Nearly Half of Senate Democrats Urge Biden to Investigate Shireen Abu Akleh’s Killing

'The U.S. government has an obligation to ensure that a comprehensive, impartial, and open investigation into her shooting death is conducted — one in which all parties can have full confidence in the ultimate findings,' the senators write

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington
A woman lights a candle in front of a poster depicting veteran Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May.
A woman lights a candle in front of a poster depicting veteran Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May.Credit: HAZEM BADER / AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington

WASHINGTON – Twenty four U.S. senators urged U.S. President Joe Biden to directly involve the United States in investigating the May killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

The letter from nearly half of the Democrats serving in the Senate marks the most significant push from U.S. lawmakers aimed at encouraging the Biden administration to probe the late Al Jazeera journalist's killing, three weeks before the president is slated to visit Israel.

"The U.S. government has an obligation to ensure that a comprehensive, impartial, and open investigation into her shooting death is conducted — one in which all parties can have full confidence in the ultimate findings," wrote the senators, who also addressed Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray.

"It is clear that neither of the parties on the ground trust the other to conduct a credible and independent investigation," the senators added, led by Sen. Chris Van Hollen. "Therefore, at this point, we believe the only way to achieve that goal is for the United States to be directly involved in investigating Ms. Abu Akleh’s death."

The other senators on the letter are Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown, Tom Carper, Tammy Duckworth, Dick Durbin, Martin Heinrich, Tim Kaine, Angus King, Amy Klobuchar, Patrick Leahy, Ed Markey, Jeff Merkley, Chris Murphy, Patty Murray, Jack Reed, Bernie Sanders, Brian Schatz, Jeanne Shaheen, Tina Smith, Elizabeth Warren, Raphael Warnock, Ben Ray Luján and Sheldon Whitehouse. It comes weeks after Sens. Jon Ossoff and Mitt Romney issued a bipartisan demand for the Biden administration to ensure a full and transparent investigation into the killing.

The senators decried the lack of progress in establishing an independent, thorough and transparent probe into the Al Jazeera journalist’s death, adding that 57 House lawmakers' call for an independent U.S.-led probe has only become more urgent thanks to recently released video footage of Abu Akleh and her colleagues wearing helmets and vests identifying them as press.

They further noted the discrepancies between Israel's official accounting of the incident compared with recent independent investigations by news organizations such as the Associated Press, the Washington Post and CNN, which all found the Israeli military to be culpable. The senators also highlighted the ongoing impasse concerning the exchange of the fatal bullet as incentive for direct U.S. involvement.

"We know you agree that journalists must be able to perform their jobs without fear of attack," the senators wrote, adding that "in order to protect freedom of the press, a thorough and transparent investigation under U.S. auspices must be conducted to get to the truth and provide accountability for the killing of this American citizen and journalist."

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee actively lobbied against the letter, urging lawmakers not to sign it due to "the circumstances surrounding the death of Ms. Abu Akleh [remaining] unclear despite the hasty conclusions of various media outlets." AIPAC also alleged that the letter "implies both Israeli culpability and inability to conduct an objective, thorough investigation of the incident," according to lobbying talking points seen by Haaretz.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday that the U.S. has urged both Israeli and Palestinian officials to share evidence with one another, believing that bridging the two investigations would culminate in accountability. He added that a U.S.-led investigation is "not on the table at the moment."

An Israeli police investigation into the handling of slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral in Jerusalem, during which Israeli forces assaulted pallbearers, nearly causing them to drop the coffin, concluded that the event amounted to police misconduct, though no overseeing commanders will be punished.

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