Joe Baker: Journalist raps Pentagon report

Wounded Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena takes sharp issue with a recent Pentagon report clearing the American soldiers who fired on the car taking her to Baghdad airport.

She was wounded and a high ranking intelligence officer, Nicola Calipari, was killed as their car was fired on as it drove along a specially designated road toward the airport.

Calipari, on March 4, had obtained Sgrena’s release after she was held hostage by a militant group of resistance fighters. Calipari was mortally wounded when he threw his body across Sgrena’s to protect her from the gunfire. Sgrena was hit in the shoulder.

Last week, a U.S. Army official said an investigation by the military has cleared the soldiers involved of any wrongdoing and that the shooting was justified. The military has claimed that Sgrena’s car was travelling fast through a checkpoint and that the driver ignored warning shots and signals from the American troops.

The Army also said it had not been advised that the car would be travelling that road carrying the journalist and the intelligence officer.

The report has generated outrage in Italy where Calipari is regarded as a national hero. Two Italians on the investigating commission have refused to sign the U.S. report because they disagree with its conclusions.

Sgrena told journalist Amy Goodman that the military’s claim that the car was speeding past a checkpoint is false. “That’s not true,” she said, “because we were slow, and we were slowing down, because we have to turn. And before there was some water, so it’s not true the car was going fast.”

She also stated there was no warning of any kind from the troops. “No light, no air fire, nothing at all. They were beside the road. They were not on the street. They were away 10 meters, and they didn’t give us any sign they were there, so we didn’t saw [sic] them before they started to shoot,” Sgrena said.

She said the soldiers fired at the rear of the car, killing Calipari immediately and hitting her in the shoulder. Sgrena said when the shooting happened, the other man in the car got out and shouted to the troops that they were Italians, and he was on the telephone to the Italian government. Sgrena said the troops came to the car and forced the man at gunpoint to end the call.

As for permission to drive on the road to the airport, Sgrena said she was present when officials contacted the U.S. military to inform them that they wanted to use that route to the airport.

Sgrena said they have heard no official finding of the commission in regard to the incident. “I thought that maybe the Americans will spoke of accident or something like that, but now they say that the U.S. military because they have no responsibility for what happened the 4th of March in Baghdad.

“They say that they respected all the engagement rules, and that is not true, because I was there and I can testify that they just shoot us without any advertising, any intention, any attempt to stop us before. So I think that it’s very bad this conclusion because they don’t want to assume any responsibility and they don’t mind about our testifying, my one and the one of the Italian intelligence agent that these are quite the same. We were there and we are in a position to testify what happened, so it’s not true what the Americans say, what the commission say,” Sgrena said.

She said it was expected that the car would be returned to Rome for examination by Italian authorities. She added that Italian officials do not know the names of the U.S. soldiers who participated in the shooting.

Sgrena said she is calling for withdrawal of all Italian and American troops from Iraq. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said he will remove all his troops from Iraq by year’s end. Sgrena said she is not so sure he will.

She said she believes a fair investigation of this matter has not been made and therefore no one can be held accountable.

Sgrena said she is unable to work because of her injuries. Bullet fragments lodged in her lung after the bullet hit her shoulder.

The shootings created something of an international incident at the time and led to apologies from President George W. Bush. There was even some speculation that the attack was an attempt to assassinate Sgrena because she had reported the actions of American forces in Iraq.

Sgrena said she will not return to that country (democracy

From the May 4-10, 2005, issue

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