Tuesday, December 21, 2010


It was back in August that I first wrote for several publications about Spain wanting a three man US army tank crew to stand trial for the death of José Couso. High Court judge, Santiago Pedraz, had issued three international arrest warrants in Madrid after they fired at the Telecinco cameraman in Bagdad in 2003 fatally wounding him. The judge said he was confident the new US administration of Barack Obama will want to co-operate with the investigation.

What we know now but did know then was that the US Government had seemingly pressured the Spanish Government to have the case stopped. We only know this thanks to the Wiki Leaks leaked cables between the US Madrid Embassy and the State Department in Washington. However we may shortly find out a whole lot more as the family of José Couso has now presented a legal request before the Madrid prosecutor demanding that an investigation is carried out in to whether pressure was applied to influence the judicial process by the US.

The family’s lawyer, Enrique Santiago, confirmed the papers had been lodged and the brother of José, Javier Couso, told Cadena Ser radio that they wanted the matter investigated fully.

It was the Spanish daily newspaper El País that published documents from Wiki Leaks allegedly belonging to the State Department in the USA which showed contact between various prosecutors and members of the Spanish Government and the US Embassy. They related to various cases involving the USA amongst them that of Couso.

On Monday December 13 Juan Fernando López-Aguilar, who was the minister for justice between 2004 and 2007 said the papers did not accurately reflect the contacts and defended the integrity of the Spanish government and the judicial system. Javier Couso dismissed his arguments as “lies”.

The Madrid prosecutor now has two options: to hand the case over to a competent judge for investigation or to file it on the basis there had been no illegal activity. Lawyer Enrique Santiago said he hoped to have an indication as to what would happen shortly but it all depended on the “enthusiasm” for investigating a case in which a number of prosecutors were named including the State Prosecutor, Cándido Conde-Pumpido. For his part the State Prosecutor insists only the official position of his office was communicated to Washington and no outside influence was allowed.

The problem for the Spanish Government is that the case of José Couso has twice been filed by the High Court although it was re-opened in July by the Supreme Court based on the seriousness of the alleged crimes and because the US authorities had not co-operated with the Spanish justice system when it asked to question the three military personnel involved.

Judge Santiago Pedraz has intended to travel to Baghdad to visit the site of where José Couso was killed on April 3 2003 when the US troops entered the city at the end of the war against Sadam Hussein. However Interpol has not issued the find and capture warrant issued by the judge against the three US soldiers – sergeant Thomas Gibson, Captain Philip Wolford and Lieutenant Colonel Philip de Camp - saying it would have to change its statutes to proceed against the military.

José Couso was fatally wounded when he was hit by a shell from a US Mark 1 Abram’s tank that fired at the Hotel Palestine in Bagdad which at the time was a civil zone and used by reporters. In 2006 the High Court filed the case having taken the view that Couso’s death was an “act of war” and was not a premeditated attack on the journalists.

The Supreme Court later rejected this argument and ordered at the insistence of the family the investigation be re-opened. In 2009 the High Court again filed the case and annulled the accusation of “homicide and a crime against the international community” against the three US soldiers.

The view of the court then was there was “insufficient evidence” that the tank’s crew that had fired at Couso deliberately. A Ukrainian cameraman working for Reuters was also killed in the same tragedy. The shell had hit its office on the 15 th floor, and Couso was on the floor below.

However thanks to Wiki Leaks the demand for justice for José Couso has again taken centre stage. Only this time the Spanish Government, the State Prosecutor, the US State Department and the three soldiers are all in the firing line.

(The above article appeared in The Morning Star on Wednesday December 22 2010)

Monday, December 13, 2010


The numerous cases of babies that went missing shortly after their birth during the Franco era in Spain have now led the chief prosecutor of the nation’s High Court to write to the Ministry of Justice demanding a full investigation.

The cases date from 1940 and continued to just after Franco’s death in 1980. The chief prosecutor, Javier Zaragoza, has sent a letter to the minister of justice, Francisco Caamaño, to propose that the ministry opens a special office to handle the cases of those who believed their children or brothers and sisters have disappeared and to then seek a solution to their claims.

Zaragoza has called for an “administrative” investigation for the alleged crimes committed between 1940 and 1980. He wants the Ministry of Justice to locate the whereabouts of children reported missing and to investigate the false death certificates that were given to parents by hospitals at the time of supposed demise of their child – these parents suspect a false identity was then created for the baby.

Spain has introduced the ‘Ley de Memoria Histórica’ which was approved by parliament in 2007 but whilst it deals with the victims of the Civil War (1936-39) and during the era of the dictator Francisco Franco (1939 – 75) it does not include the children who disappeared during the ‘Franquismo’ period.

The letter from the chief prosecutor Javier Zaragoza was sent to the ministry just 15 days after he’d met with the families of the Grupos de Afectados de Clínicas de Toda España that had reported “hundreds of cases” of snatchings of recently born babies from Spanish clinics where the parents were told their infant had died.

However the actions of the chief prosecutor has been criticised by the Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoría Histórica that represents the families of those who were victims of the Franco era. In a communiqué the association says the case should be far more that an “administrative” investigation. It points to: “the theft of the babies that have been kidnapped and these boys and girls are kidnap victims” and that has not been stated in the prosecutor’s letter. It is obvious a serious crime is involved; hence it should be a “criminal” investigation.

The Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón has previously stressed the need to investigate these thefts of children and opened a brief case in 2008 which suggested that 113,000 babies disappeared during the Civil War and the years of ‘Franquismo’. Garzón’s investigation was brought to a halt after the extreme right went to court to seek a ruling he had no competence in the matter. Garzón was suspended from his post on a temporary basis in May of this year – but the judge spoke out about the systematic kidnapping of the children of Republican prisoners who for more than 60 years have not had the minimum investigation into their case.

Garzón is of the opinion that there could have developed a system for the disappearance of minors, the children of Republican mothers (the dead, prisoners, executed, exiled or simply disappeared) for several years from 1937 to 1950, which at the time were carried out under the umbrella of apparent legality. The official records speak of 30,000 children being adopted during the 40s and 50s with cases largely handled by religious institutions.

Of course those responsible are now either very elderly or deceased and the records, if they exists, will be in archives. However many of the children will still be alive but unaware of their true identity or that their parents and brothers and sisters are searching for them.

(Photo: Baltasar Garzón)

(A version of the above article appeared in the Morning Star on December 12 2010)