- Israeli soldiers stand accused this weekend of 'lying'
and tampering with evidence in an attempt to obstruct an inquiry by military
prosecutors into the death of British film-maker James Miller, according
to internal army documents seen by The Observer.
- A 79-page report by the chief lawyer of the Israeli army's
southern command into the shooting of Miller in the Gaza Strip details
how soldiers questioned over the killing changed earlier testimonies. The
version of events offered by the soldier originally implicated in the shooting,
identified only as Second Lieutenant H, were so contradictory that his
accounts were described in the report as coming 'full circle'.
- 'Evidence shows that Second Lieutenant H heard his soldiers
lying in their testimonies during the investigation, and unfortunately
did not mention that fact to his commanders, that his soldiers are giving
them details that are not true,' the report says.
- In addition, the report alleges the barrel of the rifle
understood to have been used in the shooting two years ago was changed.
Rifles submitted as part of the investigation could not have been those
used in the shooting because it was 'impossible' that bullets found at
the scene in Rafah belonged to the weapons surrendered, adds the report.
- 'It is important to point out that during the investigation
a concern was raised, based on intelligence information, that some of the
soldiers later changed the barrel they used during the event with a different
barrel,' it continues.
- Concern over a possible cover-up is underlined by the
disappearance of videotapes that would have been recorded by the army's
observation system and may have filmed Miller's death. Despite several
attempts to locate them, the tapes from 3 May 2003 have never been found.
The report's contents, disclosed here for the first time, come days after
the Israeli advocate general announced he would appeal against a decision
to acquit the officer of charges of misuse of his weapon. He was never
charged with the killing after the Israeli army's judge advocate general
said that there was insufficient evidence.
- Released on 7 April, the report was circulated to all
senior Israeli Defence Force commanders, including the chief of staff.
- Although the report stops short of recommending the suspect
should face criminal charges, its catalogue of highly damaging revelations
will tarnish the reputation of the Israeli army in the Occupied Territories.
- The high-profile case of Miller has become a source of
increasingly strained diplomatic tension between the Israel authorities
and the British government. Last Sunday, Miller won a Bafta award for his
film following the lives of Palestinian children during the intifada. He
was shot just after 11pm on the last day of filming Death in Gaza .
- The 34-year-old, who was wearing journalist insignia
and waving a white flag when he was shot in the neck, was targeted as he
emerged from the home of a Palestinian family in the Rafah refugee camp.
Initially, Israeli troops claimed they had come under fire, accounts now
disproven. Radio conversations from the day confirm that Israeli soldiers
knew there were journalists in the area.
- 'By allowing vital evidence to be tampered with, the
Israeli army was complicit in my son's murder,' said Miller's father, Geoffrey.
- The report says that all the soldiers interviewed changed
their testimonies from accounts given to an earlier inquiry by the military
- 'Their versions paint a poor picture, to say the least,'
it states. 'Not only that there are differences and contradictions between
one soldier's version to another soldier's version, but there are also
contradictions and differences within one soldier's testimony itself, many
times in the same version one could not find any coherence.'
- By contrast, army lawyers said all journalists and Palestinian
witnesses interviewed gave reliable accounts.
- However, the Israeli army report said that they could
ultimately find no evidence that troops exchanged weapons or attempted
to obstruct their investigation. They also concluded that the results of
ballistic tests meant that it was not possible to establish a 'reasonable
connection' between shots fired by Second Lieutenant H and Miller's death.
- 'There is a real suspicion that Second Lieutenant H is
the one who hit the deceased with the shots he fired, but after reviewing
the evidence as a whole, I find that it is impossible to charge him with
the legal responsibility for shooting the deceased,' the report concludes.
- The report also offers a wider insight into the operations
of the Israeli army, in particular the tensions and lack of unity among
soldiers stationed there. 'There is a possibility that some soldiers were
trying to frame others and "get back at them", as this is a common
thing between them,' it says.
- The report goes on to cast suspicion upon the army's
entire chain of command. Senior officers assumed without question that
the soldiers when questioned were telling the truth. Attempts to explain
the contradictions were based on assumptions that 'they were confused because
of the fighting,' the report concludes.
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