wrote Smith asking for an update on general checkpoint safety and the detention issue.

CPJ says more needs to be done. “We are concerned about civilians as well as journalists,” says Mideast Program Coordinator Joel Campagna. “We felt they have been put at risk by flawed checkpoint procedures.”

CPJ also wants more and better investigations of alleged “friendly fire” deaths of journalists, particularly for an April 8, 2003, U.S. missile attack on broadcaster Al Jazeera that killed one reporter.

Campagna says CPJ is pleased with the progress and the assurances from Smith, but they are taking a “trust but verify” approach.