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Friday 7 October 2011

3 U.S. soldiers indicted in death of Spanish journalist

3 U.S. soldiers indicted in death of Spanish journalist

By Al Goodman, CNN

October 5, 2011 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)

The family and lawyer of Spanish cameraman Jose Couso who was killed in Baghdad in 2003, at a press conference in 2005.

Madrid (CNN) -- A Spanish judge has again indicted three U.S. soldiers in connection with the death of a Spanish TV cameraman in Iraq in 2003, according to a court order viewed by CNN Wednesday.

The long-running case stems from the death of the cameraman, Jose Couso in Baghdad in 2003. U.S. troops assaulted the Iraqi capital and directed tank fire against the Palestine Hotel, where journalists covering the war were staying.

The three U.S. soldiers were first indicted by the judge in 2007. The case was closed in 2008 but reopened last year after Couso's family appealed to Spain's Supreme Court.

The latest indictment, dated Tuesday but made public on Wednesday, alleges that the three U.S. troops were linked to U.S. tank fire directed against the hotel, where Couso was videotaping the battle. He died from his wounds shortly afterward.

The three, identified as Philip de Camp, Phillip Wolford and Thomas Gibson, were assigned to the U.S. 3rd Infantry, based in Fort Stewart, Georgia.

In addition to Couso, the tank fire on April 8, 2003, also killed a Reuters cameraman, Ukrainian-born Taras Protsyuk.

National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz issued the latest indictment and also ordered the three soldiers to each post bond of one million euros ($1.33 million) within 24 hours or face an embargo order on their assets, the court order said.

In addition, the judge placed two senior U.S. officers, identified as Buford Blount and Col. David Perkins, under official investigation in the case, which is a step short of an indictment under Spanish law.

Couso's family and some journalists have blamed the U.S. military, saying they should have known the Palestine Hotel, a tall structure in Baghdad, was a base for journalists, not combatants.

Then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said American troops fired only after receiving hostile fire from the hotel and the matter received the highest attention, from then-President George W. Bush and then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

Couso's lawyer has previously said it would be difficult to put the three indicted soldiers -- the tank commander, a sergeant, and a superior officer -- on trial in Spain. The Pentagon, faced with similar charges from other national courts in the past, has not turned over American soldiers.

Earlier in the long legal battle, a three-judge panel at the National Court in 2006 ruled that Spain had no jurisdiction in the case. The judges ruled that U.S. troops thought they were firing on Iraqis at the hotel serving as spotters for Iraqi artillery fire aimed at American troops, and that the civilian deaths were not intentional.

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