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Spain25 May 2007

Madrid judge stands by decision to charge three US soldiers with Spanish cameraman’s murder

Madrid investigating judge Santiago Pedraz announced on 24 May that he has rejected an appeal by the prosecutor’s office against his decision to indict three US soldiers for the murder of Spanish cameraman José Couso, who was killed when a US tank shelled the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on 8 April 2003.

Prosecutor Jesús Alonso had appealed against the indictment on the grounds that there was “insufficient evidence” to bring a prosecution. It now falls to a panel of National Court judges to take the final decision on whether to proceed.

On 16 January, Judge Pedraz issued an international warrant for the arrests of Sgt. Shawn (“Tom”) Gibson, Capt. Philip Wolford and Lt. Col. Philip de Camp, who were the three soldiers in charge of the tank that fired the shell.

The US authorities have until now ignored this warrant and the judge’s previous requests for their arrests or for statements to be taken from them. But the three soldiers could still be arrested if they travel to a country which has signed an extradition accord with Spain.

A criminal court’s decision early last year to drop the case was overruled in December by the supreme court, which ordered that it should be reopened on the grounds that “the Spanish courts are competent to investigate [the case], in accordance with the principle of universal justice.”

17 january 2007

International arrest warrant for three US soldiers responsible for Spanish cameraman’s death in Baghdad

Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the international warrant issued by a Madrid judge yesterday for the arrest of three US soldiers for the “murder” of Spanish cameraman José Couso of the privately-owned TV station Telecinco, who was killed on 8 April 2003 when a US tank fired a shell at a Baghdad hotel used by the international media.

“We hope that judge Santiago Pedraz’s decision to issue an international arrest warrant for the three US soldiers responsible for firing the shell that killed Couso means they will finally be required to explain their actions before a court,” the press freedom organisation said.

“We also hope this will help people to understand that the safety of journalists in war zones is not an abstract issue and requires urgent action,” Reporters Without Borders continued. “The UN security council’s unanimous adoption of Resolution 1738 on the protection of journalists in war zones on 23 December served as a reminder that the death of journalists should not be seen as something that is unavoidable.”

The warrant issued yesterday by Judge Pedraz names Sgt. Thomas Gibson, Capt. Philip Wolford and Lt. Col. Philip de Camp, who were the three soldiers in charge of the tank that fired the shell at the Hotel Palestine. The judge said consideration should also be given to the possibility of freezing their assets in case they are ordered to pay compensation to the Couso family.

The US embassy in Madrid said Couso’s death was already the subject of an investigation which concluded that the soldiers acted according to the rules of engagement in force in that war zone. The Couso family lawyer, Leopoldo Torres Boursault, said he would not hesitate to seek the application of UN security council Resolution 1738 if he failed to obtain their extradition.

If the US authorities refuse to extradite the three soldiers, they could still be arrested if they travel to a country which has signed an extradition accord with Spain.

The US army concluded in a report in 2003 that “no misconduct or negligence” had been committed by the coalition forces and the shell had been targeted at what was believed to have been a source of enemy fire.

Judge Pedraz already issued arrest warrants for the three US soldiers in October 2005, as well as two requests for statements to be take from them, but no action was taken after a criminal court dismissed the case in March 2006. However, the supreme court overruled that decision on 5 December, ordering that the investigation into Couso’s death should be reopened.

At total of 146 journalists and media assistants have been killed since the start of the war in Iraq, which is twice the number killed in the Vietnam war.

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