Sunday, May 01, 2005

Driver Ignored Warning, U.S. Says

Ex-Hostage's Italian Driver Ignored Warning, U.S. Says

While finding that the soldiers were not culpable, the report recommended taking steps to better inform Iraqis and other drivers about how to approach checkpoints, echoing calls made by critics since the incident. The report also recommended that the military use more signs and enhanced lighting to warn drivers that they are approaching a checkpoint.

“The car carrying the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena that was struck with a deadly hail of gunfire as it sped toward Baghdad International Airport on March 4 ignored warnings from American soldiers who used a spotlight, a green laser pointer and warning shots to try to stop it as it approached a checkpoint, the American military said in a report released Saturday evening.

The gunfire killed Nicola Calipari, an Italian intelligence agent who was in the back seat with Ms. Sgrena. The driver and Ms. Sgrena were wounded. Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the ground commander in Iraq, has approved a recommendation that soldiers involved in the shooting not be disciplined, the military said.

The report's exoneration of the soldiers, which was made public last week, angered Italian officials and threatened to further inflame relations between the United States and Italy, one of its staunchest allies in the war in Iraq. The findings have created a political problem for the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who faces a public upset by the incident at a time when his own fortunes are sagging.

…Italian officials have disputed preliminary accounts of the shooting, provided last month by the United States, and Italy is pressing its own investigation. Ms. Sgrena has also challenged the United States' account, saying the car approached the checkpoint at a moderate speed and was not given any warnings.

Ms. Sgrena, a reporter for the left-wing daily newspaper Il Manifesto, was abducted Feb. 4 in Baghdad and released March 4, less than one hour before she and her rescuers made their trip to the airport. American officials have said the checkpoint was established temporarily to help provide security for the United States ambassador, John D. Negroponte, who was meeting with the top military commander in Iraq. Mr. Negroponte has since been appointed director of national intelligence.

The incident helped focus attention on the risks that Iraqis face at American checkpoints, where human rights groups say many Iraqis have been accidentally wounded or killed.

The report, which had many blacked-out parts, is the American military's first detailed account of the events. It asserts that the Italians ignored repeated warnings from American soldiers as they sped onto a part of the Baghdad airport road where soldiers are on a constant state of high alert because of the extraordinary risk of suicide car bombs and other insurgent attacks.…”

You can put any nationality in front of “Driver Ignored Warning,” and the results will be the same, either no investigation at all or an exoneration of the living at the expense of the dead. War is frightening and our troops are, rightfully, scared. It has become obvious to everyone but the chain of command military or political that our soldiers are stressed out and sometimes fire Chicago warning shots. ‘Bang!…Halt!’
con·cept: Driver Ignored Warning, U.S. Says