I was looking for updates on the case of slain Spanish cameraman José Couso, murdered by U.S. troops in Baghdad in 2003 as part of a coordinated attack on the independent media, when I came upon a so-called memorial to Couso on the Newseum‘s webpage. I wrote a comprehensive piece on the Couso case last year, and a follow-up piece when the indictments against the soldiers responsible were re-issued last fall.
Far from memorializing Couso, the Newseum article repeats de-bunked falsehoods that even the army had backtracked on in 2003. Here’s what I wrote to the Newseum, I suggest you do the same to prevent these falsehoods from distorting and erasing a very important truth.
I just came upon the entry on Spanish cameraman José Couso in the so-called “Freedom Forum Journalists Memorial” and found it to be strikingly and offensively inaccurate.
Couso, a television cameraman, was killed when a U.S. tank fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq. The tank crew reportedly had been fired on from the hotel, which housed dozens of journalists covering the war. Couso was 37. Although a U.S. inquiry concluded in 2004 that the three U.S. Army personnel involved had done nothing wrong, Spanish courts pursued the matter. In 2009, the Spanish National Court threw out the charges against the three, ruling that there was no evidence that the three had acted incorrectly, and closed the case.
My points of contention to this slander to the man’s memory are as follows:
1) “The tank crew reportedly had been fired on from the hotel” — in addition to being a poorly framed sentence, this statement is contradicted by the dozens of eyewitnesses to Couso’s killing, as well as the filmed footage from a nearby hotel room focusing on the tank for several minutes prior to the fatal blast. Indeed, even the army’s spokesperson changed his story in response to the overwhelming evidence that he had lied when he stated the tank was fired on: he later stated that there was an enemy spotter in the hotel armed with nothing more than a pair of binoculars. Binoculars like the ones used by camera operators to find newsworthy images. Moreover, the tank’s rules of engagement explicitly forbid such a disproportionate response to unarmed spotters, or even to machine gun fire, as an anti-personnel shell like the one that was fired into a location known by the Pentagon to have been full of journalists.
2) “Although a U.S. inquiry concluded in 2004 that the three U.S. Army personnel involved had done nothing wrong, Spanish courts pursued the matter.” This statement, which can be described as nothing short of imperialist, suggests that the U.S. military (the word “military” does not appear in this sentence to describe the internal investigation of the army) has jurisdiction over not only Iraqi territory (a logical conclusion during a military occupation, legal or not), but also over Spanish citizens whose government is obliged to protect their rights both domestically and abroad. Would an accused murderer be allowed to conduct the investigation of his/her own case in any traditional court of law?
3) “In 2009, the Spanish National Court threw out the charges against the three, ruling that there was no evidence that the three had acted incorrectly, and closed the case.” Diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks show that the Prosecutor’s burial of the case — NOT the National Court’s — was the direct result of pressure from the U.S. Embassy. The prosecutor in this case was a political appointee who was very much under the sway of the Spanish administration of then-Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and acted under explicit order’s from Zapatero’s Vice President. And at no time was the archival of the case a reflection on any lack of evidence, but rather due to the prosecutor’s argument that the investigating judge didn’t have jurisdiction in the case. As the case was never “closed” as your shameful account of the events would have readers believe. As a journalistic institution, you should know that it was reopened when the Spanish Supreme Court overturned the prosecutor’s determination that the investigating judge lacked jurisdiction, effectively reopening the case. As of last October, there are pending charges against the three soldiers — Philip DeCamp, Philip Wolford and Shawn Gibson — and warrants for their arrests. There is also a court summons for their supervising general Buford Blount.
I wrote a piece tracing the Couso case from the event itself up to last summer at Foreign Policy in Focus.
Please acknowledge receipt of this message. I’d be happy to assist in re-writing what you call a memorial to a fallen journalist, what I’d call a falsification, a fraud, and a cover-up.
V. Noah Gimbel is currently working on a book on Universities and Empire and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.