Senator urges release of new US report on killing of Abu Akleh

The Biden administration has not acknowledged a new assessment on the fatal Israeli shooting of Al Jazeera journalist.

A man participates in drawing a mural of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, killed during an Israeli raid in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip May 14, 2022.
A mural depicts slain Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2022 [File: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

Washington, DC – A Maryland senator has called on the administration of President Joe Biden to give legislators access to a report from the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) about the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

Democrat Chris Van Hollen said on Tuesday that he sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to make the assessment “available immediately for Congressional review”.

“I ask that you immediately authorize the release of the full and unedited USSC Report under appropriate classification to me and other interested Members of Congress,” the senator wrote to Blinken.

The Biden administration has not acknowledged the existence of the report, and it is not clear when the report was submitted. But Van Hollen said his office had been in contact with individuals at the State Department over the matter for the past 12 days.

The USSC oversees and encourages security coordination between Israeli and Palestinian officials. The US State Department did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

In his letter to Blinken, dated May 1, Van Hollen raised concerns that the government may alter the report.

“Most recently, we were informed that, before congressional release of the USSC Report is authorized, the Administration plans to make unspecified changes to its contents,” the letter reads.

“While the Administration has characterized its proposed changes as ‘technical,’ any actions to alter the USSC’s Summation Report in any way would violate the integrity of this process.”

Axios first reported on Van Hollen’s letter earlier on Tuesday before it was publicly released.

Abu Akleh, a US citizen, was fatally shot by Israeli forces during a raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on May 11, 2022. Her killing spurred worldwide condemnation and demands for justice.

US officials, including President Joe Biden, have called for accountability in the case, but critics say the US has not done enough to pressure its Israeli allies to ensure justice for the slain journalist.

Washington has rejected efforts to seek accountability for the killing of Abu Akleh at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Israel, which rights groups accuse of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians, receives at least $3.8bn in US security assistance annually.

In its first and only public assessment of the shooting so far, the USSC said last July that the Israeli military “was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh”. It found, however, “no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances”.

That conclusion was not a result of a full investigation, US officials said at the time, explaining that it served as a summary of Israeli and Palestinian probes. A Palestinian Authority investigation had said weeks earlier that Israeli forces deliberately fired at Abu Akleh “with the aim to kill”.

In September 2022, Israel said there was a “high possibility” its army fired at Abu Akleh but dismissed the killing as accidental and refused to launch a criminal investigation into the incident.

US officials welcomed the Israeli assessment at that time and called on Israel to review its military rules of engagement to avoid similar shootings in the future, a demand that was openly rejected by Israeli leaders.

US and Israeli outlets reported in November that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had launched an investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing, and Israeli officials had vowed not to cooperate with the purported US probe.

But the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has declined to confirm the investigation, and the State Department distanced itself from it, referring questions to the DOJ.

Abu Akleh’s supporters will observe the first anniversary of her death on May 11, a week after World Press Freedom Day on Wednesday.

In his letter to Blinken, Van Hollen praised the slain veteran Al Jazeera reporter as a “respected and professional journalist”, noting that she posthumously received the US National Press Club’s President’s Award last year.

“As we approach the one year anniversary of Ms. Abu Akleh’s death, no one has been held accountable and no independent, official investigation has been completed,” Van Hollen wrote.

Source: Al Jazeera