Wednesday, April 27, 2005

We Dont Want The Facts, We Want To Blame America

The Italian hostage shot by US troops after a daring rescue in Baghdad last month has condemned the American investigators for clearing their soldiers of blame for the attack, in which an Italian agent was killed. "This is an unacceptable slap in the face for Italy," Giuliana Sgrena said yesterday. "It is worse than I imagined. "At the beginning, the Americans spoke of an accident, and even apologised. But now they are ruling out any responsibility, saying the soldiers were following the rules of engagement." Ms Sgrena, a journalist with the left-wing newspaper Il Manifesto, was shot and injured by US troops at a military checkpoint outside Baghdad airport on March 4. Italian government agents had just freed her from Iraqi insurgents, who had held her hostage for a month. Ms Sgrena's liberator, Italian agent Nicola Calipari, was shot dead as he shielded her from the US gunfire, and another agent driving the car was injured in the attack. Italy is refusing to endorse the findings of the joint US-Italian inquiry into the shooting, news agencies reported from Washington yesterday. "The US is ready to release the report but Italy has more questions," an official said. He said the US and Italian sides disputed the speed at which the Italian car was approaching the US checkpoint when it was attacked. The US troops have claimed the Toyota Corolla was speeding, but the Italians insist the car was travelling at less than 50km/h. The investigators also disagreed over communications between Italian and US officials before the shooting. A US army official said: "The soldiers were all complying with the standard operating procedures for those checkpoints and therefore were not culpable of dereliction of duty in following their procedures." Bowing to strong protests from the Italian Government, the Pentagon agreed to let two Italian officials take part in its military inquiry into the shooting last month. But news that the Italians are refusing to sign off on the report poses a new diplomatic dilemma for the two allies. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is facing growing public pressure to withdraw Italy's 3300 troops from Iraq. US ambassador to Italy Mel Sembler was summoned to a crisis meeting last night with the Prime Minister's under-secretary, Gianni Letta, and the director of Italy's Sismi secret service, Niccolo Pollari. Ms Sgrena yesterday insisted the US soldiers had opened fire on the car without warning, aiming at the occupants and not the engine as the Pentagon initially claimed. "I saw the face of the soldier who shot me, but I won't be satisfied to see him punished," she said. "I believe the responsibility must be sought higher up, because they killed one of Italy's best intelligence agents and must be held accountable."