Saturday, March 05, 2005


Attempted murder of Italian journalist?

The U.S. still has not answered the many questions surrounding the killings of journalists in Iraq, though right-wing bloggers were able to silence CNN's Eason Jordan for suggesting that some of the journalists had been targeted. But the killing of the Italian secret service agent accompanying freed journalist Giuliana Sgrena of the Communist daily Il Manifesto has brought the matter front and center, at least in the foreign press.

Sgrena's partner now claims that the shooting was deliberate. According to a Turkish Press report based on a story from Agence-France Presse (AFP)—

The companion of freed Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena on Saturday leveled 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 700 meters (yards) from the airport, which means that they had passed all checkpoints."

Regarding the checkpoint that the U.S. has alleged that the car was approaching, ANSA news agency (via AFP) reports

Sgrena, the 56-year-old correspondent of the communist daily Il Manifesto, told Italian investigators the US troops` intense fire had been in no way justified by the speed of her car, ANSA news agency said.

"Our vehicle was running at normal speed which could not be misunderstood," she said, rejecting US fears of a possible suicide attack.

"It wasn`t a checkpoint but a patrol which immediately opened fire after they trained their light on us," Sgrena said. [emphasis added]

Philip Willan Rome of the Guardian's Observer also gives an account—

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.

Enzo Bianco, the opposition head of the parliamentary committee that oversees Italy's secret services, described the American account as unbelievable. 'They talk of a car travelling at high speed, and that is not possible because there was heavy rain in Baghdad and you can't travel at speed on that road,' Bianco said. 'They speak of an order to stop, but we're not sure that happened.' [emphasis added]

During the confiscation of weapons and cell phones, you would think that even the linguistically challenged Americans would have been able to distinguish Italians from Iraqis. It doesn't help the American cause that one of the Italian agents was actually on the phone with someone in Berlusconi's office when the shooting broke out.

These allegations are getting coverage in the Australian and British press but the American media are remarkably silent. Tracy Wilkinson of the LA Times, however, has advanced the story a bit—

It remained unclear whether the Italians notified the Americans at the airport that they were en route. Scolari, who was not in the car but has been with Sgrena since the shooting, said the Italians had informed U.S. officials of their plans and had cleared one of the several checkpoints that lead to the airport. But that could not be independently verified. Additionally, the plane picking up Sgrena was a special Italian military flight whose landing would have been known at some level of the U.S. military.

In Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, Lt. Col. Clifford Kent, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, said the military was "aggressively investigating" the incident. But he declined to comment on the exact location of the checkpoint in question, whether the military had been informed that Sgrena's car was en route to the airport for the special flight, or if that information had been passed down to the relevant checkpoints. [emphasis added]

But the Times account only notes that "An Italian journalist ... raised questions about the official U.S. explanation of the shooting" without any mention of the allegation that the U.S. wanted to silence Sgrena because of the work she was doing up to the time of her kidnapping.

The Observer report notes—

Pier Scolari, Sgrena's partner who flew to Baghdad to collect her, put an even more sinister construction on the events, suggesting in a television interview that Sgrena was the victim of a deliberate ambush. 'Giuliana may have received information which led to the soldiers not wanting her to leave Iraq alive,' he claimed.

Finally, the AFP story with which we began tells us—

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

The Independent offers another quote from Scolari (whom they identify as Piero Colari)—

There are only two explanations, either it was an ambush or those soldiers were complete idiots.

It should be noted that these possibilities are not mutually exclusive.

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