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Don't Believe a Word

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The Jose Couso Case,

The Spanish Journalist assassinated by the U.S. Army


































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 gurney.


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 Palestine Hotel.


V. Saraiva / Editor

Posted  December  12, 2004

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