Spanish Judge Santiago Pedraz issued warrants for the arrests of three US soldiers on Tuesday. SGT Shawn Gibson, CPT Philip Wolford and LTC Philip de Camp are under investigation for returning fire at an enemy combatant firing from the Hotel Palestine in Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Their response to this enemy action resulted in the death of two cameramen, Spaniard Jose Couso of Telecino and Ukranian Taras Protsyuk of Reuters.
So far, the soldiers have been cleared of any wrongdoing by two seperate Pentagon investigations, and one conducted by an organization called the Committee to Protect Jounalists. The Spanish National Court has claimed jurisdiction in the case despite the fact that the incident took place in Iraq during military operations conducted by an international coalition because one of those killed was a Spaniard.
The soldiers could be investigated for murder, which could carry a sentance of 15-20 years in prison. I have seen some reports that the three soldiers were members of the same tank crew, but I believe the reports that state that Gibson was the commander of the tank that actually fired the round, Wolford his company commander and de Camp their battalion commander. This seems more in line with normal manning procedures.
I have also seen reports that stated it is very highly unlikely that the soldiers would ever be extradited. The warrant could only be served in Spain, not the greater European Union.
The fact of the matter is that these were soldiers in battle. They got shot at by people in the Hotel Palestine, and they returned fire. It is the the policy of the United States and an integral part of its military operating procedures and training to do all that is possible to avoid harm to non-combatants, but sometimes that is not possible. Especially when the non-combatants purposely insinuate themselves into the battle. The fact that Jose Couso and Taras Protsyuk were killed is unfortunate, but it is a reality of war that civilians somtimes are are regretably victimized.
That does not make it criminal.
But pressure on the Spanish National Court by the family of Jose Couso have instigated the investigation, and kept pressure on the Pedraz, who is an investigative magistrate, to come up with something. In Europe, an investigative magistrate acts more like a a grand jury would in the U.S. than what we would envision when we use the word "judge." He said that he issued the warrants because of a lack of cooperation from authorities in the U.S.
It is my belief that there should be absolutely no cooperation from any agency of the U.S. government of any kind in this investigation. There are several reasons for this. The United States must protect its own sovereignty, and to subject its citizens to justice from other governments would violate that. We cannot consider ourselves an independant nation if we accede to the whims of foreign powers. We also should not encourage other countries to overstep their rightful powers. If a Spanish tourist gets mugged in New York City, are we to send his assailant to Barcelona for trial? No. It is also vital that we protect the soldiers who are fighting our wars. This does not mean that we are to ignore true malfeasance, but we do need to allow members of our military to do their job without worrying that every time they pull the trigger at a muzzle flash could result in rotting away in a foreign jail.
The State Department needs to make a strong statement of support for the United States by demanding that these baseless warrants be rescinded immediately.