Spain’s Criminal Case Over U.S. Killing of Spanish Journalist in Iraq

Spain’s National Court (Audiencia Nacional), as mentioned in a prior post, has three criminal cases on its docket involving allegations of illegal conduct by U.S. officials with respect to U.S. interrogation of foreigners and war crimes. The Spanish court is involved because it has exercised its right under the international law principle of universal jurisdiction for a national court to exercise jurisdiction over such cases even if the crimes did not occur on its territory. We now look at the third of these three cases.

In May 2003, the mother (Maria Isabel Permuy Lopez) and other family members filed a criminal complaint with the Central Criminal Court for Preliminary Criminal Proceedings No. 1 at the Audiencia Nacional in Madrid. The subject of the case is the April 8, 2003, killing of her son, Jose Couso Permuy, who was a cameraman for a Spanish television station, in Baghdad, Iraq by a shell fired by a U.S. tank. The defendants are three U.S. infantrymen involved in the shelling.

On October 19, 2005, Judge Santiago Pedraz opened a preliminary investigation in light of the failure of the U.S. to provide responses to the Spanish court’s requests for information. The Judge also issued three international arrest warrants for the three U.S. infantrymen on charges of murder and war crimes.

On March 10, 2006, the case was closed by the Criminal Division of the National Court, but nine months later (December 2006), the Spanish Supreme Court reversed the dismissal.

Judge Pedraz in January 2007 reactivated the three arrest warrants and requested a freeze on the defendants’ assets. He also asked the U.S. to provide contact information for the defendants for an INTERPOL Red Notice, but the U.S. Ambassador to Spain advised the Spanish Attorney General that the U.S. would not respond to the request.

The next round was the April 2007 indictment of the defendants by Judge Pedraz for aggravated murder and crimes against the international community by attacking journalists. However, in May 2008, this was reversed by the Criminal Division of the National Court on an appeal by the National Court Chief Prosecutor.

The case, however, was not yet over. In May 2009 on the basis of new evidence Judge Pedraz issued new indictments for murder, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Conventions. There also was another indictment in November 2011.

In summary, this case is still pending.

Collaterally the Couso family has asked the Spanish government for an investigation of the integrity of the Spanish criminal investigation of this case following the WikiLeaks release of certain U.S. diplomatic cables. This request has faced procedural problems and has not reached a final conclusion.