Spain orders arrest of US soldiers over death

Source: The Guardian

· Judge calls for extradition of men who served in Iraq
·Journalist died in press hotel hit by tank shell

Giles Tremlett in Madrid
Thursday October 20, 2005
The Guardian

A Spanish judge issued international arrest warrants yesterday for three US soldiers who face being put on trial in Madrid for the killing of a Spanish television cameraman during the Iraq war.

Lieutenant Colonel Philip de Camp, Captain Philip Wolford and Sergeant Shawn Gibson of the US Army’s 3rd Infantry Division were wanted for questioning as suspects in the killing of José Couso, from Spain’s Telecinco channel, according to the warrants.

“I order the … capture and arrest of the US soldiers, with a view to extradition,” said Judge Santiago Pedraz, an investigating magistrate at the National Court.

The soldiers have not been formally indicted but, should Judge Pedraz decide evidence against them was strong enough for a trial, they would face jail sentences of up to 20 years for murder and “crimes against the international community”.

Couso died when an Abrams tank fired a shell at Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel. Reuters TV cameraman Taras Portsyuk, from Ukraine, was also killed and three other Reuters journalists were seriously injured. The hotel, which was attacked the day before Baghdad fell, was home to most of the foreign press covering the battle for the Iraqi capital in April 2003.

Judge Pedraz said he had issued the warrant because the US government had not replied to his requests for help as he investigated Couso’s death.

It was “the only way of ensuring the suspects became available to Spanish judicial authorities, given the complete lack of cooperation,” from the US, the judge explained in a written document.

“Most of the international press was in the Hotel Palestine, where they had gone from the Hotel Rashid, following the Pentagon’s own recommendations,” the judge added.

The Couso family’s lawyer, Pilar Hermoso, admitted it was unlikely that the US would extradite the soldiers but said they could be arrested if they travelled to another country.

A US State Department official told Reuters this year: “I just cannot imagine how any US soldier can be subject to some kind of foreign proceeding for criminal liability when he is in a tank in a war zone as part of an international coalition.”

A US army report released last year cleared the soldiers and said that the shelling was aimed at “what was believed to be an enemy firing platform and observation point”.

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists, after talking to journalists in the hotel and embedded with the US army, concluded that the attack was not deliberate but could have been avoided.

The CPJ said the Pentagon knew the hotel housed journalists but failed to tell the tank unit. “There is simply no evidence to support the official US position that US troops were returning hostile fire from the Palestine Hotel,” it said.


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