World News

Family may act against Spanish government over Iraq death

MADRID (Reuters) - The family of a cameraman killed by U.S. fire during the 2003 invasion of Iraq is considering legal action against Spanish officials after leaked diplomatic cables revealed their talks with U.S. diplomats about the case.

Documents obtained by WikiLeaks and published earlier this week by Spain’s El Pais newspaper showed prosecutors had discussed the case of Telecinco cameraman Jose Couso with U.S. diplomats seeking to have it thrown out.

Couso and Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian, were killed on April 8, 2003, when Sergeant Thomas Gibson, Captain Philip Wolford and Lieutenant Colonel Phil de Camp fired a tank shell at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad.

The Couso family has been campaigning for the three U.S. soldiers to be tried in Spain. They said the WikiLeaks revelations undermined the whole process. They are now working with their lawyers on how to proceed.

“The doors are open (to legal action against the Spanish government and prosecutor)... if they don’t defend us, then we’ll have to take them to court,” Couso’s brother Javier told Reuters on Thursday.

Couso said if the family fails in any legal action in Spain, then it will consider escalating the case to Europe’s Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The leaked diplomatic cables, which were reported in Spain’s El Pais newspaper on Tuesday, showed Spanish state secrets had been revealed, Couso added.

State prosecutor Candido Conde-Pumpido insisted after the report that there had been no external interference in Spanish justice.

The U.S. ambassador to Spain, Alan Solomont, said in a statement that U.S. diplomats had regular contact with people both in and outside government in Spain but they would not “use their positions for untoward activities.”

Lawyers representing Couso’s family, which has been campaigning to have the three U.S. soldiers brought for trial in Spain, intend to announce what actions they are planning to take at a news conference on Friday.

In July, a Spanish High Court judge ordered the arrest and extradition of the three soldiers, who were cleared of wrongdoing by a U.S. military investigation. The United States has said it will not extradite the three.

Spanish courts have twice investigated and twice closed the case, but on July 13 the Supreme Court ordered it opened for a third probe after Couso’s family appealed. The Spanish courts have only looked into the Couso case, not into Protsyuk’s death.

The soldiers say they fired because they thought they saw a “spotter” who was guiding in hostile fire. The U.S. military found the troops had acted within their rules of engagement.

In 2008 a Spanish court found that Couso had been killed as a result of an act of war and closed the case. The case was reopened later only to be thrown out again when a court said the investigating magistrate had presented one-sided evidence.

Additional reporting and writing by Alexander Smith; editing by Andrew Roche