A coroner ruled on Friday that US forces in Iraq unlawfully killed a British television journalist by shooting him in the head as he lay in the back of a makeshift ambulance during the opening days of the war.
The widow of reporter Terry Lloyd called for the perpetrators to be prosecuted for the "despicable, deliberate, vengeful act." And Deputy Coroner Andrew Walker said he would ask the attorney general to take steps to bring to justice those responsible for the death.
But prosecution of US service members seemed unlikely.
The US Defense Department said its forces had followed proper rules of engagement. A department spokesman said a US inquiry into the killing of Lloyd, 50, a veteran reporter for the British television network ITN, "determined that US forces followed the applicable rules of engagement."
"The Department of Defense has never deliberately targeted noncombatants, including journalists," Lieutenant Colonel Mark Ballesteros said. "We have always gone to extreme measures to avoid civilian casualties and collateral damage."
The inquest was unable to determine whether the bullet that killed Lloyd in southern Iraq on March 22, 2003, was fired by US ground forces or helicopters.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack described Lloyd's death as a tragedy, but said the US investigation had found that the troops involved had not broken the law.
In Belgium, Aidan White, the head of the International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest organization of journalists, said: "If this was murder, as the court suggests, and the US is responsible, it is certainly a war crime."
The London-based National Union of Journalists welcomed the coroner's decision and also called the killing "nothing short of a war crime."
"The killing of journalists with impunity must never, ever go unpunished. Any attempt to silence journalists in this way must never succeed," Jeremy Dear, the group's general secretary, said.