In media pieces and conversations with Italian sources, there's a new twist
to the Iraq episode wounding journalist and former-hostage Sgrena, and
killing Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari. Michelle Malkin, a
widely read right-wing US columnist, penned a profuse attack upon Sgrena's
ransoming, positioning the money-for-hostage deal as the true scandal
surrounding Sgrena's shooting. But others, especially in Italy, have come
to believe the shooting was a deliberate US effort to eliminate the
ransoming of hostages.
”It’s widely believed (in Italy)”, said Roberto Zanini, a senior editor of
Il Manifesto, Sgrena’s paper, when asked if Italians thought the attack
wounding the just-freed journalist was to preclude futuring ransoming
efforts. Footnoting his remarks, Zanini said a recent poll placed over half
of Italy as believing Calipari’s killing wasn’t just an ”accident”, and that
over 70% believed the truth about what really happened will ”never be
In America, Malkin's commentary is significant because it broached the
effective acknowledgemet of a nasty fact - Sgrena's supposed ransom would
provide funds for the Iraqi insurgency, and that's something both the Bush
administration and many Americans have understandably strong feelings upon.
In effect, speculation has it that a US ’command decision’ may have led to
March 4th's bloodshed.
Zanini told me it was a "strong possibility" that the Bush administration
sought to teach Italy "a lesson, and it turned out to be bloody". In more
conservative terms, a week earlier Zanini had first mentioned to me the idea
that a ”difference” between the US and Italian approaches to hostages may
have led to what Sgrena has termed the "ambush".
While most pundits almost reflexively dismissed the idea of a deliberate
strike against Sgrena, her alleged ransom has been variously estimated by
the Italian media as between $6 million and $13 million. The Iraqi
insurgency's programs could do a lot with those funds, and it isn't the
first ransom Italy is alleged to have paid.
Though such ransoms may represent a substantive asset for anti-coalition
forces, many administration critics believe that US 'rules of engagement',
coupled with the estimated 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed since the 2003
invasion, have provided vastly greater insurgency support.
It is US policy not to negotiate for hostages. A US-Italian investigation
into events is scheduled to issue its report within 30 days, but a chain of
recent events fueled 'ambush' speculation.
On Sunday March 13th, the UK Sunday Times reported that Italian Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi "has yielded to American pressure and pledged
that in future Italy will not submit to kidnappers' demands". In an ’off
the record’ conversation, an Italian official subsequently told me, "we've
learned our lesson", refusing to elaborate.
While the results of 'trigger-happy' US forces have been both deadly and
well known, a number of Europeans I've spoken with have expressed concerns
that the shooting was purposeful.
The Iraq support Berlusconi provided President George W. Bush apparently
prompted Italy to believe it was entitled to rescue its own, as it saw fit,
until now. And there is no law against the ransoming of hostages.
On 15 March Berlusconi announced Italy will begin withdrawing its troops
from Iraq in September, just days after the country agreed to stop ransoming
In considering what the emerging circumstances may imply, I can recall a
scene from an old black and white western film, one where a land-grabbing
gunslinger contemptuosly faces some individuals who aren’t going along with
his plans. Angered by their desire to go about things in their own way, he
bellows, "I am the Law!", blasting away at those who had dared to defy him.
If instead of the alleged 'accident', what if facts confirm Sgrena's alleged
"ambush", and so transform the heroic Nicola Calipari's death into little
more than a gunslinging act of retribution, a 'lesson' as to the price
Washington may now demand for even a friend's 'defiance'. While most
Americans may think this absurd, a lot of Europeans I have spoken with do
The same week as Italy decided to withdraw its forces, the Netherlands,
Ukraine, and Bulgaria did so.
Whatever the reality of what happened is, Italy may well have legitimate
reason to believe the truth will never be known. If any absolute certainty
exists, it's in the widespread discomfort the Bush administration's
track-record on truth has engendered.
Ritt Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2005 Ritt Goldstein