Saturday, March 05, 2005

Update on Giuliana Sgrena

Following my last post regarding the Italian reporter who was held hostage in Iraq for a month, freed, and then shot at an American checkpoint when she was being taken to the airport....
Her brother, Ivan Sgrena, told reporters she was very happy to be back in Italy but was "very sorry and sad" about the death of intelligence officer Nicola Calipari, who Berlusconi said was killed when he threw himself over Sgrena to protect her from U.S. fire.

From the hospital, Giuliana Sgrena told Rai News 24 by telephone that "we thought the danger was over after my rescue."

"And instead, suddenly there was this shooting. We were hit by a spray of fire," she told the television network. "I was talking to Nicola … when he leaned over me, probably to defend me, and then he slumped over. That was a truly terrible thing."

Pier Scolari, the journalist's boyfriend, said she told him: "The most difficult moment was when I saw the person who had saved me die in my arms," according to the ANSA news agency.

Gabriele Polo, her editor, said Berlusconi told him: "It was a terrible night, we will remember it for all our lives."

Giuliana Sgrena told her newspaper colleagues, who met her plane, that her captors "never treated me badly," ANSA reported.
  ABC article
Update 3:45pm:
[Scolari told Sky Italia TV: "I have said so many times, war is madness. Probably it was scared boys who fired, it wasn't their fault, it was the fault of those that sent them there." Scolari also said the shootout took place 700 meters from the airport, after they had already passed other road blocks. At a press conference he said: "Giuliana and the other people who were there told me that the American attack was completely unjustified. They had alerted the whole chain of command, the Italian troops were awaiting them at the airport. And yet, they fired 300, 400 rounds. Why?"]
  Editor & Publisher article
Why indeed. I was wondering about that - whether the Americans knew that Giuliana had been released and was being transported to the airport. I felt certain they would have been. So, my original thought - that she's an independent reporter in Iraq, and one for a Communist news source at that - still niggles...after all, there are plenty of other incidences in which the U.S. has targeted journalists in Iraq.

Update 4:00pm:
The companion of freed Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena on Saturday levelled serious accusations at US troops who fired at her convoy as it was nearing Baghdad airport, saying the shooting had been deliberate.

"The Americans and Italians knew about (her) car coming," Pier Scolari said on leaving Rome's Celio military hospital where Sgrena is to undergo surgery following her return home.

"They were 700m from the airport, which means that they had passed all checkpoints."

The shooting late on Friday was overheard by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's office, which was on the phone with one of the secret service agents, said Scolari. "Then the US military silenced the cellphones," he charged.

"Giuliana had information, and the US military did not want her to survive," he added.

When Sgrena was kidnapped on February 4 she was writing an article on refugees from Fallujah seeking shelter at a Baghdad mosque after US forces bombed the former Sunni rebel stronghold.


"I was speaking to (agent) Nicola Calipari (...) when he leant on me, probably to protect me, and then collapsed and I realised he was dead," said Sgrena, who was being questioned on Saturday by two Italian magistrates.

"They continued shooting and the driver couldn't even explain that we were Italians. It was really horrible," she added.
  News 24 article

The convoy carrying Sgrena and Calipari was approaching the checkpoint at a "high rate of speed'' about 8:55 p.m. yesterday, said Marine Sergeant Salju Thomas by telephone from Baghdad. "It's an extremely threatening act,'' Thomas said. "That's the exact same thing that car bombers do.''
  Bloomberg article
And not something the Italian secret service and a reporter wouldn't know, making that a highly questionable scenario. At any rate, it's not true for another reason. The reporter (and presumably the other agents in the car) say there was no checkpoint.
Sgrena told Rome prosecutors Franco Ionta and Pietro Saviotti that the shots didn't come from soldiers standing at a checkpoint.

"It wasn't a checkpoint, but a patrol that started shooting after pointing some lights in our direction,'' the Ansa news agency cited Sgrena as telling the prosecutors. "We hadn't previously encountered any checkpoint and we didn't understand where the shots came from.''
Update 8:00 pm:
The US Army claimed the Italians' vehicle had been seen as a threat because it was travelling at speed and failed to stop at the checkpoint despite warning shots being fired by the soldiers. A State Department official in Washington said the Italians had failed to inform the military of Sgrena's release.

Italian reconstruction of the incident is significantly different. Sgrena told colleagues the vehicle was not travelling fast and had already passed several checkpoints on its way to the airport. The Americans shone a flashlight at the car and then fired between 300 and 400 bullets at if from an armoured vehicle. Rather than calling immediately for assistance for the wounded Italians, the soldiers' first move was to confiscate their weapons and mobile phones and they were prevented from resuming contact with Rome for more than an hour.
My only question about the intention to kill another journalist would be that they should not have left anyone alive to tell the story. It may be in this case simply that this was the action of another bunch of trigger-happy soldiers.
Berlusconi, a staunch ally of the US who defied widespread public opposition to the Iraq war and sent 3,000 troops, took the rare step of summoning US ambassador Mel Sembler to his office.

He demanded that the US 'leave no stone unturned' in investigating the incident. President George Bush called Berlusconi to promise a full investigation.

Sgrena, 56, a journalist for the Communist newspaper Il Manifesto, was hit in the shoulder when US soldiers opened fire on the car she was travelling in as it approached a checkpoint less than a mile from Baghdad airport. The Italian secret service officer who had negotiated her release was killed as he shielded her from the gunfire. Two of his colleagues were also hurt.

Berlusconi prides himself on his close personal friendship with President George Bush, but he was grim-faced when he told reporters that someone would have to take responsibility 'for such a grave incident'.

Somebody's ass is going to be in a sling, one way or another, and any future similar incident won't have any survivors.

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