journalist with the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto and author of the book Friendly Fire: The Remarkable Story of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq.
Italy’s chief of military intelligence has been dismissed for allegedly helping the CIA kidnap an Islamic cleric off the streets of Milan three years ago. We go to Rome to speak with Giuliana Sgrena, a journalist with the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto. She made international headlines last year when she herself was kidnapped in Iraq and nearly died when U.S. forces opened fire on the car she was riding in after her release. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Italy’s chief of military intelligence has been dismissed for allegedly helping the CIA kidnap an Islamic cleric off the streets of Milan three years ago. Nicolo Pollari became the highest-level official anywhere in the world to lose his job for having a role in the secretive U.S. program known as extraordinary rendition. The Italian government initially claimed it did not know of the CIA plans to seize Abu Omar, but evidence has since emerged that indicates Italian agents collaborated with the CIA. Twenty-six CIA agents are already facing possible trial in Italy for carrying out the kidnapping.
British journalist Stephen Grey wrote about the kidnapping in his book, Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program_. He recently described what happened to Abu Omar on an interviewof with Democracy Now!
STEPHEN GREY: He was snatched off the streets and taken in a series of executive jets via Germany to a jail cell in Cairo, where he says he was severely tortured. He was released briefly, and he made a phone call back home to his family in Milan and explained what had happened to him, how he had been kidnapped. And because Italian police were listening to that phone call, the story was revealed.
He was quickly re-arrested after making that call. Presumably the Egyptians were listening, too. But that unlocked that whole scandal in Italy. And the Italian prosecutors, who believe that terrorists should be prosecuted in a court of law rather than being tortured in a jail cell in Egypt, have pursued this case absolutely vigorously. And there’s going to be a trial very shortly of these CIA agents involved. There are arrest warrants for them. None of them have been caught. Perhaps they never will be, but there will be an open trial, perhaps held in their absence, that’s going to take place in Italy and will expose further details of this whole operation.
AMY GOODMAN: British journalist Stephen Grey on our broadcast last month. The developments in Italy come at a time when the U.S. practice of extraordinary rendition is facing increased scrutiny. Next week, the German citizen Khalid El-Masri plans to visit Washington for the first time to discuss how CIA agents mistakenly kidnapped him and took him to Afghanistan, where he was tortured. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, El-Masri is suing former CIA head George Tenet and other U.S. officials.
Meanwhile, the soon to be chair of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Carl Levin, has announced plans to thoroughly review the CIA’s so-called rendition program. Levin said, quote, "I’m not comfortable with the system. I think that there’s been some significant abuses." Levin went on to say the program needs a thorough scrubbing.
Giuliana Sgrena is a journalist with the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto. She’s been following the rendition story closely. She made international headlines last year when she herself was kidnapped in Iraq and nearly died after U.S. forces opened fire on the car she was riding after her release. Her escort, Major General Nicola Calipari, Italy’s second-highest-ranking military intelligence officer, died in the shooting as he tried to protect her. She wrote about her experiences in the book Friendly Fire: The Remarkable Story of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq. Giuliana Sgrena joins us now live, from Rome. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Giuliana.
GIULIANA SGRENA: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. Can you talk about the significance of the sacking of, of the firing of, the head of military intelligence in Italy, Pollari?
GIULIANA SGRENA: It’s a very important issue, because the intelligence came out as a new imagine of the intelligence in Italy, because in Italy we were using the past, in the past, to have—don’t believe in the intelligence because we had some cases of distortions about the situation in Italy made by the intelligence services. So—but in the last year since after my kidnapping, after my liberation, the intelligence in Italy, they started to speak out and to present themselves to the public as normal people, as people that were in the service of the state. And so, they started to make some transparency about their work.
But finally comes out this case of extraordinary rendition and the involvement of agents of the intelligence service in the kidnapping of Abu Omar and the fact that not only the case of Abu Omar that is more important and we have to inquire is going on now in Italy, also because it seems that Abu Omar was offered 2 millions euro to change his version of the facts, but also because there are other accused against the Italian intelligence that supported many stops of flights here in Italy, in the Italian airports, of flights where there were inside people kidnapped. For example, there was a case of a man, of a Syrian man, kidnapped in United States, and then he goes—he went through Italy, and he was consigned to the Syrian government.
So, it’s not just a case. We have a lot of cases of flights going to Guantanamo and going through the Italian airports. And this is—this involvment cancel the good imagine of the Italian intelligence services and put Pollari, that was considered finally a good agent, as an agent that, in one case, he was not aware of what was going on in his service, because the more engaged in the kidnapping was the number two of the intelligence, was another agent, was Mancini, Marco Mancini. But in this case, if he didn’t know, it was not really a chief that was controlling the service. And in the other end, it was very difficult that he couldn’t know what was going on. So, he was—he was also aware about this kidnapping, but he didn’t want to admit this, because he said it was a secret of state. In any way, the situation, it was impossible to keep like that, and that’s why the government dismissed Pollari and all the chief of the intelligence service, and they change the top of the intelligence services.
That is one thing that is very strange in all these changes, that because Pollari was considered not too close to the U.S., because all the policy, for example, about negotiation for the liberation of hostages was—in contrast, was against the U.S. policy. So there was a lot of tension, also in the case of Calipari, between Italian and U.S. agents, or not only agents, but U.S. military in Baghdad. And so, Pollari was not considered too close to the Americans. And now that was removed, we have for a case of collaboration with the U.S. agents for a kidnapping of Abu Omar. Now we have a new chief that is Branciforte, that is considered a pro-U.S. military man, because he was in Tampa coordinating the operation of Enduring Freedom. So, this is the paradox of Italy, one of the many paradox we have in Italy.
AMY GOODMAN: Giuliana Sgrena, the response of the Italian people to the firing of the spy master, the head of military intelligence, and in particular their response to the kidnapping of the sheikh off the streets of Milan?
GIULIANA SGRENA: But there is no so much response of people about it. It is more a political question, so it’s more on the level of opinion of newspapers, because there was going on a division inside the intelligence services. So, it was more a political question, and there was no so much involvement of people on this issue. It was not like Calipari, the killing of Calipari, that is a more popular issue.
AMY GOODMAN: Giuliana Sgrena, we’re going to break for a minute, then we’re going to come back to that very issue, to the shooting of you, the killing of Calipari, the head of military intelligence, number two man in Iraq, when you were escaping, and about the man who opened fire. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re continuing our conversation with Giuliana Sgrena. She is joining us from Rome, just outside of the Vatican. Giuliana, I want to ask you about the latest developments in your own story. Nearly two years ago, you were kidnapped in Iraq. Then, after you were released, you nearly died, after U.S. forces opened fire on the car that you were taking to the airport in Baghdad. Italy’s second-highest-ranking military intelligence officer, Major General Nicola Calipari, died in the shooting as he tried to protect you. You wrote about what happened to you in your book, Friendly Fire: The Remarkable Story of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq. I understand that there’s now a court proceeding next week in Italy to decide whether a U.S. soldier named Mario Lozano—he’s with the New York Army National Guard—should stand trial for the killing of Calipari. Give us the latest.
GIULIANA SGRENA: I don’t know if I get really the question, because there are some noises, but I think that you are speaking about the trial that maybe we will have in Italy in the future about this killing. On the 29th of November, we will have the preliminary session of the trial. And the magistrates, the Italian magistrates, that concluded the inquiry with the accused, to Mario Lozano, of voluntarily killing, political voluntarily killing of Calipari, and the intent of killing of me and the other agent. They are asking for a trial and for a political trial. That’s why, because in Italy we can have a trial in contumacia for Mario Lozano, only if it’s a political killing, because the killing, the crime, was committed in a third country, in Iraq. So, we hope that the judge will recognize this political killing, because Calipari, Nicola Calipari, was an agent working for the security of the state. So, we hope the judge will accept this demand of the magistrates.
And me, through my lawyers, I ask also for the responsibility not only of Mario Lozano, but also of the Pentagon, that they have the major responsibility. So, I mean, the Ministry of Defense, the U.S. Ministry of Defense. And because we will not have in Italy either Mario Lozano or some other responsible of the administration, but in any case I want to underline that the responsibility is not only of one soldier, but it must be responsibility of the U.S. Army and of who are responsible of this war and of what is going on in Iraq. So, we will see on the 29th of November what will happen. Of course, we are of as parts in the trial, if we will have a trial, me and also the wife of Calipari. For the moment up to now, we don’t know if the Italian government also will be a part of this trial or not. We have to wait up to the 29 of November.
AMY GOODMAN: I should mention that the U.S. military has conducted its own review of the shooting and cleared Sergeant Lozano and other members of the Manhattan-based 69th Infantry Regiment of wrongdoing. Lozano has yet to talk about what happened that night. I want to thank you very much for joining us, Giuliana Sgrena. She’s speaking to us just next to the Vatican in Rome. Giuliana has written a book about her own experience, Friendly Fire: The Remarkable Story of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq.