Thursday, August 09, 2007

U.K. May Seek Extradition Over British Cameraman's Gaza Death

Taken from Haaretz, Israel, 06/08/2007
By Akiva Eldar

Britain may seek the extradition of Israel Defense Forces troops in the shooting death of a British television cameraman in May 2003 in the southern Gaza Strip unless Attorney General Menachem Mazuz reverses his position and carries out a criminal investigation against those suspected of involvement.

In a letter to the family of James Miller, a 34-year-old photojournalist shot and killed in Rafah, Lord Peter Goldsmith, Britain's attorney general, says he wrote Mazuz on June 26 and gave him six weeks to respond. The deadline is on Tuesday.

According to Goldsmith, after an inquest by a coroner, Dr. Andrew Scott Reid, Miller had been unlawfully killed by troops of the Israel Defense Forces.

"Dr. Scott Reid wrote to me and invited me to consider instituting criminal proceedings in the United Kingdom against... members of the Israeli Defence Forces... for an offence of willful killing contrary to section I of the Geneva Conventions Act 1957."

While Goldsmith's letter does not explicitly discuss a possible request for an extradition, British law requires that any suspects be in British custody for charges to be brought up against them.

Israel and Britain have an extradition treaty, and a refusal to extradite military personnel may result in a crisis between the two countries.

Justice Ministry sources confirmed that Goldsmith's letter had been received, but could not say how they would respond in the matter.

According to attorneys for the Miller family, Avigdor Feldman and Michael Sfard, as of last night there had still not been an official Israeli response to the letter from the British attorney general.

Miller was killed while filming a documentary in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, on the border with Egypt. According to Alrahman Abdallah, a freelance journalist who accompanied Miller as his translator, the photographer was shot as he tried to exit a Rafah house while holding a white flag.

A British inquiry, in part based on evidence from the video recording of the incident, showed that Miller was shot in the neck by an IDF patrol.

At the time the IDF expressed its sorrow for Miller's death and said that "the entry of photographers into war zones during exchanges of fire endangers both sides."

However, according to eyewitnesses, there had been calm in the area at the time of the shooting.

Initially, the IDF suggested that Miller had been killed by Palestinians. Ballistic tests carried out on behalf of Miller's family showed that IDF troops killed Miller, and the Military Advocate General ordered an investigation into the killing.

Following a lengthy investigation, it was decided in March 2005 not to press criminal charges against those involved because of insufficient evidence. The commander of the Israeli force that shot and killed Miller faced disciplinary proceedings for illegal use of firearms, but was exonerated.

Miller's family filed a suit against the State of Israel for murder, and in 2006 a British jury ruled the killing a murder.

In his letter to the Miller family, Lord Goldsmith points to the conclusions of an expert analysis of the video of the shooting, which he says was sent to Mazuz. According to the British attorney general, the conclusions of the expert "disproved the [Israeli] suggestion that the shots came from two areas... [and] identified the direction of the shot that killed James as coming from the armoured vehicle."

In Goldsmith's letter, received by Haaretz, the British attorney general writes that the ballistic tests carried out in Israel "could only show that the bullet that killed James did not come from the rifle barrels of the weapons that were examined." In essence, the senior British official is charging Israeli authorities with tampering with evidence, there having "been a significant opportunity for the rifle barrels to have been changed."

Requests to try those responsible and compensate the family - Miller is survived by his wife Sophy and two children - were raised at high-level talks between the two countries, including meetings between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his then counterpart, Tony Blair.

According to Feldman, the Israeli government did not treat these requests with the required seriousness and has not considered it necessary to compensate the families.

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