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Family of Spanish Journalist Killed by U.S. Forces in Baghdad Accuses U.S. of War Crime

StoryNovember 23, 2004
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We speak with Javier Couso and Maribel Permuy, the brother and mother of Spanish journalist, Jose Couso, who was killed by US forces in an attack at the Palestine hotel in Baghdad on April 8th 2003. They are calling on a full investigation into whether journalists were deliberately targeted by the military. [includes rush transcript]

April 8th of 2003 will be remembered as a bloody day for journalists in Iraq. On the same day, American troops fired a rocket on the bureau of Arab news service Al Jazeera, killing correspondent Tareq Ayyoub. Then the staff of another Arab station, Abu Dhabi TV, was attacked in their offices by American artillery. And finally a tank fired on the Palestine Hotel, where most of the unembedded reporters were staying. This last attack killed two people, Reuters photographer Taras Protsyuk, from the Ukraine, and Jose Couso, cameraman for the Spanish television station Telecinco who had been filming the tank from the hotel balcony all morning. Couso initially survived the attack and told his colleague that the Americans had seen him, and that he felt they had fired deliberately. He later died in the hospital.

Today we are joined by one of Jose’s brothers, Javier Couso. The family has insisted on a full investigation into whether the journalists were deliberately targeted by the military. They have filed a criminal lawsuit in Spanish courts accusing the three soldiers who fired the shots of committing a war crime and of murdering a Spanish citizen abroad. So far, the Bush administration maintains that the soldiers acted in self-defense and responded to gunfire coming from the hotel, and it refuses to conduct further investigations.

  • Javier Couso, the brother of Spanish journalist * Jose Couso*, who was killed by US forces in Iraq at the beginning of the invasion of Baghdad in April 2003.
  • Maribel Permuy, mother of Jose Couso.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined by Jose Couso’s mother, Maribel. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!. I want to begin with Javier. Javier, tell us exactly what you understand about what happened on April 8.

JAVIER COUSO: What we understand happened on April 8, was a coordinated attack by this one American division of the United States Marines. It was a coordinated attack against Al Jazeera, against Abu Dhabi and against the Hotel Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: Where was your brother?

JAVIER COUSO: He was filming in floor number 14 of the Hotel Palestine. He was filming there actually because the streets were too dangerous really to be filming. So, he was in the hotel. He was in a place that U.S. Military knew perfectly well. They knew it from the day before. They knew him from the day before. And because the day before they had come in to calibrate to feel out the Iraqi defenses. And they greeted the military — the military greeted Jose. So, the U.S. Military intelligence knew perfectly where he was and who he was. My father actually — my brother actually filmed the attack on Al Jazeera TV. When there’s a moment when there’s no combat, most journalists leave. Except the two hardest working ones, perhaps, Taras Protsyuk and Jose.

AMY GOODMAN: The Reuters Ukrainian cameraman and your brother, Jose?


AMY GOODMAN: What do you understand happened then?

JAVIER COUSO: Everyone was telling my brother stop filming, stop filming. His colleagues and reporter. But he would say, no, I want to continue doing my job. I want to continue filming. At one moment, the tank turns completely its gun around, and it lifts the cannon. And it shoots.

AMY GOODMAN: Did he die immediately?

JAVIER COUSO: No. Taras died immediately, my brother lasted a few hours. He was in a hospital, taken to a hospital. They gave him a team of 17 doctors. To try to save his life. On a day when they had over 900 admissions because of bombings.

AMY GOODMAN: You went to Iraq to thank the doctors for trying to save Jose’s life?

JAVIER COUSO: On the first anniversary, I visited Baghdad for three reasons. First to pay tribute to my brother. Lay some flowers and read something. I was not able to do it where I wanted to do it. Because the U.S. Marines were pointing their guns at me and told me to leave.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you explain that you were there, at the Palestine Hotel, to lay the flowers?

JAVIER COUSO: We talked to the chief of security, but they said it was orders from above.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are you calling for now?

JAVIER COUSO: Well, we’re asking for what this t-shirt says — was Jose Couso a war crime? We want an investigation and justice. An independent investigation, that we have had not that up until today.

AMY GOODMAN: What did the Aznar government, how did they respond, and then how did Zapatero’s government, how have they responded?

JAVIER COUSO: Aznar did not really respond. Except by accepting the lies of the Bush administration. Now we’re in talks with the current government. They have permitted themselves to backing our claim for an independent investigation. In the future, we also want to go to the European parliament. So we can get the European Union to formally request an investigation of the U.S. We also have a criminal lawsuit against the three people, military people, who confessed having shot against the hotel. We want it go to the United States. Because we know that if the American people knew the truth about what happened, they would be with us.

AMY GOODMAN: Maribel, Jose was your son?


AMY GOODMAN: You’re planning to go with Javier to the United States?



MARIBEL PERMUY: Because I want to go and I want to ask them and I want to talk. And I want the American people to know what happened on that April 8. And at this point, we feel that Javier and my other children feel, that you are our voice. When you talk about — when you talk about Jose’s murder and say that it’s clearly a war crime.

AMY GOODMAN: Your son, Jose Couso, why did he go to Iraq?

MARIBEL PERMUY: He was not a kamikaze. He knew about the danger. We knew there was going to be a very terrible conflict. But I never imagined that he would be shot in his own hotel. By the hotel — by the American troops, and that they would actually fire against journalists, who they could not control.

AMY GOODMAN: Javier, what do you say about the U.S. saying they were firing in self-defense?

JAVIER COUSO: I think it’s a lie. They also have given us four different versions. First, that they were shooting — there was shooting coming from the hallway from the entrance of the hotel. Then that the shots were coming from the rooftop of the hotel. When we all know that a simple shot is not going to do anything to a tank. Then they talked about a rocket launcher. When that was proven wrong, then they invented this sharpshooter who was presumably working for the Iraqi military. And that’s another lie. None of the hundreds of journalists saw anything like this. They also even said that after they shot, that the coordinated attack on them ceased. So I guess the conclusion must be that either my brother or Tara were the sharpshooters they were talking about, and that’s an insult.

AMY GOODMAN: What did the doctors say when you went to Iraq?

JAVIER COUSO: It was very important. I asked them — how in a country that is being bombed they could give my brother such an enormous team to try to save his life?

AMY GOODMAN: 15 of them? How many people were in the hospital?

JAVIER COUSO: It was a whole team of 15 doctors.

AMY GOODMAN: How many patients were in the hospital?

JAVIER COUSO: 900 wounded people were admitted that day. But they said they had tried — they had to try to save him. They had to try to save a person who was trying to show the world what was happening in their country.

AMY GOODMAN: How did he die? Where was he hit on his body?

JAVIER COUSO: It was an anti-person projectile. He suffered a lot of blood loss, tremendous blood loss. The doctors operated on him. He actually survived the operation. But he went into shock because of blood loss.

AMY GOODMAN: He had time — he was conscious enough to say something?

JAVIER COUSO: What he was saying continuously, it was that tank, an American tank.

AMY GOODMAN: Did he say if they recognized him, if they understood there were journalists there? Of course they couldn’t see him personally?

JAVIER COUSO: The — yes. He knew who had killed him.

AMY GOODMAN: He knew the person’s name?


AMY GOODMAN: He knew the U.S. soldiers had killed him?

JAVIER COUSO: He knew the same tanks — that he had been filming for five hours.

AMY GOODMAN: You have a new book. Can you tell us the title, and translate. Is this by Jose Couso?

MARIBEL PERMUY: This is the book of compilations of poetry, photographs, writings, articles of many people, by many people, including his brothers and sisters. It’s a homage, a tribute. It’s for Jose. It’s made with a lot of love and it’s also a denunciation. The title is The Uncomfortable View.

AMY GOODMAN: The Uncomfortable View, it’s in Spanish, by Jose Couso. We will link to it. I want to thank you very much for joining us. We head on now to Rome, Italy, where we will be broadcasting tomorrow. You can go to our website to link. If people want to reach you, do you have an email address or website?

JAVIER COUSO: www.josecouso.info.

AMY GOODMAN: We will put that on our website at democracynow.org.

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