US senator Chris Van Hollen slammed a top Biden administration official on Wednesday over delays in releasing a report on the killing of Palestinian-American journalist of Al Jazeera Shireen Abu Akleh.
During a Wednesday Senate budget hearing, Van Hollen said, “As you probably know, I’ve been trying for weeks and weeks now to get a hold of the updated summation report done by the General Fenzel of the [United States Security Coordinator] regarding the shooting death of Shireen Abu Akleh. I just want to tell you, I’ve run out of patience.”
Van Hollen warned Barbara Leaf, the US State Department assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, saying “I expect to be able to view the report wherever you want in a classified setting by Friday. I will otherwise use whatever powers I have here in ways that I’ve never done before.”
“I’m a dear friend of the Foreign Service, but I can tell you I’m at the end of my rope in terms of a simple request for a report.”
In response, Leaf apologized for the delays, adding that the State Department will deliver the report without providing a timetable.
“I understand, senator, and I do apologize for the delay and we expect to bring that report forth shortly to the committee for your viewing. I apologize.”
Despite wearing a protective helmet and blue bulletproof vest clearly marked as “PRESS,” the 51-year-old veteran journalist was shot and killed by Israeli forces in the head while she was covering an Israeli military raid into the Jenin refugee camp on May 11, sparking international outrage and calls for accountability for attacks on journalists.
Van Hollen has been leading efforts in the US to hold the killers of Abu Akleh responsible.
In addition to sending letters to the Biden administration calling for an independent probe into the shooting, he has drafted amendments to legislation that would require the Biden administration to provide further information on her killing.
In May, Van Hollen called the Biden administration to give legislators access to a report from the United States Security Coordinator (USSC) about the killing of the Al Jazeera journalist.
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.
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.