Spain seeks US soldiers' arrest


Jan 16, 2007

Spain has issued an international arrest warrant for three US soldiers accused of causing the death of a TV cameraman during the Iraq war.

Jose Couso, 37, died in April 2003 after a US tank fired on a hotel used by foreign journalists in Baghdad.

The US has admitted its tank crew fired at the Palestine Hotel but has cleared Sgt Thomas Gibson, Cpt Philip Wolford and Lt-Col Philip De Camp of blame.

The soldiers say they thought they were being shot at when they opened fire.

Caught on film

The Palestine Hotel was the base for almost all the foreign media crews in Baghdad during the US-led invasion of Iraq. Mr Couso was working for Spain's Telecinco television station at the time.

Reuters cameraman Taras Portsyuk, a Ukrainian, was also killed in the blast and three other Reuters staff injured.

Footage of the incident on the day before the fall of the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein - which did not record any fire from the hotel - was witnessed around the world.

A US review of the incident ruled that the use of force by the tank was justified, but the family of Mr Couso decided to press criminal charges through the Spanish courts.

Freeze on assets

In December 2006, Spain's supreme court overturned a previous high court decision and ruled that the Spanish legal system was competent to judge the three US soldiers.'

As he issued the international search-and-capture order for the three tank crew members, Judge Santiago Pedraz demanded that prosecutors also investigate whether it was possible to freeze the soldiers' US assets in case of future compensation claims.

The BBC's Danny Wood in Madrid says Spain's justice system is accustomed to taking on controversial international cases.

In 1998, Spain attempted to extradite Chile's former leader, Augusto Pinochet, while he was in London.

The British government turned down that request, and the US authorities are very unlikely to co-operate with this latest international arrest warrant issued by a Spanish judge, our correspondent says.

But four years after the death of Mr Couso, his family have achieved a symbolic victory, he says.