Spain reinstates charges against US soldiers for journalist’s death in Iraq

Spanish National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz Gómez reinstated charges May 21 against three US soldiers for their involvement in the death of Spanish cameraman José Couso, which occurred when the soldiers opened fire on a Baghdad hotel frequented by Western journalists in 2003, allegedly without provocation.

The homicide charges initially filed against Sgt. Shawn Gibson, Capt. Philip Wolford and Lt. Col. Philip DeCamp were dropped in 2007 due to a lack of evidence sufficient to prove that shots taken by the soldiers were unprovoked. According to GĂłmez, the testimony of three journalists provided evidence sufficient to support the initial homicide allegations. GĂłmez emphasized the journalists’ assertion that the morning on which the attack occurred had been relatively calm and that prior to the US soldiers’ attack on the hotel, there had been 45 minutes without any such disturbances. Testimony detailing the morning’s calmness, evidenced by the fact that Couso was standing at the hotel’s window when he was killed, stands in direct contrast to the US soldiers’ previously claimed justification of self defense.

GĂłmez initiated investigations into the incident in June 2005. In October of that year, he ordered the soldiers’ arrest. The order was reversed by a panel of judges for the National Court in 2006. This reversal was then overturned by Spain’s Supreme Court, resulting in arrest warrants being reissued in January 2007. The soldiers were indicted in April of that year, but charges were soon dropped due to a lack of evidence. (Jurist, May 22)

Spain‘s judicial system has also opened an investigation of US practices at Guantánamo Bay.

See our last posts on Iraq, attacks on the media and the José Couso case

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  1. Spanish judge orders arrest of US troops over Iraq slaying
    Spanish National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz issued an arrest warrant July 29 for three US troops suspected of gunning down Spanish journalist JosĂ© Couso in Iraq. Couso, a television cameraman, was killed in 2003 when a US tank fired into the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. The 3rd Division infantrymen named in the warrant, Sgt. Shawn Gibson, Capt. Philip Wolford and Lt. Col. Philip de Camp, maintain that they fired at what they thought was an enemy combatant after being fired upon. A US military investigation has cleared them of wrongdoing, and US officials have said they will not extradite the soldiers. Pedraz said that he issued the warrant because the matter “may constitute a crime against the international community,” and US officials have not cooperated in Spanish investigations into the incident. (Jurist, July 29)