24 May 2007
MADRID – A Spanish court on Thursday upheld an indictment against three U.S. soldiers in the death of a Spanish journalist in Iraq, rejecting an appeal filed by national prosecutors.
Spain’s National Court had filed the indictment in April, charging the three American soldiers with homicide and a crime against the international community _ defined under Spanish law as an indiscriminate or excessive attack against civilians during war time.
The national prosecutors’ office challenged the indictment last week, arguing that the firing of a tank shell that killed TV cameraman Jose Couso in April 2003 had not been a crime, but rather an accident of war.
Judge Santiago Pedraz _ the same judge who issued the April 27 indictment _ threw out the appeal on Thursday. In Spain it is investigative magistrates, rather than prosecutors, who file criminal charges.
In Thursday’s ruling, Pedraz said the three Americans had used indiscriminate and excessive force when they opened fire from their tank at Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel, where many journalists including Couso were staying.
The tank blast killed Couso, a cameraman for the Spanish television network Telecinco, as well as Ukrainian cameraman Taras Portsyuk, who worked for Reuters.
The three American soldiers were part of the U.S. 3rd Infantry, based in Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Following the incident, then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said American troops had opened fire after drawing hostile fire from the hotel. He said a U.S. review of the incident found the use of force was justified.
Pedraz said there was no evidence of a sniper or a spotter at the hotel, and that even if there had been a spotter, the firing of a 120-millimeter caliber tank shell would have been a devastating and disproportionate response.
“The collateral damage that would be produced was predictable, that is the death and injury of those staying at the hotel,” Pedraz said.
Pedraz has issued several arrests warrants against the three soldiers, but the United States has said it would not hand them over.
The soldiers still run the risk of arrest under a Spanish-issued international warrant should they travel to any country that has an extradition accord with Spain.
[Copyright AP with Expatica]
Subject: Spanish news