Tuesday, March 08, 2005

U.S. Opens New Shooting Inquiry, as Italian Findings Are Presented

By EDWARD WONG
“The reconstruction we have made from the direct testimony of another agent doesn't coincide completely with what the U.S. authorities have said,’ Mr. Fini said. ‘We demand that there be truth and justice.’ ”
“The American military said today that it was opening a high-level investigation into an episode last Friday in which American soldiers fired on a car carrying an Italian hostage who had just been freed. The hostage was wounded, and an Italian intelligence agent who had negotiated her release was killed.

The American announcement came as the Italian foreign minister, Gianfranco Fini, went before Parliament in Rome to say that be believed the event had been "an accident caused by a series of circumstances and coincidences." But he also demanded that the United States conduct a full investigation, especially considering that portions of the American version of the episode differed from Italian accounts.

‘It was certainly an accident,’ Mr. Fini said. ‘This does not prevent, in fact it makes it a duty for, the government to demand that light be shed on the murky issues, that responsibilities be pinpointed and, where found, the culprits be punished.’

‘The reconstruction we have made from the direct testimony of another agent doesn't coincide completely with what the U.S. authorities have said,’ Mr. Fini said. ‘We demand that there be truth and justice.’

The freed hostage, Giuliana Sgrena, 56, a journalist for the leftist Italian newspaper Manifesto, has said the soldiers may have deliberately opened fire on her car because Washington opposes efforts to negotiate with kidnappers in Iraq - a scenario the White House dismissed on Monday as ‘absurd.’ Mr. Fini also said today that there was no evidence to support such suspicion.

The American military said that it had assembled a team led by Brig. Gen. Peter Vangjel to follow up the investigation already conducted at the division level. The new investigation will take three to four weeks, the military said. ‘The command is working closely with the U.S. Embassy, and Italian officials have been invited to participate,’ it said in a written statement.

The American military also said that officials of the First Corps Support Command were investigating last Friday's shooting of a Bulgarian soldier, Jr. Sgt. Gardi Gardev. The Bulgarian defense minister, Nikolai Svinarov, said on Monday that the soldier appeared to have been killed in southern Iraq by gunfire that came from the direction of American troops.

The two shootings under investigation have raised questions about the rules of engagement under which American soldiers operate in Iraq, especially at checkpoints and in convoys in areas frequented by civilians. Many innocent Iraqis have been wounded or killed by soldiers opening fire on cars they felt were approaching too close or too fast. The proliferation of suicide car bombs has set soldiers on edge, and commanders say soldiers are generally instructed to warn approaching vehicles with hand signals or shots into the air before opening fire on the vehicle itself.”

The shooting involving Ms. Sgrena took place at 8:55 p.m. last Friday, as a car carrying her and a small group of Italian intelligence agents headed toward the main Baghdad airport and Camp Victory, the headquarters of the American command here. Ms. Sgrena had been delivered by her captors to the Italian agents just 35 minutes earlier. The lead negotiator, Nicola Calipari, threw himself across Ms. Sgrena to protect her as the American troops opened fire, and was mortally wounded, Italian officials said.

Hours after the shooting, the Third Infantry Division, which is charged with securing Baghdad, issued a statement saying that soldiers at a checkpoint had first tried "to warn the driver to stop by hand-and-arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots in front of the car."

Today, Mr. Fini, citing an Italian agent who was driving the car, said that the American military command had authorized the Calipari-Sgrena party to travel to the airport, and that until it was fired on, Mr. Calipari's car had not encountered any American-run checkpoints on the road.

The car, he said, was traveling about 25 miles per hour with its interior lights on to allow people to make phone calls. As the vehicle rounded a curve, Mr. Fini continued in his recounting of the Italian investigation, a bright light shined on it and more than one automatic weapon opened fire for about 15 seconds.

The intelligence officer who survived the attack was forced to kneel in the road until the soldiers realized who he was, Mr. Fini said.

"Two young Americans approached our officer and, demoralized, they repeatedly apologized for what had happened," Mr. Fini said. …

Ms. Sgrena has said she does not believe there was an actual checkpoint because she saw no military vehicles in the road. But a senior Defense Department official said on Monday that two Humvees had been parked off to the side and that two barriers of an indeterminate size had been erected on the road.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/08/international/
middleeast/08cnd-iraq.html?pagewanted=all&position=
con·cept: U.S. Opens New Shooting Inquiry, as Italian Findings Are Presented