Pentagon hits back over killing of Spanish journalist

20th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

20 October 2005, WASHINGTON — A Pentagon spokesman said the US Defence Department had cooperated with Madrid in attempting to clear up the Baghdad killing of a Spanish reporter.

20 October 2005

WASHINGTON — A Pentagon spokesman said the US Defence Department had cooperated with Madrid in attempting to clear up the Baghdad killing of a Spanish reporter.

The statement contradicted comments made by the judge in Spain who issued international arrest warrants for three American military men involved in the incident.

"The Defence Department has previously cooperated with the Spanish government," Lt. Col. Barry Venable told EFE news agency.

The officer confirmed that the Pentagon "is taking seriously" the allegations and has provided information about the incident and the military's subsequent internal investigation of it.

"It is a complex legal matter. I don't have any information with regard how the department will respond to the warrants," the spokesman said earlier at a press briefing.

"The legal framework is such that I am unable to comment on it at this point. Having said that, with regard to the incident itself, the journalist's death at the Palestine Hotel was a tragedy," Venable said.

The National Court of Spain, an ally of the United States in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, issued international arrest warrants on Wednesday for a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, a captain and a sergeant who played a role in the tank fire that killed a Spanish journalist in Baghdad in April, 2003.

The court that issued the warrants is investigating the killing of television cameraman Jose Couso, who died while filming from a balcony of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad.

A colleague from Reuters also died from the explosion of the round fired by a U.S. Army tank.

The Couso family's attorney, Pilar Hermoso, celebrated the judge's ruling as "historic".

Even so, she acknowledged that there is no chance that Washington would voluntarily make the men available for prosecution here, and that the three soldiers will not be subject to arrest unless they leave the United States.

Javier Couso, brother of the slain cameraman, told EFE his family is "absolutely happy" about the arrest warrants.

National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz said the warrants are "the only effective means of assuring the presence of those implicated before Spain's judicial authority, in light of the total absence of judicial cooperation by U.S. authorities in efforts to clear up what happened".

Pedraz noted that he had already twice requested assistance from the United States under the terms of existing bilateral accords, asking in April 2004 for specific documents and in June of this year for testimony from the three soldiers.

On the second occasion, the judge suggested that if Washington were unwilling to allow the soldiers to testify in Madrid, it could agree to "the dispatch of a Spanish judicial panel to United States territory for the taking of those statements".

"To date," Pedraz said in his ruling Wednesday, "I have received no response from the relevant authority about compliance with both requests for help."

The case was brought by a press watchdog group in support of the family of Couso.

The three men named in the warrants are Sgt. Thomas Gibson, Capt. Philip Wolford and Lt. Col. Philip de Camp.

Couso's relatives, backed by organizations including Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists, reject a Pentagon report clearing U.S. military personnel of any wrongdoing or misconduct in the incident.

Sgt. Gibson was the one who fired from an M1 Abrams tank after seeing someone was using binoculars to observe his group from Baghdad's Palestine Hotel, where most of the foreign journalists covering the U.S. invasion of Iraq were staying.

Ukrainian photographer Taras Protsyuk, a Reuters newsman, was also killed in the attack.

A month after the incident, Gibson told Spain's Tele 5 network, "I didn't fire on him immediately. I called my superiors and told them what I had seen. Ten minutes later, they called me and told me to fire on him, and so I did."

His immediate superior, Capt. Wolford, authorized him to fire after the gunner told him he had seen someone in the hotel using binoculars, according to an interview Wolford gave the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur.

Lt. Col. De Camp, in an interview published in the Los Angeles Times on April 11, also acknowledged that he authorized the firing on the hotel.

The crime being investigated by the court appears in the Spanish criminal code as "conducting or ordering excessive or indiscriminate attacks or making the civilian population the object of attacks, reprisals or threats of violence".

It was just over two years ago that the judiciary agreed to hear the complaint brought by the Couso family, overriding opposition from the Spanish attorney general's office, which said on Wednesday it will challenge the court's issue of the warrants.

EFE learned from official sources that the attorney general's office, which is part of the executive branch, will cite the Spanish court's alleged lack of jurisdiction in seeking to quash the ruling by Pedraz.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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