"ALL CAPS IN DEFENSE OF LIBERTY IS NO VICE."

Friday, April 29, 2005

CHECK-POINT ON TRUTH: THE SGRENA AFFAIR AND THE CALIPARI REPORTS

The United States and Italy say they disagree on the conclusions from a joint investigation into the killing of an Italian agent in Iraq by US troops. Nicola Calipari died trying to protect a freed Italian hostage - journalist Giuliana Sgrena - as their car came under US fire near Baghdad airport. US investigators are reported to have found the soldiers "not culpable". [...] The joint statement released on Friday said: "Investigators did not arrive at shared final conclusions even though, after examining jointly the evidence, they did agree on facts, findings and recommendations on numerous issues." [...] The US military said the car in which Mr Calipari and Ms Sgrena were travelling was speeding as it approached a temporary checkpoint and failed to heed warning signals to stop. Ms Sgrena, who was hurt in the shooting, said the car had not been speeding and that there had been no warning before the troops opened fire.

UPDATE - 9:22PM: LGF reports that US Spy Satellite info PROVES Sgrena's car was SPEEDING! "WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US satellite reportedly recorded a checkpoint shooting in Iraq last month, enabling investigators to reconstruct how fast a car carrying a top Italian intelligence official and a freed hostage was traveling when US troops opened fire. The report, which aired Thursday on CBS News, said US investigators concluded from the recording that the car was traveling at a speed of more than 60 miles (96 km) per hour." THERE'S MUCH MORE; GO TO LGF AND RTWT!

I think we should ALSO keep in mind what independent an un-embedded American journalist Bartle Breese Bull had to say on the matter of checkpoints in Baghdad - in the WASHPOST last month:

As an unembedded freelance journalist in Iraq, I have safely driven through scores of American roadblocks all over this country. I have also spent many hours with U.S. troops as they set up and operate these checkpoints. At the same time, like other reporters here who don't travel with armies of their own -- and like the millions of Iraqis who either have some money or are brave enough to participate in their country's reconstruction -- I live constantly with the fear of being kidnapped.

We see every day the damage done with the millions of dollars that Iraq's Baathist and Wahhabist insurgencies make from that appalling business. So as investigators try to sort out how U.S. troops could have fired on a car carrying newly freed Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, wounding her and killing the man who secured her release, I'm thinking about how checkpoints save lives. We don't know exactly what happened at the checkpoint on the way to the Baghdad airport. But I've seen how checkpoints work, and the American soldiers who man them are anything but trigger-happy. They know the consequences of making a mistake.

If the uproar over the shooting leads the Americans to further tighten rules of engagement, that will increase the danger to our troops and make commanders on the ground more reluctant to perform these dangerous operations. As a result, more foreigners and Iraqis will be running the risk of being kidnapped or blown up by suicide bombs.
Traffic checkpoints are an essential tactic in the disruption of terrorism here in Iraq, since car bombers and kidnappers have to use the roads to conduct their criminal business. Apart from certain fixed locations, such as the entrances to the Green Zone or the Baghdad airport, most checkpoints aren't permanent, and they can be set up almost anywhere, in all sorts of situations.

The details of Sgrena's release and wounding are still in official dispute, but on the street here there's nearly universal certainty that Nicola Calipari, the Italian government agent who died at the checkpoint, bought her freedom with a large ransom. Some Italian officials have intimated as much, though Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told an Italian newspaper that no money changed hands. It's also believed that the Italians ransomed two aid workers last fall. If so, this would mean that the Italian government is giving the terrorists money to conduct more violence even as 2,700 young Italians in uniform are helping rebuild this country.

The word here is that although Calipari had briefed the Americans about his mission, he withheld the details, partly because the Americans disapprove of paying off kidnappers, but more importantly because of the essential factor that foreign media coverage of Iraq usually ignores: the Iraqis. If the Italians paid a ransom, Calipari committed a serious crime in a sovereign state fighting desperately to establish the rule of law and defeat internal terrorism.
Long before the Italian incident, orders had come down that deadly force was to be used only as a last resort -- after the failure of obstacles, then flares or smoke bombs or "star clusters," then warning shots, and finally efforts to take out the oncoming vehicle's engine block. These procedures are real. I have seen our soldiers' reluctance to use force and felt the fear it brings. Car bombs cause 30 percent of military casualties.

The checkpoint procedures, which the military calls "fire discipline" and "escalation of force," are designed to prevent soldiers from killing innocent Iraqis who somehow lack the information or common sense to slow down when they approach. Over the period of Sgrena's incarceration, I stood with American troops at various checkpoints between Fallujah and Ramadi in the Sunni heartland of Iraq's Wild West, an area that receives more than 10 times the national average of attacks on American forces. As I finished writing the previous sentence I heard the announcement over the base radio that two members of the combat team I was with had been killed -- by a suicide bomber driving up to a checkpoint. I didn't see that explosion, but I heard it; I had spent much of the day at another U.S. checkpoint not far away.

"Sitting ducks, that's all we are," a 20-year-old combat medic from Texas said to me as we watched Iraqi vehicles thread past the "Alert" sign and through the orange cones and concertina wire of a checkpoint last week. Later, when I asked the sergeant in charge of the platoon if he was enjoying himself, he responded, "Just hanging around waiting to get blown up." This unit has suffered very high casualties, most from car bombs. If any soldiers in Iraq could be expected to be jumpy and trigger-happy, it is the grunts of central Anbar province. But as I watched them run their checkpoint, both before and after the Sgrena incident, they were thoroughly professional.

Driving around this country with Iraqis, including people with quite a lot to hide, I've encountered scores of American checkpoints. Just about everyone knows what to do: You do a slow U-turn and go the other way, you find a route around, or you drive through slowly and wave at the polite 20-year-old from Nashville. In a very small number of cases, one side makes a mistake and something truly tragic happens.

I think that the Calipari shooting was a sad tragedy, and that it was likely the result of Italian secrecy and stupidly speeding at the wrong time in order to maintain that scerecy.

I believe this because this because of the last bit BARTLE BREESE BULL writes - I'll repeat it: "Driving around this country with Iraqis, including people with quite a lot to hide, I've encountered scores of American checkpoints. Just about everyone knows what to do: You do a slow U-turn and go the other way, you find a route around, or you drive through slowly and wave at the polite 20-year-old from Nashville." Calipari did NOT do that.

There's MUCH MORE IN THE BARTLE BREESE BULL ARTICLE; READ THE WHOLE THING.

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