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Spanish judge issues arrest warrants for 3 U.S. soldiers

By Al Goodman, CNN Madrid Bureau Chief
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Arrest warrants for U.S. troops
  • The warrants reopen a long legal battle
  • The case stems from a 2003 incident in Iraq
  • A Spanish cameraman was killed by U.S. troops firing on hotel
  • Iraq War
  • Spain

Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- A Spanish judge issued arrest warrants for three U.S. soldiers on Thursday in connection with the death of a Spanish TV cameraman in Iraq in 2003, reopening a long-running legal battle, according to a copy of the court order viewed by CNN.

The judge, National Court Investigating Magistrate Santiago Pedraz, indicted the three U.S. soldiers in April 2007, alleging they were linked to U.S. tank fire directed against the Palestine Hotel in 2003, where Spanish cameraman Jose Couso was videotaping the U.S. assault on Baghdad. Couso died from his wounds shortly afterward.

But in 2008, other National Court judges closed the case, citing lack of evidence. The cameraman's family appealed to Spain's Supreme Court, which recently ruled the case could proceed after all.

That led to Pedraz issuing the arrest warrants for the three soldiers Thursday. 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, in Baghdad also killed a Reuters cameraman, Ukrainian-born Taras Protsyuk.

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.

The 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 former President George W. Bush and the Spanish Prime Minister at the time Jose Maria Aznar.

Couso's lawyer has previously said it would be difficult to put the 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.