Couso, a cameraman for the Spanish television station Telecinco, died after a U.S. tank fired a shell at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, where most journalists in the city were based during the war. At around 12 p.m., a shell hit two hotel balconies where several journalists were monitoring a battle in the vicinity. Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian cameraman for Reuters, was also killed in the attack
Agence France-Presse reported that Couso was hit in his jaw and right leg. He was taken to Saint Raphael Hospital, where he died during surgery. Couso was married with two children.
Directly after the attack, Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, confirmed that a single shell had been fired at the hotel from a tank in response to what he said was rocket and small arms fire from the building. Journalists at the hotel deny that any gunfire had emanated from the building.
A CPJ report concluded that the shelling of the hotel, while not deliberate, was avoidable since U.S. commanders knew that journalists were present in the hotel and were intent on not hitting it. The report called on the Pentagon to conduct a thorough and public investigation into the incident.
On August 12, U.S. Central Command (Centcom) issued a news release summarizing the results of its investigation into the incident. The report concluded that the tank unit that opened fire on the hotel did so “in a proportionate and justifiably measured response.” It called the shelling “fully in accordance with the Rules of Engagement.”
Centcom offered some detail-consistent with CPJ’s investigation-that the tank opened fire at what it believed was an Iraqi “spotter” directing enemy fire at U.S. troops. The release also explained that “one 120mm tank round was fired at the suspected enemy observer position. … It was only some time after the incident that A Company became aware of the fact that the building they fired on was the Palestine Hotel and that journalists at the hotel had been killed or injured as a result.”
However, the news release failed to address one of the conclusions in CPJ’s report: That U.S. commanders knew that journalists were in the Palestine Hotel but failed to convey this knowledge to forces on the ground.
Centcom’s results, which were summarized in the release, appeared to back away from earlier charges by U.S. military officials that the tank unit was responding to hostile fire emanating from the hotel. Yet, despite considerable testimony to the contrary from several journalists in the hotel, Centcom maintains “that the enemy used portions of the hotel as a base of operations and that heavy enemy activity was occurring in those areas in and immediately around the hotel.”
In addition, the news release failed to provide other specific information, such as how the decision to target the hotel was made.
CPJ has urged Centcom to make the full report available, but a Centcom spokesperson told CPJ the report is classified. CPJ is still waiting for the Defense Department to fulfill a Freedom of Information Act request related to the incident that CPJ filed in May.