Spain wants a three man US army tank crew to stand trial for the death of José Couso. High Court judge, Santiago Pedraz, has issued three international arrest warrants in Madrid after they fired at the Telecinco cameraman in Bagdad in 2003 fatally wounding him.
The judge is confident the new US administration of Barack Obama will want to co-operate with the investigation. However whilst Washington is quick to criticise other nations non-compliance with what it deems as justice it has no enthusiasm for the handing over of its citizens – just ask the people of Bhopal.
Pedraz acted after the Supreme Court decided at the beginning of July to reopen the investigation in to the death of the Telecinco cameraman who was killed during the invasion of Iraq by US troops. The highest court in Spain accepted an appeal made by the family of Couso in the case that had been archived by the High Court in July 2009.
Last Friday (July 30) the judge issued a “find and capture” warrant for the tank crew on the basis “they can be deemed to have committed a crime against the international community” which amounts to homicide. Santiago Pedraz has also decided to form a judicial commission to ascertain what happened in Bagdad to cause Couso’s death.
The magistrate will himself head the investigation and will visit the zones of the Jamurohaora Bridge from which the US tank fired, the Hotel Palestine where Reuters, Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV had its offices plus any other places deemed to be relevant.
The Ministry of the Interior has confirmed the detention order has been sent to Interpol via the Policía Nacional. From that moment on nations that are members of the Interpol network are obliged to detain the three troopers if they are in their jurisdiction.
The High Court has called on the US government to make available all documentation on the incident and to present declarations along with the three tank crew. The court points out that these events occurred under the previous US administration of President George W Bush. His government refused to co-operate with previous Spanish investigations but Pedraz hopes the attitude of Obama will be more positive.
It is the third time that Spain has issued arrest warrants for Sergeant Thomas Gibson, Captain Philip Wolford and Lieutenant Colonel Philip de Camp.
José Couso was killed on April 8 2003 when he was hit by a shell from a US Mark 1 Abrams tank that fired at the Hotel Palestine in Bagdad which at the time was a civil zone and used by reporters. In 2006 the High Court filed the case having taken the view that Couso’s death was an “act of war” and was not a premeditated attack on the journalists.
The Supreme Court later rejected this argument and ordered at the insistence of the family the investigation be re-opened. In 2009 the High Court again filed the case and annulled the accusation of “homicide and a crime against the international community” against the three US soldiers.
The view of the court then was there was “insufficient evidence” that the tank’s crew that had fired at Couso deliberately. A Ukrainian cameraman working for Reuters was also killed in the same tragedy. The shell had hit its office on the 15 th floor, and Couso was on the floor below.
Needless to say the family of Couso are delighted at the decision of Pedraz and the re-issuing of the arrest orders. The cameraman’s sister, Sabela Couso, described it as a “triumph” and condemned the constant strong objections and stone walling put forward by the US Army.
The ruling has also been welcomed by Olga Rodríguez, Carlos Hernández, Jon Sistiaga and Jesús Quiñonero – the four journalists who were witnesses to the attack that resulted in Couso’s death. They have stated their willingness to travel to Iraq with the judge and to go to the bridge and hotel with him.
Their view is the tank fired from its position from which it could clearly see with its prismatic system the signs for the hotel as well as the word “Press” clearly written on the flak jackets worn by the journalists. They watched the terrible events unfold from their own hotel balcony and dismiss the claims that the soldiers did not know the international press were at the hotel.
Spain’s minister of justice, Francisco Caamaño, has promised his department’s full international co-operation should the judge request it to find and detain the soldiers. He noted that both the Supreme and High Courts had recently taken the view there were sufficient elements to continue the investigation and the government respected the judicial decision. It now remains to be seen whether the US government also respects justice.
Once the news reaches the USA fire and brimstone can be expected from the far right with much frothing of Murdoch’s organ on Fox News. For America justice is something it dispenses to the world and from which its citizens are largely exempt. Those - including Judge Pedraz - who believe the Obama administration views justice differently, should not hold their breath. However it is reassuring that after Spain’s right tried to muzzle the country’s famous campaigning judge, Baltasar Garzón; there are other magistrates ready to step forward to uphold international justice, even against the might of the USA.
(The above article appeared in the Morning Star in August 2010)