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Italian Ex-hostage Says U.S. Shooting Was No Accident

by Chris Shumway
Brian Dominick contributed to this piece.

A survivor’s account of the “checkpoint” shooting raises questions about the official US version and offers further credence to countless previous reports of similar shootings usually excused as “accidental.”

Mar. 8, 2005 – Italian journalist and former hostage Guiliana Sgrena has offered her eye-witness account of the incident in which American forces in Iraq fired on a vehicle carrying her to freedom last Friday, killing an Italian intelligence agent who had just negotiated her release and wounding Sgrena.

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Sgrena’s account differs sharply from that of the US military and a Bush administration spokesperson, who were not present at the scene and did not explain whose version of events they were recounting. Officials said Sunday that the shooting was a "horrible accident."

Sgrena, a reporter for Italy’s leftist Il Manifesto newspaper, whom rebels had abducted February 4 near Baghdad university, reportedly told Italy’s RAI radio, "There was suddenly this shooting; we were hit by a hail of gunfire."

Sgrena denied US military accounts that her vehicle was speeding through a checkpoint near Baghdad airport and that soldiers fired at the car’s engine block only after using hand signals, flashing lights and warning shots in an attempt to get the driver to stop.

"We weren’t going particularly fast given that type of situation," Sgrena told RAI, according to a BBC report.

She also denied that there had been warning shots or any other type of warning sign from US troops. "There was no bright light, no signal and no checkpoint - it was a patrol," Sgrena wrote in her personal account published Sunday by Il Manifesto.

The gunfire killed Nicola Calipari, an Italian intelligence agent who had just negotiated Sgrena’s release.

Sgrena said she and Calipari were using cellular phones when the shooting began. After their driver shouted that the vehicle’s occupants were Italians, Sgrena said, "Nicola Calipari dived on top of me to protect me." Immediately after US soldiers shot Calipari, Sgrena said she "felt his last breath."

US commanders in Baghdad say they were not informed that Sgrena’s release had been secured. But, amidst growing speculation that US troops might have been ordered to target Sgrena, according to the Sunday Times of London, Italian officials say they had told US commanders that Sgrena had been released.

Sgrena had filed several reports from the streets of Baghdad where she interviewed, among others, a former prisoner at Abu Ghraib and residents of Baghdad’s sprawling Sadr City neighborhood, according to her editors who spoke with Agence France-Presse. "She rejected the idea of being 'embedded' [with occupation troops under military supervision] and opted to do very personal reportage," Loris Campetti, one of her editors at Il Manifesto, told AFP.

Sgrena’s account of last week’s incident is similar to testimony given by several Iraqis who have survived shootings at scenes officially referred to as "military checkpoints."

Just yesterday, further corroboration of the alleged trend came in the form of an interview transcript released by the US military’s Criminal Investigations Division in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Published on the American Civil Liberties Union website among highly contradictory versions of a few related stories, in an interview one US Army soldier recounted that his unit killed noncombatants on Iraqi roadways.

Additionally, at least one US Marine has also testified in Canadian court that soldiers deliberately fired at unarmed civilians at checkpoints in Iraq. Jimmy Massey, a former Marine staff sergeant who was honorably discharged after twelve years in the military, told a Canadian immigration board last year that he and his fellow Marines routinely shot civilians. "We deliberately gunned down people who were civilians," Massey said. He also said he become concerned and decided to speak out "because I felt that Marines were honestly enjoying it. I saw plenty of Marines become psychopaths -- they enjoyed the killing."

Massey, who was testifying at the hearing of another US soldier who was seeking asylum in Canada, recalled a 48-hour period in which he and his fellow Marines killed over 30 civilians at a checkpoint in southern Baghdad. Massey said those civilians included a group of unarmed demonstrators and a driver of a car who had raised his hands above his head in surrender.

Massey said he had been acting on orders to shoot anyone who came too close to the checkpoint.

The Bush administration has promised a full investigation and Italian prosecutors have opened a "manslaughter inquiry" into the killing of Calipari, the Times reported.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Chris Shumway is a contributing journalist.

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