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Warrants for U.S. troops canceled

Spanish court: Death of Spanish journalist not intentional

From Al Goodman
CNN Madrid Bureau Chief

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Spanish TV cameraman Jose Couso suffered fatal wounds in Baghdad.

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Iraq
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Crime, Law and Justice

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A Spanish court has revoked international arrest warrants for three U.S. soldiers, who faced charges in connection with the death of a Spanish TV cameraman covering the war in Iraq in 2003.

In a nine-page ruling dated Wednesday, but made public Friday, the three-judge panel at the National Court said Spain has "no jurisdiction" to pursue the case, according to a copy of the court order viewed by CNN.

U.S. tank fire directed against the Palestine Hotel, where Spanish journalist Jose Couso was videotaping the U.S. assault on Baghdad, was "an act of war carried out against an apparent enemy, incorrectly identified," the court ruled.

The court revoked the arrest warrants issued on October 19, 2005, for Sgt. Thomas Gibson, commander of the tank that allegedly fired a projectile; Capt. Philip Wolford, Gibson's superior; and Lt. Col. Philip de Camp, Wolford's superior.

They were charged with murder and a crime against the international community, according to the warrant, which said the United States provided "no judicial cooperation" in the investigation. (Full story)

The Pentagon, faced with similar charges from other national courts in the past, has not turned over U.S. soldiers.

In addition to Couso, a cameraman for Telecinco, the April 8, 2003, incident also killed Reuters cameraman, Ukranian-born Taras Protsyuk.

A lawyer for Couso's family, Pilar Hermoso Gomez, told CNN she would appeal to Spain's Supreme Court, adding, "It's incredible that the court addresses the substance of the case ... without hearing testimony from the three soldiers."

She also called it a "shame" that journalists were being shown the court order before she was, adding she had yet to see it.

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.

But the court panel, ruling on an appeal by a prosecutor against the magistrate's arrest warrants, ruled that "the shot from the U.S. tank was directed specifically against a unit erroneously identified as combatants."

The judges wrote that U.S. troops thought they were firing against Iraqis at the hotel serving as spotters for Iraqi artillery fire aimed at the oncoming U.S. troops.

"But bad fortune had it that the point to which the projectile was directed was the location of the two cameraman," the court said.

"In consequence, it was not an intentional act to cause the death of two protected civilians, but an act of war," the court wrote.

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

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