Thursday, March 10, 2005

Iraq War: The Sgrena incident

The Giuliana Sgrena case, in which American soldiers in Iraq shot to death Nicolo Calipari, the Italian intelligence agent who was bringing her to safety after persuading her kidnappers to release her, is yet another divisive issue in US-European relations.  Coming as it did about the same time that the Bush administration announced their intention to send John Bolton, who is even disliked by the subservient Tony Blair government in Britain as well as EU countries generally, to the United Nations as ambassador goes a long way to undercut whatever goodwill may have come form the tours that Bush and Condi-Condi made to Europe recently.

Not surprisingly, the details of the shooting are in dispute.  Italy's government is now saying, for instance, that there were only three people in the car, not four.  They also say that the car stopped upon seeing a flashing lights, whereas previous reports led one to believe that the car was in motion when fired upon.  Italy also says that the US was informed of the mission being performed by those in the car.  Some doubt has also been cast on reports that hundreds of rounds were fired at the vehicle.  There are conflicting reports about whether a cash ransom was paid to the kidnappers; the Italian government denies it.

How the Bush administration handles this will be watched closely in the EU, not just in Italy.  The Italians seem to be serious about insisting on a thorough investigation.  And, sad to say, they have good reason to do so.  The Army clearly has been remiss in investigating various cases of serious misconduct.  Yet more evidence of that is being reported today:  New Interrogation Rules Set for Detainees in Iraq by Eric Schmitt New York Times 03/10/05.

After clashing with Afghan rebels at the village of Miam Do one year ago, American soldiers detained the village's entire population for four days, and an officer beat and choked several residents while screening them and trying to identify local militants, according to a new Pentagon report that was given to Congress late Monday night.

Although the officer, an Army lieutenant colonel attached to the Defense Intelligence Agency, was disciplined and suspended from further involvement with detainees, he faced no further action beyond a reprimand.

The episode, described only briefly in a summary of the report reviewed by The New York Times, was one example of how little control was exerted over some conduct of interrogations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the subject of an exhaustive review just completed by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church, the naval inspector general.

Whatever comes of the particular Sgrena controversy, this incident is yet another that sheds light on much bigger problems, including the way the Iraq occupation is being conducted and the recklessness of the Bush administration in dealing with allies.

Recent articles on the Sgrena matter include:

War mistake tests Italy's patience by Sophie Arie Christian Science Monitor 03/10/05

My Truth by Giuliana Sgrena 03/09/05.  I'm unfamiliar with this site, but the article is presented as an English version of a piece that Sgrena published in the Italian paper Il Manifesto.  Several portions I recongnize as being consistent with other material I've seen quoted in major news sources.

Todesfalle Checkpoint by Jochen Bittner Die Zeit 10.03.2005.  A summary (in German) of the Sgrena incident and the problems associated with the American "checkpoints of death," as they are said to be popularly known in Iraq.

»Das zerreißt mich« Die Zeit 10.03.2005.  An interview with Sgrena by Ulrich Ladurner for the German weekly for which Sgrena also wrote.  "The pain over the death of Nicola Calipari overshadows everything," she says. "Even everything that I suffered during my kidnapping."  She adds a detail new to me that immediately after the shooting that the driver teleponed "Palazzo Chigi," i.e., the Italian prime minister's office.  With such high-level awareness of her rescue and delivery to the airport, she is confident that the Americanswere informed about it.   She rejects the idea that the shooting was an "accident," although she also clearly thinks a breakdown in the communications in the field could have been responsible.  She says explicitly in this interview that she does not think the shooting was a deliberate attack against her personally.

When the interviewer challenges her as to whether she is "anti-American," she doesn't entirely reject the description.  But her main point in response is, "But the Americans did shoot at me.  They killed Nicola, and he was certainly not anti-American."

Italian Leader Says U.S. Knew of Rescue Plan Washington Post 03/10/05

The prime minister's remarks, building on a statement Tuesday by Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, showed that his government is determined to challenge the U.S. version of the Italian's death, which has strained relations between the two countries.

Though [Prime Minister] Berlusconi has come under growing domestic criticism for keeping 2,700 Italian troops in Iraq, his speech drew a standing ovation from opposition senators as well as members of his governing coalition.


purcellneil said...

Ms Sgrena has been through a lot.  The press should leave her alone for a while.  I think the real question is how many people have been shot at checkpoints?  

It seems to happen a lot, from anecdotal evidence I have seen -- do we have a problem?  Is this something we need to fix?  

Is the military learning anything about occupation, security, counter-insurgency, training local police and security forces, nation building, etc?  Or are we only learning that we basically suck at all of the above?

What are the implications for Mr Bush's grand strategy of bringing democracy to every corner of the world?


ibspiccoli4life said...


Do you have any idea if the real picture of Sgrena's car have surfaced?  A number of conservative blogs have claimed to have the pictures but a number of them have proven to be false. And the latest one only shows about eight bullet holes. The only thing I could find was that when the AP in Baghdad asked about the car the Army told them they didn't know where it was.  Do you know anything?  Have you seen the pictures?  


bmiller224 said...

I haven't kept up on the story with the photograph, no.  What you're describing with the rightie blogs is now typical of conservative comma-dancing.  They'll nit-pick this or that about the story to create a fog and reinforce their ideological notion that liberals are terminal liars.

In this particular case, what we need is a real forensic examination of the car.  It's a news story where one side in particular has a stake in not revealing the full story.  It's a very telling thing that the Army first put out their standard press release on the incident: it was a checkpoint, the car was approaching fast, we gave hand signals, we fired warning shots and the car kept coming, so we then fired at the car.  It's starting to sound like the stories from apartheid South Africa, when prisoners were gunned down or fell from windows several stories up: the prisoner was killed while trying to escape.

Some stories have "legs" more than others.  The ugly fact is that in the case of Iraqi civilians carelessly shot at checkpoints, they have no advocates to dig out the truth.  The "soveriegn" Iraqi government keeps its mouth shut, and the Army officials whose job it is to make sure that discipline is adequately enforced seem to be trying to cover up as much as possible in the case of such misconduct.  Those cases are unlikely to be investigated as thoroughly.

In the Sgrena case, though, we have an ally whose government has taken real political heat at home to support the Bush administration in a foolish and unpopular war.  And they object to having their nationals gunned down carelessly (at best) by American soldiers.  They're insisting on a real accounting.  And they really don't care about the comma-dancing nit-picking nonsense from our home-grown jingos of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders. - Bruce