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Madrid judge stands by decision to charge three US soldiers with Spanish cameraman's murder

(RSF/IFEX) - Madrid investigating judge Santiago Pedraz announced on 24 May 2007 that he has rejected an appeal by the prosecutor's office against his decision to indict three US soldiers for the murder of Spanish cameraman José Couso, who was killed when a US tank shelled the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on 8 April 2003.

Prosecutor Jesús Alonso had appealed against the indictment on the grounds that there was "insufficient evidence" to bring to the prosecution. It now falls to a panel of National Court judges to take the final decision on whether to proceed.

On 16 January, Judge Pedraz issued an international warrant for the arrests of Sgt. Shawn ("Tom") Gibson, Capt. Philip Wolford and Lt. Col. Philip de Camp, who were the three soldiers in charge of the tank that fired the shell.

The US authorities have until now ignored this warrant and the judge's previous requests for their arrests or for statements to be taken from them. But the three soldiers could still be arrested if they travel to a country which has signed an extradition accord with Spain.

A criminal court's decision early last year to drop the case was overruled in December by the Supreme Court, which ordered that it should be reopened on the grounds that "the Spanish courts are competent to investigate [the case], in accordance with the principle of universal justice."

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