Italian journalist and former Iraq war hostage Giuliana Sgrena offered yesterday to meet face-to-face with Spec. Mario Lozano, the New York City National Guardsman who shot her in a friendly fire mistake on a deserted road to the Baghdad airport last year.
"I think that it would be useful for him and for me to have an exchange of opinion," Sgrena said during her first visit to the United States since the shooting.
The shooting, which killed Nicola Calipari, the Italian government's second-ranking intelligence officer, just minutes after Calipari had secured Sgrena's release from Iraqi guerrillas, sparked a public furor in Italy.
That uproar grew worse after a Pentagon report last year cleared the U.S. soldiers involved. Italian prosecutors, after conducting their own probe, announced plans this week to charge Lozano, a member of New York's legendary Fighting 69th, with murder and attempted murder.
But Sgrena, who is still recovering from a gunshot wound that collapsed her lung, doesn't want Lozano to be made a "scapegoat."
"These things happened because there is a war," she said during an extended interview with journalist Amy Goodman and myself on "Democracy Now," a daily morning news program carried by hundreds of radio and television stations.
"We want only the truth, me and the family of Calipari," Sgrena said. "We want only to know what happened."
A veteran war correspondent and outspoken opponent of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Sgrena has just finished writing a book about her ordeal.
As for Lozano and the members of the 69th, they just want to put the entire tragedy behind them. Several of his comrades say Lozano was devastated by his mistake, but isn't ready to talk with Sgrena.
"I personally talked to him, and he doesn't want to participate in any interview," said Lt. Col. Sean Fanning, a spokesman for the 69th. "We have a lot of respect and sympathy for her [Sgrena], but we're not going to comment."
On the night of incident, according to the Pentagon report, Lozano, who was the gunner on a patrol assigned to block vehicles from entering the airport highway, acted within military guidelines.
The highway, commonly known as Route Irish, is one of the most dangerous roads in Iraq. Between November 2004 and March 2005, according to the report, "there were 135 attacks or hostile incidents that occurred along Route Irish" or "a minimum of one attack per day."
Most of those incidents were at night, just around the time the car with the Italians passed the American patrol, and two members of Lozano's unit.
The U.S. report concluded that Lozano fired on the car carrying Sgrena and Calipari only after it approached the patrol's blockade at a high speed and only after it failed to slow down despite several warnings.
But both Sgrena and a second Italian secret service agent who was driving the car dispute those claims. They say there was no blockade, that they were traveling at a slow speed and that they received no warnings before the first bullets were fired.
"We have not seen any warning," Sgrena said. "And when we saw the light, there was a very strong light, they started to shoot. So it was in the same moment that we received the light and the bullets."
Both the surviving agent and Sgrena say - and the Italian investigators have concurred - that the bullets came from the right side and rear of the car, not from the front as the Pentagon asserts. As many as 58 bullets were fired by Lozano, with 11 striking the car, according to the Italians.
Calipari and Sgrena were both in the backseat when they were shot, yet the driver emerged unharmed.
"I don't want to say Mario Lozano is responsible," Sgrena said. "If we want a prosecution, it's just to know more."
Sure, terrible things are bound to happen in any war, especially in a military occupation by a foreign force that has little in common with the local population. But the magnitude of civilian carnage caused by our own troops in Iraq is truly frightening.
This week we learned that the rate of shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians at U.S. checkpoints has dropped to "only" one per week in 2006. Last year, when the Sgrena friendly-fire incident occurred, that rate was an astonishing one per day.
For Sgrena, for the family of Maj. Gen. Calipari, the full story of what happened that night on the road to Baghdad airport, has yet to be told.
© 2006 Daily News, LP