19 October 2005

European Relations

It would seem that our relations with Europe have taken yet another turn for the worse, with the inane decision by a Spanish judge to issue international arrest orders for three American soldiers (see WaPo story for more details).

The arrest orders result from a tragic incident that occurred in 2003, during the invasion of Baghdad. An American armored unit was holding territory in Baghdad, and was being attacked both by small arms fire and by indirect fire (artillery and mortars). The troops knew that the Iraqis had been using spotters to direct artillery, and were trying to find the spotters, in part using information intercepted from captured radios. From the intercepts, they became aware that a spotter was in the process of trying to call in fire from a high-rise building in the area.

At the Palestine hotel, near the site of the battle, several reporters were observing the battle from balconies. Some of the reporters had cameras set up on tripods, and at least one was observing the action using binoculars. When the soldiers saw a reporter on a balcony using binoculars, with some sort device on a tripod next to them, they believed that they had found the artillery spotter, and fired a tank round into the building, killing two journalists. One of the journalists was a Spanish citizen. This incident is reported in detail in the book Thunder Run.

The incident was tragic, and an international media group, after an investigation, believed that the incident could have been prevented had the soldiers received better information about the hotel, which was well known to be occupied by journalists. An army investigation also concluded that the incident was an accident, and that the troops had acted within the rules of engagement.

This incident falls into the "bad things happen in wars" category. Reporters try to see what's going on. They use things like binoculars to do this. Artillery spotters try to see what's going on, in order to better direct high explosives toward their enemies. They use things like binoculars to do this. Soldiers who are on the receiving end of artillery fire have an understandable dislike of artillery spotters, and will do whatever they can to make them stop. Under the circumstances, it can be understandable for them to mistake a reporter on a distant balcony with binoculars for an artillery spotter on a distant balcony with binoculars.

The Spanish government doesn't see things that way. They have demanded that the US government either permit them to take statements from the soldiers involved, or to allow a Spanish delegation to quiz them. The US government has refused, so a Spanish judge issued the detention orders.

It is possible, I suppose, that the Spanish government is acting in good faith here. Stranger things have happened, or so people say. I'm not so sure. I've got to wonder exactly how likely it would be that this whole thing would be happening were the curent Spanish government not so opposed to the Bush administrations and its policies.
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