Questions in Giuliana Sgrena Shooting
My piece earlier this morning, “Distorted Coverage of Giuliana Sgrena Shooting,” arguing that the headlines of many major media outlets were misleading because they failed to mention that Sgrena’s car was speeding toward a military checkpoint, drew some negative comments. A few noted that the facts were still in dispute and that the headlines were, therefore, factual.
Here’s another example, from a New York Times story dated tomorrow. It’s headlined, “Italian Reporter Arrives in Rome Amid Questions (rss).” In one sense, the headline is correct. Sgrena is Italian, she’s a reporter, she arrived in Rome, and there were questions. Great headline!
Not so fast. Here’s the story:
Giuliana Sgrena arrived in Rome on Saturday, a day after American troops at a checkpoint in Baghdad fired on the car taking her to the airport following her release from kidnappers. Ms. Sgrena, a 56-year-old journalist for Il Manifesto, a leftist Rome daily, was assisted off the plane in a wheelchair at Rome’s Ciampino airport, where she was greeted by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and her relatives. An ambulance then took her to a military clinic for on operation on her collarbone, where she was hit by shrapnel during Friday night’s shooting, in which an Italian secret service agent, Nicola Calipari, was killed trying to protect her. According to the Italian news agency ANSA, Ms. Sgrena told a friend, “The most difficult moment was when I saw the person who had saved me die in my arms.”
The American military said the car carrying Ms. Sgrena and the Italian agents was speeding to the airport as it approached a checkpoint. Soldiers shot into the engine block after trying to warn the driver to stop by “by hand-and-arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots in front of the car,” a statement said.
But on Saturday, some members of the Italian opposition, which has fiercely criticized the presence of Italian troops in Iraq, expressed doubt about the American version. “I don’t believe a word the Americans are saying,” said Oliviero Diliberto, a Communist deputy in the lower house of Italy’s Parliament. “I think there is something really dirty about all this business. Next week we will once again propose a measure to pull the troops out of Iraq.”
The Times lede takes as a matter of fact that the shooting occured at a checkpoint. It cites no eyewitness testimony, let alone an account from Sgrena, that disputes that. The only “questions” are from “some members of the Italian opposition” who have an axe to grind. They simply “don’t believe” and “think there is something really dirty.” Based on what? Their reflexive hatred for the American government and their political position on the war.
I wasn’t an eyewitness to the events on the ground and, prior to reading that the incident occured at a checkpoint, I just presumed it was an accident of the type that takes place in a tense war zone on a regular basis. Perhaps information will come to light soon that casts doubt on the American military’s official statements. So far, however, we have no reason whatsoever to “question” it.
Update (1951): A new report from the London Independent, not necessarily the most reliable of sources, tells a different story (careful not to actually attribute it to Sgrena, although giving that impression):
Giuliana Sgrena, the Italian journalist freed on Friday after a month in captivity in Iraq, was recovering in a military hospital here after taking shrapnel in her shoulder when American troops fired 300 to 400 shots into her car as it approached Baghdad airport. She touched down in Rome yesterday morning and was carried from the aeroplane wrapped in a blanket and attached to a drip, looking haggard and exhausted.
The unprovoked attack killed Nicola Calipari, the Italian military intelligence agent who had negotiated the journalist’s release. He had thrown himself on top of Ms Sgrena to shield her and was killed by a bullet in the head. In a brief conversation with the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, President Bush said he was sorry about the incident and promised that it would be investigated.
The bizarre and bloody end to what should have been a day of joyful celebration occurred at around 9pm as the unmarked car with local plates carrying Ms Sgrena and her liberators approached Baghdad airport. A plane was waiting to take her home. But while the car was still some 600 metres from the terminal, American troops opened fire, unleashing a volley of 300 to 400 shots, killing Mr Calipari outright and wounding Ms Sgrena and the other two intelligence officers in the car, one of them seriously.
It must have been some car, indeed, to withstand 300-400 bullets and yet Sgrena walked away with nothing but a bit of shrapnel in her shoulder. The American account still strikes me as far more plausible.
Update (2114): An anonymous commenter pasted in a story from AGI, minus a link, saying that Sgrena’s partner, Pier Scolari, thinks the shooting was intentional. GoogleNews dates the story from 12 hours ago and provides the link. Most odd, indeed. I don’t know AGI’s reputation, much less Scolari’s, but certainly find their account ridiculously improbable.
Update (2232): A BBC account has Sgrena’s take on it. It’s less conspiratorial:
Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena has described how she came under a “hail of gunfire” moments after being released from her Iraqi abductors in Baghdad. Ms Sgrena, who was wounded in the incident, has been sent to a military hospital in Rome for an operation. She denied US military accounts that the car was speeding past a checkpoint when it was fired upon.
“There was suddenly this shooting, we were hit by a hail of gunfire, and I was speaking with Nicola, who was telling me about what had been happening in Italy in the meantime, when he leaned towards me, probably also to protect me,” Ms Sgrena told Rai radio. “I was especially shocked because we thought that by then the danger was past,” she said. “And then he collapsed and I realised that he was dead.”
She said the shooting continued “because the driver wasn’t even managing to explain that we were Italian”. “So, it was a really terrible thing.”
Asked if the car was going too fast when the US troops opened fire, she said: “We weren’t going particularly fast given that type of situation.”
Update (3-6 0836): See followup story, “Italy Rejects U.S. Version of Sgrena Shooting.”