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Spanish judge wants U.S. soldiers arrested

Warrant stems from 2003 death of TV cameraman

From Al Goodman
CNN Madrid Bureau Chief

Spanish TV cameraman Jose Couso suffered fatal wounds in Baghdad.


Justice and Rights

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A Spanish judge issued an international arrest warrant Wednesday for three U.S. soldiers, charging them with murder in the death of Spanish TV cameraman Jose Couso in Baghdad, Iraq.

Couso, who worked for Spain's Telecinco network, died at the Palestine Hotel on April 8, 2003, as U.S. forces advanced to take control of the city in April 2003.

Investigating magistrate Santiago Pedraz of the National Court will seek the extradition of the soldiers to Spain, a court spokeswoman told CNN.

They are wanted for "murder" and "a crime against the international community," according to the warrant, a copy of which was viewed by CNN partner network CNN+.

The warrant said the soldiers were assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division and identified them as Sgt. Thomas Gibson, commander of the tank that allegedly fired a projectile at the hotel where Couso was filming; Capt. Philip Wolford, Gibson's superior; and Lt. Colonel Philip D. Camp, the captain's superior, CNN+ reported.

It said the United States provided "no judicial cooperation" in trying to resolve the death of the cameraman.

The judge previously had sought to question the soldiers but received no response from U.S. authorities.

Couso's family has waged a campaign calling for an independent investigation into his death.

A lawyer for Couso's family told CNN+ she doubted the warrant would have much practical effect.

She said she understood the United States would not extradite the men and they stood little chance of arrest unless they left the United States.

And the National Court prosecutor's office said later Wednesday it would appeal the arrest warrant on the ground the magistrate has no jurisdiction in the case, Spanish news reports said.

It is understood the warrant remains in force until other more senior judges at the National Court resolve the prosecutor's appeal, expected to be formally presented Thursday.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for reaction to the warrant.

In the past, European courts have issued indictments for war crimes for U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Wesley Clark and other military officers. The United States does not turn over its soldiers.

Couso was one of three journalists killed in two different buildings that day in Baghdad.

Also killed at the Palestine Hotel was Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk, 35, a Ukrainian national based in Warsaw, Poland, the news agency said. Three other employees were wounded, it said.

Al-Jazeera television reporter Tariq Ayoub was killed at the Arabic language network's facilities on the other side of the Tigris River from the Palestine Hotel, near Iraq's Ministry of Information. Three other Al-Jazeera employees were wounded, the network said.

Telecinco said Couso died during surgery following the attack.

The U.S. Central Command said at the time that U.S. forces came under "significant enemy fire" from both buildings and responded "consistent with the inherent right of self-defense." (Full story)

Al-Jazeera said its facilities were deliberately targeted, an allegation denied by U.S. Central Command.

"We don't target journalists deliberately -- not now, not ever," said Central Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Vince Brooks.

Journalists from three Western television networks told CNN they were in the Palestine Hotel when the tank fired and saw no outgoing fire from it.

"These tragic incidents appear to be the latest example of the Iraqi regime's continued strategy of using civilian facilities for regime military purposes," Central Command said in a press release issued after the incident. The reference to regime was to the government of Saddam Hussein.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report

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