The Giuliana Sgrena Incident: Per Favore Non Crederlo Italia! (Please Don’t Believe it Italy!)

I love Italy. More exactly, I love the Italian people. I’ve lived there and I’ve visited. It’s a beautiful country with beautiful people. Italians are family-oriented, love children, and love the finer points of good wine and good food. I have Italian friends. They like Americans, are suspicious of the EU, and hate the French. They understand the war on terror, themselves the victims many times over the last two decades.

When I heard last month that a female Italian journalist had been kidnapped by a group calling themselves the Islamic Jihad Organization, I thought “how sad” — Italy and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have been staunch and supportive friends and allies in Iraq. They have been steadfast partners in the “coalition of the willing.” When I was in Florence last November, I asked my friends what they thought about the war. They said “we understand and we are firmly on your side.” With this news, I regretted that the war, for them, now had an even more personal face. Conceivably, the female captive would be another victim of Zarqawis’ barbaric murderous thugs.

Then I did some research. The journalist is Giuliana Sgrena, who works for Italy’s Communist newspaper Il Manifesto. She is not your generic vanilla journalist. Her writings have been vehemently anti-American and pro-insurgent. She has accused American soldiers of committing war crimes, torture and intentionally killing Iraqi innocents. “Fallujah is dying under the criminally indifferent gaze†¦of the United States,” she wrote before her capture. “Zarqawi, the man the U.S. claims they are destroying Fallujah in order to capture†¦obviously is not among those pinned to the banks of the Euphrates by American forces,” she concluded. She equated the rank-and-file Fallujah resident with Zarqawi, the beheader of men. She likened American troops with Nazis. She urged her government to remove their troops and get out of Iraq on multiple occasions.

A sample of her Il Manifesto headlines over the last few months reveal “Napalm Raid on Fallujah,” “Stop the Massacre,” “U.S. Crimes in Iraq,” and “The Death Throes of Fallujah.” Apparently she was abducted while interviewing displaced citizens of Fallujah who were camped outside of a mosque.

Why would a pro-insurgent journalist with avowed connections to terrorists be kidnapped and ransomed?

Sgrena’s “captors” released a video tape the day before the Italian Senate was to vote on the issue of their troop deployment to Iraq. The Italian government was given a chilling 72-hour deadline for the removal of Italian soldiers from Iraq or Sgrena would die. Thankfully, Berlusconi and the senate did not fold. And Sgrena was not beheaded.

Over the weekend, curiously exactly one month to the day of her capture, Sgrena was “released.” On her way to the Baghdad Airport, her vehicle was shot at by American troops, killing one of the Italian agents who’d arranged her release and injuring Sgrena. Mainstream media, propped up by Sgrena’s own newspaper, have made her the Left’s newest cause celebre.

As I read about the incident, I thought “how convenient” — an anti-American, pro-insurgent journalist targeted by the U.S. military on the day of her release? Maybe Eason Jordan, CNN’s recently-resigned news chief, who announced on more than one occasion that US troops had knowingly targeted journalists, has been vindicated after all.

Immediately, Prime Minister Berlusconi has asked for a thorough investigation into the incident, and rightly so. President Bush called from Air Force One offering one, and rightly so.

The U.S. military’s version of the incident is this: the car carrying Sgrena approached a checkpoint at the Baghdad International Airport at 9:00 PM (after dark) at an unusually high speed. U.S. troops “attempted to warn the driver to stop by hand and arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots in front of the car. When the driver didn’t stop, the soldiers shot into the engine block, which stopped the vehicle.”

Oliviero Diliberto, Secretary of the Italian Communist Party, claimed, “Don’t believe a word of the U.S. version. There’s an attempt to mask what actually happened. The Americans deliberately fired on the Italians.”

I can assure you, and Oliviero, that firing on Italians is not part of the rules of engagement. Though firing on fast moving vehicles who refuse to stop after multiple warnings is.

Italians, by nature, are good drivers. I often thought of the route from my apartment in Vicenza, Italy to my office as a reality video game: the medieval cobblestone streets barely wide enough to accommodate my little Fiat Punto, much less parked cars, scores of pedestrians, and Vespas. The goal was to arrive at work with my Punto, me, and pedestrians unscathed.

I also learned that Italian drivers are fast and aggressive.

Approaching a checkpoint, in an area known for numerous terrorist attacks, during a time of war, at high speed is never a good idea. The U.S. military just loves an unmarked vehicle barreling through a checkpoint while ignoring repeated warnings. More importantly, failing to stop when compelled to do so with a lot of guys with guns is a death wish. Can you imagine the outcry from the Left if the vehicle had been allowed to penetrate the perimeter, held a terrorist bent on martyrdom with a bomb, killing scores of coalition troops?

Berlusconi has declared, “someone will have to take responsibility.”

Absolutely.

And while we’re at it, maybe it’s time to look into how Sgrena was kidnapped, who kidnapped her, how she was released and why her driver didn’t comply with the multitude of warnings at a combat checkpoint. Let’s ask why a driver in Iraq, any driver in Iraq 2005 doesn’t know to stop at a military checkpoint. Let’s ask why a reporter for an anti-American newspaper was kidnapped by an anti-American terror cell on the eve of vital Italian congressional hearings. Let’s ask why she was then released without their demands met, why the U.S. military was not advised of her release, and why her driver felt it necessary to run the gauntlet of American soldiers to her awaiting jet.

Sadly, Nicola Calipari, an Italian agent who assisted Sgrena, was killed in the altercation.

Il Manifesto, Sgrena’s paper, immediately screamed the headline that Calipari had been “assassinated” by America.

Sgrena, upon her return to Rome, praised her captors for treating her humanely. “I was never treated badly,” she said. Which raises the question of why she was so fervently pleading with the Italian government to remove its military presence from Iraq.

It’s just all too convenient.

Please don’t believe it, Italy!

Mr. Patterson is the best-selling author of Dereliction of Duty and Reckless Disregard. He also hosts his radio show, The Buzz Cut, heard live every Monday at 1:00 PM Eastern at www.rightalk.com.


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