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The Jose Couso Case,
The Spanish Journalist assassinated by the U.S.
Poster announcing protest gathering outside
U.S. Embassy, Madrid, Spain.
On April 8,
2003 hundreds of journalists who used the Palestine Hotel in central Baghdad,
Iraq, as refuge, workspace, and shelter, were to witness and suffer tragedy
and horror at their doorstep. As reporters from all over the world stood
on balconies with cameras in hand and notepads recording what they saw,
explosions off in the distance and acrid smoke bellowed amid battles between
insurgents and the military forces of the United States. Jose
Couso, shown in the above poster, stood with his camera on the 14th
floor outside his room in the balcony, recording the unfolding
violence. Below him, 15 blocks away, U.S. Army tanks were deploying on the
Al Yamuria Bridge. He filmed for four consecutive hours.
On the floor above Couso, a cameraman for Reuters, Taras
Protsyuk, was also filming from his balcony. On the 16th floor other journalists
from Mexico TV, Televisa, were doing the same. Away from the balconies, writing
stories on their laptops, were journalists from Italy, Mexico, Spain,
Portugal, also on those same floors. They were distracted, off and on, by
A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft or Apache gunships that were continually strafing or
dropping bombs. Gustavo Sierra, a journalist working for Spain's Clarin
Newspaper, wrote about the day's events and described that the A-10's were
running out of targets. He and others previously on the balconies decided
to take a break, except for Couso and the Reuters cameraman. And
then suddenly there was a tremendous explosion that shook the building, crashed
the windows, and was simply terrifying. Sierra says he heard shouts, "we have to
descend !, We have to leave." He headed for the stairs, and as he arrived
on the 14th floor he was met by an Italian Journalist screaming for help, as
Sierra and others entered room 1402, Jose Couso lay in a pool of his blood, his
leg nearly severed. They rushed him to the hospital, using a mattress as a
On route to the hospital, Jose Couso was able to describe what
he witnessed, saying that moments before the explosion it had become
quiet. The Bradley U.S. Army tanks were still on the bridge, and one of
them raised its turret, turned in the direction of the Hotel, stood momentarily
still and then opened fire. He then asked that someone raise his head, and
spoke of his children. At the hospital, a team of 17 doctors tried to save Jose Couso's life,
on a day that the hospital admitted over 900 casualties. They were able to at first stabilize him, although at the
cost of amputating his right leg. Couso later went into cardiac
arrest three times, twice he was brought back, but in the end Couso died as a
result of the great amount of blood that he had lost.
The event caused indignation by most of the active journalists
working in Iraq, as well as many others working in their native lands. One
day later as Spanish President Aznar, prepared to address a news conference, all
the journalists present put their pads, pencils, microphones, and cameras, on a
table nearby and left the room in protest over Couso's death. Saying in
effect 'we will not record your words, we refuse to be a party to lies', as some
latter said in their columns.
The U.S. government at first stated that the tank had fired in
self defense that someone had opened fire from the ground floor of the
Hotel, and then later said that someone had opened fire from the rooftop.
Gustavo Sierra, who had accompanied Couso to the hospital, described how he
was approached by the chief of Iraq's Propaganda Ministry, a Mr. Udai, who
asked him not to blame the Americans for the attack.
Nearly 300 journalists had been staying at the Palestine Hotel
at the time, the U.S. Army was well aware of this, yet it is not at all clear
why a tank would need to fire on the hotel to 'neutralize' a supposed
sharpshooter, that the Army claims was active first in the Lobby and then on the
roof. The tanks were 15 blocks away. None of the journalists ever
saw any armed militia except for the U.S. armed forces anywhere near the
hotel. That day, three journalists were killed in Baghdad, two at the
Palestine Hotel attack, eleven had died in the prior twenty days. The
Reuters cameraman was the second fatality.
Jose Couso's family and co-workers have lodged a suit against
the U.S. government and the soldiers involved, alleging Couso's death as a war
crime. It was later determined that the tank shell that was fired was an
anti-personnel munition. The French based 'Reporters without Frontiers'
attempted to dissuade the Couso's from lodging a war crimes suit, to the
consternation of the family. Several demonstrations have been held in
front of the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, and the current Spanish Government is
considering whether to initiate a formal inquiry into the attack on the
V. Saraiva / Editor
Posted December 12,
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