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3 soldiers indicted in journalist's death

US tank fired on Baghdad hotel

MADRID -- A judge indicted three US soldiers yesterday in the 2003 death of a Spanish journalist who was killed when their tank opened fire at a hotel in Baghdad.

Sergeant Shawn Gibson, Captain Philip Wolford, and Lieutenant Colonel Philip DeCamp were charged with homicide in the death of Jose Couso and "a crime against the international community." This is defined under Spanish law as an indiscriminate or excessive attack against civilians during war.

At the time, all were from the Third Infantry Division, based in Fort Stewart, Ga. Judge Santiago Pedraz asked US authorities to notify them of the indictment.

Couso, who worked as a cameraman for the Spanish TV network Telecinco, died on April 8, 2003, after a US Army tank crew fired a shell at the Palestine Hotel, where many journalists were staying. Taras Portsyuk, a Ukrainian cameraman for Reuters, was also killed.

After the event , then-secretary of state Colin Powell said the troops responded after drawing hostile fire from the hotel. He said a US review found the use of force was justified.

According to the indictment, DeCamp ordered the shot, and Wolford then authorized Gibson to carry it out.

"The people indicted knew and were aware that the Palestine Hotel was occupied by civilians, without there being a proved threat [sniper or otherwise] against themselves or the US troops, therefore, the tank shot that caused the death of Mr. Couso would constitute an attack, retaliation, or violence threat or act aimed at terrifying journalists," the indictment said.

DeCamp, who is now an adjunct professor of mathematics at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., did not immediately return a telephone message left at his home. The school said he retired from the Army in July 2005.

Pedraz has issued several arrest warrants against the three, but the United States has made clear it will not hand them over.

The three men still run the risk of arrest under a Spanish-issued international warrant should they travel to any country that has an extradition treaty with Spain.

Under Spanish law, a crime committed against a Spaniard abroad can be prosecuted here if it is not investigated in the country where it was allegedly committed.