Spanish court upholds warrants for US soldiers

28th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

28 October 2005, MADRID — Spain's National Court upheld warrants for the arrest on murder charges of two US Army officers and a sergeant in the killing of a Spanish journalist in Baghdad in 2003.

28 October 2005

MADRID — Spain's National Court upheld warrants for the arrest on murder charges of two US Army officers and a sergeant in the killing of a Spanish journalist in Baghdad in 2003.

A state attorney had challenged the warrants, saying the Spanish tribunal did not have jurisidiction in the matter of the killing television cameraman Jose Couso in April 2003. He also cited what he said were procedural flaws in the issue of the warrants.

Couso, who worked for Spain's Telecinco network, was killed while filming from a balcony of the Palestine Hotel in the Iraqi capital. A colleague from Reuters, Ukrainian photographer Taras Protsyuk, also died from the explosion of the round fired by a US Army tank.

National Court judge Santiago Pedraz rejected the state attorney's challenge, saying "there is sufficient reason to believe they are responsible" for the murder of the men and for the additional offence of "crimes against the international community".

The charges carry jail sentences of 15 to 20 years and 10 to 15 years, respectively.

Pedraz said in Friday's statement that the warrants are not "a reprisal" for the lack of cooperation of US authorities with Spain's investigation into the incident.

Spain is an ally of the United States in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but relations between Washington and Madrid have been strained since the Socialist government pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq in April 2004.

Pedraz, in issuing the warrants last week, said the move was "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 US authorities in efforts to clear up what happened".

He said he had 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.

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, are pressing the criminal case after rejecting a Pentagon report clearing U.S. military personnel of any wrongdoing 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 journalist covering the U.S. invasion of Iraq were staying.

A month after the incident, Gibson told Telecinco, "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 in April, also acknowledged that he authorized the firing on the hotel.

The three men named in the Spanish warrants cannot be arrested in the United States. But they would be subject to detention, with an eye to extradition to Spain, if they travel to a nation that has an extradition treaty with Madrid.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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