Jason Vest provides some new factual material and some informed speculation about the Sgrena case that puts it in a fuller context: Jason Vest, "Checkpoints and Balances", The American Prospect Online, Mar 9, 2005.
Relying on an anonymous CIA officer who had been involved in rescuing hostages in another conflict-ridden country, Vest writes:
The sad irony was that the Italians’ good tradecraft in securing Sgrena was probably what got their car shot up by U.S. forces.
"You can’t blame a secret service for wanting to operate secretly, especially in these circumstances," the CIA officer sighed. "I'd be willing to bet the Italians didn't say anything to anyone about this operation, and who can blame them? The U.S. isn't going to be enthusiastic about another country negotiating with terrorists and paying ransom, especially over a communist journalist. It's possible that at the last minute, Calipari’s team -- or someone they talked to -- might have told the Americans what was going on, and the usual checkpoints were notified that they were coming, and to wave them through. But I'd also be willing to bet that the 'checkpoint' that shot them wasn't really a checkpoint, but some makeshift thing that was part of a sweep of insurgents, or some VIP’s security detail.”
According to a U.S. military source quoted in Monday’s Washington Post, this appears to have been along the lines of what happened. But as of Tuesday morning, more details weren’t necessarily leading to greater clarity: While The Washington Times cited a leaked Pentagon memo saying that Calipari had failed to liaise with Americans, Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini asserted that Calipari had in fact ''made all the necessary contacts with the U.S. authorities,'' and essentially said that the U.S. account of a speeding car and soldiers endeavoring to warn the car didn’t hold water. (CNN, meanwhile, was reporting that the fatal checkpoint was in fact an ad hoc affair, set up on account of U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte’s movements.)
Vest's source raises a similar question to that I mentioned in a recent post: should this kind of thing really be happening nearly two years into the occupation?
"I understand how everyone wants to focus on what exactly happened to the Italians," the CIA officer I spoke with said. "But I hope that people don't forget the bigger picture here. The question here shouldn't just be, what happened to the Italians? It should also be, why, coming up on two years after liberating Iraq, isn't the road to the capital's airport secure? And is accidentally shooting people and other stuff to the tune of millions of dollars helping or hurting security there?"