Spanish investigating judge Santiago Pedraz decided yesterday to reinstate murder charges against the three US soldiers responsible for shelling the Hotel Palestine in Baghdad on 8 April 2003, killing two cameramen, one of them the Spanish. Spain’s National Court had ordered the withdrawal of the charges for lack of evidence in May 2008.
José Couso, a Spanish cameraman working for the Spanish TV station Telecinco, and Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian cameraman working for Reuters, were killed by a US tank shell fired at the hotel, which was being used by several hundred journalists who had come to cover the US invasion. Two other journalists and a media technician were wounded.
The case dates back to 27 May 2003, when Couso’s brother, David Couso, filed a complaint in Madrid accusing three US soldiers of a “war crime” and “murder”. The soldiers named in the complaint, all members of the 64th armoured regiment of the US army’s third infantry division, were Sgt. Thomas Gibson, Capt. Philip Wolford and Lt. Col. Philip de Camp, the regiment’s commander, who gave the order to fire. The National Court, which is Spain’s highest criminal court, ruled on 21 October 2003 that the case could be heard.
A US army investigation had meanwhile concluded on 12 August 2003 that the tank crew had acted in legitimate self-defence when it fired on the Palestine Hotel.
The Spanish case was closed on 10 March 2006, but was reopened on the Spanish supreme court’s orders on 14 December 2006.
On 16 January 2007, Spain issued an international warrant for the arrest of the three US soldiers for “murder” and a request for their extradition. An appeal by the Spanish prosecutor’s office against the indictment of the three US soldiers was rejected on 24 May 2007.
The National Court ruled on 13 May 2008 that there was “insufficient evidence,” thereby preventing Judge Pedraz from pursuing the case. But yesterday, the judge announced that he had new evidence that allowed him to reopen the investigation. There were “reasonable grounds” for charging the US soldiers, he said in his new indictment.