- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

From combined dispatches

MADRID — A judge has issued an international arrest warrant for three U.S. soldiers whose tank fired on a Baghdad hotel during the Iraq war, killing a Spanish journalist and a Ukrainian cameraman, a court official said yesterday.

Judge Santiago Pedraz issued the warrant for Sgt. Shawn Gibson, Capt. Philip Wolford and Lt. Col. Philip DeCamp, all from the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, which is based in Fort Stewart, Ga.

Jose Couso, who worked for the Spanish television network Telecinco, died April 8, 2003, after a U.S. Army tank crew fired a shell on Hotel Palestine in Baghdad where many journalists were staying to cover the war.

Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian, also was killed.

Judge Pedraz had sent two requests to the United States — in April 2004 and June 2005 — to have statements taken from the suspects or to obtain permission for a Spanish delegation to quiz them. Both went unanswered.

He said he issued the arrest order because of a lack of judicial cooperation from the United States regarding the case.

The warrant “is the only effective measure to ensure the presence of the suspects in the case being handled by Spanish justice, given the lack of judicial cooperation by U.S. authorities,” the judge said in the warrant.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Barry E. Venable told The Washington Times:

“The Department of Defense has cooperated previously with the Spanish government, including by providing information concerning the incident and resulting investigation.”

He said, “This is a legal matter that will be handled through appropriate channels.”

Other U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the Spanish judge had no business issuing yesterday’s arrest warrants and that there was no way the soldiers would be extradited.

Judge Pedraz made headlines in June when he ordered the release of a convicted Basque terrorist who had served 18 years of a 3,000-year sentence for murdering 25 persons — a decision later overturned by a higher court.

U.S. officials have insisted that the soldiers thought they were being targeted by Iraqi “spotter” when they opened fire.

After the Hotel Palestine incident, then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said a review of the incident found that the use of force was justified.

Independent investigations by at least two journalist advocacy groups concluded that the soldiers did not knowingly fire on reporters, but faulted military commanders for not communicating to soldiers on the ground that reporters and photographers were staying in the hotel.

In late 2003, the Spanish National Court, acting on a request from Mr. Couso’s family, agreed to consider filing criminal charges against three members of the tank crew.

Fort Stewart spokeswoman Jennifer Scales said the three no longer are assigned to Fort Stewart or the 3rd Infantry Division.

Pilar Hermoso, an attorney for Mr. Couso’s family, welcomed the decision, although she recognized that it would be difficult to get the soldiers extradited to Spain, the state news agency Efe reported.

Small protests over the killing have been staged outside the U.S. Embassy in Madrid nearly every month since Mr. Couso’s death.

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

Elsewhere, Italian authorities have issued arrest warrants for 13 persons said to be CIA agents or linked to the CIA.


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