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2005-03-07

Il Manifesto Founder on Sgrena Shooting: This Was an Attack on Unembedded Journalism

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U.S. soldiers in Iraq shot at the car of Italian journalist–Giuliana Sgrena–killing the Italian intelligence agent who helped free her and wounding three others. Sgrena had just been released after a month in captivity by the Iraqi resistance. We go to Italy to speak with Luciana Castellina, a leading public intellectual and one the founders of Giuliana Sgrena’s newspaper–Il Manifesto. [includes rush transcript]

Last Friday, U.S. soldiers in Iraq shot at the car of Italian journalist–Giuliana Sgrena–killing an Italian intelligence agent and wounding three others.

Nicola Calipari was killed as he tried to protect Sgrena from the bullets. Sgrena was wounded in the shoulder in the attack.

Giuliana Sgrena was kidnapped in Baghdad and been held captive since February 4th by a group calling themselves–"Mujahedeen Without Borders." She had just been released and handed over to three Italian agents on Friday when the car was shot at as they drove to the Baghdad airport.

In an interview with Sky Italia, Sgrena described talked about what happened:

  • Giuliana Sgrena, speaking on Sky Italia.

The U.S. military said that the car was speeding as it approached a checkpoint. In a statement–it claimed that soldiers 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."

In interview with Italian channel La 7, Giuliana Sgrena disputed the military’s account stating that there was no bright light, no signal–and that the car was traveling at regular speed. She also told SKY TG24 that a ransom was paid for her release and it was possible that she was deliberately targeted by US forces. She said: "The fact that the Americans don’t want negotiations to free hostages is known. The fact that they do everything to prevent the adoption of this practice to save the lives of people held hostages, everybody knows that. So I don’t see why I should rule out that I could have been a target."

The pentagon has said only that the incident is under investigation.

  • Luciana Castellina, one the founder of Giuliana Sgrena’s newspaper–Il Manifesto. She a well-known public intellectual in Italy. She has directed political reviews and published many books and articles on social and economic issues. She was a member of the Communist party and was elected several times to the Italian Parliament. She was also member of the European Parliament, where she presided over the Committee on Culture, Media and International Economic Relations. She subsequently served as president of Italia-Cinema until 2001. Luciana Castellina is on the steering committee of the International Network for Cultural Diversity and is president of the NoWarTV co-operative.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In an interview with Sky Italia, Sgrena described what happened.

GIULIANA SGRENA: [Translated from Italian]We were on our way to the airport, and we thought we were finally safe, because the area where we were was under the control of the United States. We therefore thought we had escaped the gravest area and entered into a more friendly area, although I was still nervous as my hostage takers had warned me to be careful, because it was the Americans who did not want me to be free, and returned to Italy alive. I just took that as a last threat from my hostage takers and did not really take it seriously. But then suddenly we found ourselves under an immense amount of bullets, something terrible, without any warning, and we realized that nearby there was an American tank which was shooting at us.

AMY GOODMAN: Giuliana Sgrena in an interview. The U.S. military has a different story. They say the car was speeding as it approached a checkpoint. In a statement, the military claims soldiers first tried to warn the driver to stop, by, quote, "hand and arm signals, flashing white lights and firing warning shots in front of the car." In an interview with an Italian TV channel, Giuliana Sgrena disputed the military’s account, stating there was no bright light, no signal, that the car was traveling at regular speed. She also told Italian television that a ransom was paid for her release, and it was possible she was deliberately targeted by U.S. forces. She said, quote, "The fact that the Americans don’t want negotiations to free hostages is known. The fact they do everything to prevent the adoption of this practice to save the lives of people held hostages, everybody knows that. So I don’t see why I should rule out that I could have been a target," Sgrena said. The Pentagon has said only the incident is under investigation. Joining us now on the telephone from Rome is Luciana Castellina. She is one of the founders of Giuliana Sgrena’s newspaper, Il Manifesto. She has just returned from the state funeral of Nicola Calipari, the intelligence official who was killed. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

LUCIANA CASTELLINA: Hello.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you on Democracy Now! again. Can you describe the funeral today and the atmosphere in Rome?

LUCIANA CASTELLINA: Well, I would say that the funeral — first of all, there were thousands and thousands of people who attended the funeral, and since yesterday, where the coffin had been exposed in Piazza Venezia, there was a long queue which lasted for hours, because everybody wanted to go and make an homage to Nicola. He is called Nicola now by everybody, which is his name because — I mean, everybody was so grateful because he sacrificed his life. So, the funeral was, I would say, very human. I mean, everybody was there, from the government, the opposition, all the institutions, the family, the friends, the representatives of the church. And I think it was quite human, because I think the government, Italian government, was quite embarrassed because they found themselves in a — well, you know, I mean, one of the best and most loved men of the secret service which sacrificed his life has been killed by an American bullet. It’s not an easy situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how high up in intelligence he was, the title, International Operations Chief of Italy’s military intelligence service, certainly a position that I’m sure was often criticized by Il Manifesto, your newspaper?

LUCIANA CASTELLINA: The services, you mean, in general?

AMY GOODMAN: I’m saying that Nicola Calipari, the fact that he was Chief of International Operations of Italy’s military intelligence service, he was, I’m sure, often a target of criticism of your newspaper, Il Manifesto?

LUCIANA CASTELLINA: Well, [inaudible] secret service is [inaudible] the secret service of your own country, do you? We didn’t. But with Nicola, for months, human relation — he is nearly friendly relationship was established because the editor of Il Manifesto and Giuliana’s husband have met Nicola several times, because he was going up and down from Baghdad to here. And really, I mean, everybody trusted him and appreciated the fact that he risked his life to save Giuliana so, that was — it was a real shock when we were told that he was — that he was killed. I mean, he was killed for a very courageous gesture, because he covered Giuliana’s body, who could have been killed otherwise.

AMY GOODMAN: Luciana Castellina, we’d like to ask you to wait for a moment. We have to break. And when we come back, I want to ask you about the significance of this death and talk about what it means in Italy, whose population has been very opposed to the occupation, although Prime Minister Berlusconi has been very much an ally of President Bush, and what this means.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue our conversation with Luciana Castellina, a well-known public intellectual in Italy, one of the founders of Il Manifesto, the newspaper of Giuliana Sgrena — also, Luciana Castellina was a member of the Italian parliament — talking about the attitude of people right now, what this means with a population very opposed to the occupation, but a prime minister, Berlusconi, who is very much an ally of President Bush.

LUCIANA CASTELLINA: Well, let’s say that the population, in general, is very angry. Not because they think that this was a deliberate killing, you know. I mean, there is an inquiry of the judges. It’s an inquiry for murder, bluntly, murder. They wouldn’t say what really happened. Maybe would one never know. But it is not because it was a deliberate act, but because people think that it was not just a casualty, an incident. It means that in Iraq, they shoot, and they shoot everybody without — with great arrogance, and with — not taking into account lives of human beings. And this is the war. This is the result of the war, of the violence which the war brings. And you know, that the majority of the Italian population has been against the war, and all, you know, the polls have given this result, and we had perhaps the biggest demonstration for peace in Italy. So, you can imagine that now, I mean, people have really a sense of anger and that the idea that you have to pull back the occupation, the military presence in Iraq, it is very, very strong. Well, why should we stay there, by the way, because not only because we are against the war, but because it means that we don’t count nothing. We don’t have a say if an American patrol can shoot a car without thinking seriously about what they were doing when they had been — everybody had told them that they were aiming for the airport. They were perfectly informed. It was not at a checkpoint, and so on. This idea, you know, that — of the violence which the war brings and that war never brings a new and better society, this is very strong, and people are really very angry. You can feel it in the population — I mean, among the people who were attending the funeral, this anger.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think this could mean that the Italian troops, what, 3,000 of them, that they could be called home?

LUCIANA CASTELLINA: Well, you know, I am not very optimistic about that, because Berlusconi is probably the best ally of Bush, and I don’t think he’s going to do it, but his position is now more difficult than it used to be, because of what happened, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Luciana Castellina about the death of the military intelligence chief who saved the life of Giuliana Sgrena by throwing his body on top of hers in a car as U.S. troops opened fire. You had said that you don’t think that she was targeted, but Giuliana Sgrena herself has raised serious questions about this in interviews and in her writing. You have spoken to Giuliana?

LUCIANA CASTELLINA: Yes, of course, I have spoken with Giuliana, of course. Giuliana herself she says, I don’t know. She only — I mean, what is important of what Giuliana said, that they were not at the checkpoint, that they were not going fast, that they were already within the area of the airport, and that then there is another agent of the secret services which was with Giuliana in the same car and who said the same thing, and he confirmed that the American authorities had been perfectly informed. By the way, it would have been impossible otherwise. So, again, I come back, it doesn’t mean that it was deliberate, but it means that it was — that there are shootings against human beings made like that without thinking twice. You see? This is a terrible thing. We know now about Giuliana, because she was Italian, because we had an important man of the secret services which had been killed. But how many others have been killed in the same conditions? How many? Hundreds or thousands, perhaps. That is what comes out from this, what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Luciana Castellina, what about the ransom that is reportedly paid? Also in the case of the Simonas, when they were released this issue was raised with officials in Italy anonymously saying, yes, we think they were worth it.

LUCIANA CASTELLINA: Well, I hear you very badly, so I don’t know if I am answering your questions, because it’s very — your voice is very far, but anyway, you mean what about those who kidnapped them?

AMY GOODMAN: The issue of Italy paying ransom.

LUCIANA CASTELLINA: Oh, yes, if it’s worth. Well, you see, I think first of all, it was — to pay a ransom and save lives in the conditions of that war, it’s correct. You have to do it. If the journalists — I mean, you have to protect the life of journalists who are going and speaking to the people. Otherwise, the result would be that we wouldn’t have any journalists anymore or only the embedded journalists. We want people to stay there and go and talk to people and give information about them. We have to guarantee them, I mean, their life and the freedom to do their job, which is so important for democracy. So, I think that it was worthwhile paying the ransom, and you always have to do it when lives are in danger, you know, and in a situation like that one, of course, I think — and this, I think it’s also the popular feeling that people think that this was correct to do so in both cases.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Luciana, what do you think this means for the future of the very close relationship between Berlusconi and Bush, and do you think something unpredictable can happen at this point?

LUCIANA CASTELLINA: Well, I don’t think so, really. You know, the coalition is so strong, and Berlusconi has made a point of honor of being the best friend, personal friend, and ally of Mr. Bush, and so I — but let’s say that the option of the war in Iraq, who was not popular at the beginning, is becoming less and less popular. I mean, more and more unpopular, let’s say, and this is something which, of course, will make the position of Berlusconi more difficult, more embarrassed. Although, unfortunately I don’t think he’s going to derive the conclusions he should derive.

AMY GOODMAN: Luciana Castellina, I want to thank you very much for being with us and also note whatever the real story is behind the shooting of Giuliana Sgrena and the killing of the intelligence official who helped to save her life through his own death, this seems to be a story all too often that takes place in Iraq, where you have a situation of U.S. soldiers opening fire. So often we get different stories or perhaps more often than not, especially if it’s Iraqis who are killed, we don’t even hear the other side. In this case, we hear at least that there is a dispute of the story. I want to thank you very much for being with us, Luciana Castellina, well-known public intellectual in Italy, one of the founders of Giuliana Sgrena’s newspaper, Il Manifesto. Luciana Castellina was a member of the Italian parliament as well as the European parliament.

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