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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

20 October 2005

Spanish Judge Orders Arrest of U.S. Soldiers Cleared in 2003

Warrant being appealed; 2003 investigation cleared troops in journalists' deaths

By Vince Crawley
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- A judge in Spain has issued an international arrest warrant for three American soldiers in a battle tank who allegedly fired at a Baghdad hotel in April 2003, killing two journalists -- one Spanish, one Ukrainian -- during the Iraq invasion.

The prosecutor’s office at Spain’s National Court filed an appeal October 20, saying, “Spain lacks jurisdiction to investigate causes of death in a military conflict death of a Spanish citizen resulting from U.S. military gunfire,” according to a news report by the Associated Press.

The Spanish prosecutor in Madrid also said the three Americans have not been indicted and that the case is still in an early phase.

A U.S. Defense Department spokesman said October 20 the deaths were investigated immediately after the shooting.

“U.S. Central Command fully investigated the incident and determined that the U.S. service members acted appropriately during that combat action,” Army Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable, a Pentagon press officer.

“In publicly announcing the conclusion of the investigation on August 12, 2003, U.S. Central Command stated that the journalists’ death ‘was a tragedy’ and expressed deepest sympathies,” Venable said.

The Department of Defense “has cooperated previously with the Spanish government, including by providing information concerning the incident and resulting investigation,” Venable said.

The Department of Defense “takes seriously all allegations concerning possible violations of the law of war by U.S. service members,” Venable said.

“This is a legal matter that will be handled through appropriate channels,” he said.

The Spanish arrest warrant, issued by National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz, named three solders with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. On April 8, 2003, as U.S.-led coalition forces took control of Baghdad, an Abrams battle tank with the 3rd Infantry Division fired on the Palestine Hotel, which housed international journalists. A Spanish journalist and Ukrainian cameraman were killed, and several others were wounded.

A spokeswoman for Fort Stewart, Georgia, told the Associated Press October 19 that the three soldiers named in the Spanish warrant are no longer assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division or Fort Stewart.

U.S. officials have long questioned the ability of foreign or international courts to give a fair and impartial hearing to American service members involved in military operations.

“We must ensure that our soldiers and government officials are not exposed to the prospect of politicized prosecutions and investigations,” Ambassador Larry Napper said during the October 2004 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, Poland. (See related article.)

In a letter dated April 21, 2003, former Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote to Spain’s foreign minister Ana Palacio. “Our review of the April 8 incident indicates that the use of force was justified and the amount of force was proportionate to the threat against United States forces,” Powell wrote to Palacio, according to foreign press reports that carried excerpts from the letter.

The issuance of the arrest warrant coincided with the opening day of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s trial October 19 before the Iraqi Special Tribunal. The former dictator has been in U.S. and Iraqi custody since December 2003. He and his top deputies are charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. Saddam entered pleas of not guilty to the first charges, and the trial is scheduled to reconvene in November. (See related article.)

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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