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Palestina Hotel (AP)

I read judge Santiago Pedráz’s ruling – rigorous, professional, categorical, efficient- and I, as a first-hand witness of the case, cannot help but remember what happened that April 8th, 2003 in Baghdad, when in less than three hours the US Army attacked the three headquarters of independent media in Baghdad –the Palestine Hotel, and the headquarters of Abu Dhabi TV and Al Jazeera TV-, killing 3 journalists and severely wounding three others.

One of the main new developments in the ruling is that, besides the three US soldiers that had already been accused, now two more higher-ranking officers are being prosecuted who, given the chain of command, had to give the order or at least know what was happening.

Also, the judge, on the basis of the evidence and the events that took place, points out that “one of the assignments given to said Division was to prevent international media from reporting on the military operations during the taking of Baghdad”.

And that is how it was. They managed not to have us reporting.

There are no images of Baghdad in the hours following the attacks, because we were tending to our wounded, mourning over our dead, considering places where we could take shelter.
As the judge points out, “there was not a single camera willing to peer out of the hotel windows, given the fear that was caused”.

There ruling contains more new points: the inclusion of the conclusions reached after the trip to Baghdad judge Pedráz took this January as head of the judiciary committee in which four of us journalists traveled as first-hand witnessed to what had taken place.

Judge Pedráz during his investigation in Baghdad (O. R.)

During that trip to the Iraqi capital Pedráz was able to certify the locations of the three media headquarters that were attacked, as well as that of the bridge from which the tank that killed Couso and Reuters journalist Taras Prosyuk fired.
He was also able to confirm that there are no buildings that block the field of vision between the Palestine Hotel and the Al Jurumiya Bridge, as well as the proximity of the bridge to the Abu Dhabi TV and Al Jazeera TV headquarters that were attacked.
Moreover, the judge verified that the indicative Palestine Hotel sign can be seen clearly from the bridge.
And, through expert evidence, Pedráz confirmed that with the tank’s visual instruments they could see perfectly not only the people who were in the Palestine Hotel balconies, but even the objects we were carrying.
The ruling offers precise and exhaustive accounts of the events that took place on April 8th, 2003, calls up the fact that the Pentagon knew where us journalists were staying, that the US government itself publicly declared being aware of the situation of the Palestine Hotel as international press headquarters, and explains in great detail – on the basis of the Geneva Convention and the Hague Protocols and Convention- how José Couso was, beyond doubt, as a civilian and a journalist, a protected person.
In other words, someone that, by law, cannot be attacked by any Army; otherwise, the aggressor will, by law, be punished.

Finally, the ruling imposes on the accused a one million Euros bail. “If there is no verification in the next 24 hours asset seizures will be undertaken to cover said amount, legally demonstrating, should they not possess them, their full or partial insolvency”, it reads.

I cannot help but remember those who in 2003 said that it was useless to initiate legal proceedings, that it was better to just let it be.

There is a certain tendency to stigmatize those who demand justice. “Come on, forget it, you’re obsessed”, they say.

Or even worse: “Something must have happened for him to get killed”. It is what in Argentina they call the “double demon theory”: the victimization of the victim.

The mothers and grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo know it well; some called them crazy for demonstrating every Thursday asking for justice, a concept that, when they began their fight, seemed unachievable. And here they are now, being witness, those who are still alive, to the trials to some of the criminals of the dictatorship.

Argentina can be criticized for a lot of reasons, but let’s acknowledge that they are ahead in human rights matters. They know it in Egypt, where in these last few months dozens of activists who demand Justice –against Mubarak and all the mini-Mubarak’s- have mentioned the Argentinean case as an example for others to follow.

Here Couso’s family has had a lot of support in their triumphs and maybe too alone when the case came to a standstill. They have not backed off because of it.

Javier, David, Maribel, Sabela, Bárbara and the rest of the family know very well that some fights that have to be undertaken even if they seem surely to fail. Unfortunately this is hard to understand in which victory, even at its most corrupt, is a rising value.

The case might come to a standstill again, maybe not; the US soldiers might never go to trial, maybe yes, who knows what can happen in this 21st Century in which History is made faster than ever before.

What is beyond all doubt is that this fight did not deserve to be forgotten, or snubbed, or taken advantage of. Just to be defended.

The three accused soldiers

Justice is not a synonym of desire for revenge. It is a basic pillar of free and democratic societies. Its purpose is to provide reparation for the victims and an example for the criminals. Without it impunity perpetuates itself. We know it well in this country, which has more than 100,000 corpses in ditches and waste grounds. That might be why asking for Justice is still read by some as a politically incorrect or even anti-system gesture.

With a justice system willing to go after war crimes armies all over the world might think twice before breaking the law, before attacking civilians, journalists, innocent people.
Couso’s case is not just a journalist’s case.

Couso’s case is the defense of universal Justice, of enforcing the law and the freedom of information.

It is the case of the millions of civilians who die in wars at the hands of armies with impunity.
By the way, José Couso would have turned 46 today.