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Court lets off US soldiers responsible for killing of journalist

The Spanish High Court has decided to close a case in which the family of a cameraman killed in Iraq sought the arrest and questioning of three US soldiers, ruling that his death was a mistaken act of war, a Reuters report has said.


JUSTICE DENIED: The Couso family. The court's decision was "outrageous and disgraceful'' and the family was going to appeal Friday's ruling, said Javier Couso, brother of Jose Couso. "The Spanish court has succumbed to pressure by the United States,'' Couso was quoted as saying by the state news agency Efe.

"This was not an intentional act of wrongdoing to cause the death of two protected civilians (Couso and Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk), but rather an act of war against the apparent enemy, erroneously identified," said a court document dated March 8 but made public two days later. Spanish state prosecutors had appealed the case, brought by the family of Telecinco cameraman Jose Couso, on the ground that Spain lacked jurisdiction to seek the soldiers' extradition.

José Couso, who worked for the Spanish television network Telecinco, was killed on April 8, 2003 when a tank crew of the US army's 3rd Infantry Division fired a shell on Hotel Palestine in Baghdad. Reuters cameraman Taras Portsyuk, a Ukrainian, also died in the shelling. The hotel, which was attacked the day before Baghdad fell, was home to most of the foreign journalists covering the battle. Portsyuk died on the spot, while Couso succumbed to shrapnel injuries in the hospital.

The court revoked the arrest warrants issued on October 19, 2005, for Sgt Thomas Gibson, commander of the tank that allegedly fired a projectile; Capt Philip Wolford, Gibson's superior; and Lt Col Philip de Camp, Wolford's superior. They were charged with murder and a crime against the international community, according to the warrant, which said the US provided "no judicial cooperation" in the investigation.

But the court panel, ruling on an appeal by a prosecutor against the magistrate's arrest warrants, ruled that "the shot from the US tank was directed specifically against a unit erroneously identified as combatants." The judges, in a nine-page ruling, wrote that US troops thought they were firing against Iraqis at the hotel serving as spotters for Iraqi artillery fire aimed at the oncoming US troops.

"But bad fortune had it that the point to which the projectile was directed was the location of the two cameraman," the court said. "In consequence, it was not an intentional act to cause the death of two protected civilians, but an act of war," the court wrote.

The court's decision was "outrageous and disgraceful'' and the family was going to appeal Friday's ruling, said Javier Couso, brother of Jose Couso. "The Spanish court has succumbed to pressure by the United States,'' Couso was quoted as saying by the state news agency Efe.

A lawyer for Couso's family, Pilar Hermoso Gomez, told CNN she would appeal to Spain's Supreme Court, adding, "It's incredible that the court addresses the substance of the case ... without hearing testimony from the three soldiers." She also called it a "shame" that journalists were being shown the court order before she was, adding she had yet to see it.

The US had acknowledged that the soldiers' tank fired a shell into the hotel, where Couso and Protsyuk were killed and three other Reuters staff seriously injured, but cleared the men of any blame. Then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell said American troops fired after receiving hostile fire from the hotel and that the matter received the highest attention from President George W Bush and then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had criticised the Pentagon report on the incident, saying it failed to address the question of "why US troops were not aware that the Palestine Hotel – one of the best-known civilian sites in Baghdad at the time – was full of journalists."

Date posted: March 13, 2007 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 439