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Spanish judge issues warrants for the arrest of three US soldiers for “murder” of journalist in Iraq

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF 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 television 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,” RSF continued. “The UN security council’s unanimous adoption of Resolution 1738 on the protection of journalists in war zones on 23 December [2006] served as a reminder that the death of journalists should not be seen as something that is unavoidable.”

The warrant issued on 16 January 2007 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 treaty 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 taken from them, but no action was taken after a criminal court dismissed the case in March 2006. However, the Spanish Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo) overruled that decision on 5 December 2006, ordering that the investigation into Couso’s death 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.

Date posted: January 24, 2007 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 421