IFJ Welcomes Spanish Court Decision to Issue Arrest Warrants for US Soldiers Accused over Journalist Death in Iraq

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today welcomed the decision by a Spanish Judge to issue arrest warrants for three US soldiers accused over the killing of Spanish TV cameraman José Couso.

Couso died when a US tank fired a shell at Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel on April 8, 2003. Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk was also killed and three other Reuters employees were seriously injured. On the same day Al Jazeera journalist Tareq Ayyoub was killed in a separate US attack on the network’s Baghdad bureau, raising questions of deliberate targeting of media.

The IFJ has called for independent investigations of these deaths and some 16 other deaths of media staff during the conflict at the hands of US troops.

Spain's Supreme Court reopened the Couso case in December. As well as issuing the international arrest warrants the judge asked prosecutors to determine whether the soldiers' assets in the United States could be frozen against any future compensation claims, according to recent press reports.

“This case, like that of ITN journalists Terry Lloyd who was killed by US soldiers just outside Basra at the start of the war, opens up the question of accountability over the killing of journalists,” said White. “We hope that the US will co-operate in trying to ensure that justice is delivered in all of these incidents.”

At least 178 journalists and media staff have been killed in Iraq since the start of the invasion in 2003. At least seven journalists and media workers have been found dead since January 1, according to reports. If the attacks continue at this pace, 134 journalists could be killed in 2007. That would be almost twice the tally of 69 killed in 2006.

“This alarming trend is threatening the complete destruction of journalism in Iraq,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. “The human tragedy is shocking but this also underscores the general insecurity and lack of real democracy in the country. Journalists are being killed at a shocking rate with almost total impunity.”

The IFJ says that the chaos enveloping Iraq is overwhelming media professionals and is now preventing them to operate freely. Under a newly passed United Nations Security Council resolution on the safety of journalists, the killers of these journalists could be prosecuted as war crimes.

“International law is in place to bring the killers in these terrible crimes to justice,” White said. “It is now up to the Iraqi government to investigate and find the people responsible so that they can be brought to trial.”

For more information contact the IFJ at 32 2 235 2207

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries worldwide