Pentagon rejects new investigation into killing of Spanish cameraman by US troops in Iraq

Published on WSWS, by Vicky Short, August 14, 2010.

Last week, the Pentagon responded to the decision of the Spanish Supreme Court to reopen the investigation into the death of cameraman José Couso in 2003 in Iraq. It declared that US authorities had already acquitted the three soldiers involved of any crime. The Pentagon spokesman said that he did not want to discuss the content of the Supreme Court’s decision, adding that “it is the Spanish authorities who must deal with the particular details of this affair”.

The Supreme Court in Spain has ordered the reinvestigation into Couso’s death after revoking the decision of the National Court to shelve the case against three suspects—Sergeant Thomas Gibson, Captain Philip Wolford and Lieutenant-Colonel Philip de Camp. It has ordered the investigation to be reopened, following a successful appeal by Couso’s family. 

Tele 5 cameraman Couso, 37, and Reuters reporter Taras Protsyuk, 35, were killed seven years ago, in April 2003, by so called US “friendly fire”. The soldiers involved are accused of shelling or ordering the shelling of Baghdad’s Hotel Palestine where over 100 international journalists were staying during the US invasion of Iraq. Couso and other journalists and cameramen had taken refuge on the fourteenth floor of the hotel from which they were filming US tanks shooting people, when, suddenly, tank fire was turned on them. Three other members of the media corps stationed in the hotel were also seriously wounded.

Journalists in the hotel declared at the time that the US military were well aware that they were using the hotel and were clearly visible on the roof filming and reporting the movements of US forces. Washington repeatedly claimed that soldiers were returning hostile fire from the hotel. Vice-President Dick Cheney declared that the suggestion that US troops had deliberately attacked journalists was “obviously totally false … You’d have to be an idiot to believe that … The attack on the hotel was simply the result of troops responding to what they perceived to be threats against them.”

But this was an outright lie as a subsequent investigation by Reporters Without Borders, Two Murders and a Lie, proved. The deaths in Baghdad were also part of a wider pattern, which involved similar attacks on the Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi television networks … //

… The four journalists reject the Pentagon’s claim that Couso’s death was a terrible mistake. “There are many elements to think that it was no mistake”, emphasises one of them, Olga Rodriguez, who said, “You can see that they were perfectly able to see…our bullet proof jackets with the word PRENSA (Media) in big letters.”

“We had seen them and they us as we were constantly on the balconies because we needed the satellite signal in order to rebroadcast”, she explained.

Rodriguez continues, “That same day another two broadcasting headquarters were attacked, three journalists died as a consequence, no journalist was able to carry out their job that day, that is to say, there were no images of the taking of Baghdad by the United States. That is why we believe that an independent investigation of this matter is fundamental for the freedom of the press, so that a precedent can be set and a repetition avoided. If military actions such as this are not investigated, a feeling is generated that armies act with impunity. It is our duty as citizens and as journalists to ask for justice”.

The Couso case demonstrates how determined Washington remains to prevent the world witnessing the barbarity of US operations in the taking of Baghdad and to silence those journalists who were not under the direct control and discipline of the US military. It is determined to prevent US troops being convicted of the death of José Couso and setting a precedent for the indictment and trial of Bush, Cheney and all those in the US government and ruling establishment who conspired to carry out the illegal war in Iraq. (full text).

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