Judge Indicts 3 U.S. Soldiers in Death of Spanish Journalist in Iraq

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A judge indicted three U.S. soldiers Friday in the 2003 death of a Spanish journalist who was killed when their tank opened fire at a hotel in Baghdad.

Sgt. Shawn Gibson, Capt. Philip Wolford and Lt. Col. Philip DeCamp were charged with homicide in the death of Jose Couso and ”a crime against the international community.” This is defined under Spanish law as an indiscriminate or excessive attack against civilians during war.

At the time of the incident, all were from the 3rd Infantry Division, based in Fort Stewart, Ga. Judge Santiago Pedraz asked U.S. authorities to notify them of the indictment.

Couso, who worked as a cameraman for the Spanish TV network Telecinco, died on April 8, 2003, after a U.S. Army tank crew fired a shell at the Palestine Hotel, where many journalists were staying. Taras Portsyuk, a Ukrainian cameraman for Reuters, was also killed.

Following the incident, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell said the troops responded after drawing hostile fire from the hotel. He said a U.S. review of the incident found the use of force was justified.

According to the five-page indictment, DeCamp ordered the shot, and Wolford then authorized Gibson to carry it out.

”The people indicted knew and were aware that the Palestine Hotel was occupied by civilians, without there being a proved threat (sniper or otherwise) against themselves or the U.S troops, therefore, the tank shot that caused the death of Mr. Couso would constitute an attack, retaliation, or violence threat or act aimed at terrifying journalists,” the indictment said.

DeCamp, who is now an adjunct professor of mathematics at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., did not immediately return a telephone message left at his home. The school said he retired from the Army in July 2005.

Pedraz has issued several arrest warrants against the three, but the United States has made clear it will not hand them over.

The three men still run the risk of arrest under a Spanish-issued international warrant should they travel to any country that has an extradition treaty with Spain.

Under Spanish law, a crime committed against a Spaniard abroad can be prosecuted here if it is not investigated in the country where it was allegedly committed.

In a separate case in Italy that has irritated relations between Rome and Washington, prosecutors in February indicted 26 Americans, all but one believed to be CIA agents, accused of kidnapping a Muslim cleric in Milan in 2003.

Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, suspected of recruiting fighters for radical Islamic causes, was flown to Egypt as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, and he was held in a prison where he has said he was tortured.

The 26 Americans have left Italy, and U.S. official have said they would not be turned over for prosecution even if Rome requests it. The trial is expected to start in June.

Resistance to the war in Iraq ran high in both Spain and Italy.

Spain was the scene of major protests before and during the early months of the U.S.-led invasion, with huge demonstrations in Barcelona and Madrid.

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