By Giles TremlettGuardian
April 22, 2003
A US army captain has admitted that an Abrams tank under his command fired on the Palestine hotel in Baghdad, killing two journalists, but said he had not been told that the hotel was home to the international press. In an interview with France's Nouvel Observateur, Captain Philip Wolford, confirmed that the deaths of Spanish television cameraman Jose Couso and Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk on April 8 were caused by one of his tanks during a battle with Iraqi forces. Capt Wolford, commander of A Company, 4th Battalion, of the 3rd Infantry Division, said his men had seen a glint of light reflecting off what they thought were binoculars on one of the hotel's balconies.
His unit, which included Bradley fighting vehicles, was under attack from the opposite side of the Tigris river, at a road junction beside the Jumhuriyah bridge. "In front of us there was an especially active building, with rockets and missiles. To the left were two other missile launchers. On the right, further away but very efficient, there was another missile launcher," he said.
He had assumed that the binoculars were being held by whoever was directing the incoming sniper and rocket fire which, coming from a radius of 180 degrees, had hit all of his company's tanks. Some of that fire had come from buildings near the hotel, he said. "The fire was arriving with no let up ... I returned fire without hesitation. That is the rule," he said. "It was the strongest resistance I encountered in Baghdad. Four of my men were injured." He said he regretted that the tank shot, which hit the 14th and 15th storeys of the hotel, had killed two journalists and wounded three. "I feel bad. My men feel bad," he said.
But he insisted that he had not been told that the hotel was filled with foreign journalists and that he had no orders to leave it alone. "No. I had no information of that kind," he said. He said he had been in constant radio contact with his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Philip DeCamp, during the fighting. He doubted that orders to avoid the hotel could have got lost as they travelled down the chain of command. "I cannot for a moment imagine that information sent by the divisional headquarters would not have got to me," he said. Le Nouvel Observateur reached a different conclusion. "In Washington, or in the divisional HQ or along the chain of command, someone either did not wish to, or did not see fit to, hand on this information," it said.
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