veteran foreign correspondent for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto. She was held hostage by the Iraqi resistance in Iraq and survived an ambush-style attack by U.S. forces immediately after being freed. A senior Italian intelligence official, Nicola Calipari, was killed in that attack. She wrote about the incident in her book, Friendly Fire: The Remarkable Story of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq.
Two years after U.S. forces shot to death Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari in Iraq, Washington is refusing to hand over the U.S. soldier charged in the case to be tried in Italy. Calipari was killed while escorting Italian reporter Giuliana Sgrena after securing her release from a month-long abduction in Iraq. Sgrena joins us in our firehouse studio to discuss the case. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Italy has criticized the Bush administration for failing to claim responsibility for the 2005 killing of Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari in Iraq. Speaking at a commemoration for Calipari on March 4, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema openly challenged the United States and said, "Right now, there is a need for justice to be done."
Calipari, the number two man in the Italian military intelligence, died while escorting Italian reporter Giuliana Sgrena out of Iraq after securing her release from a month-long abduction. U.S. forces opened fire on their vehicle as they drove to Baghdad International Airport. Another agent and Sgrena were wounded in the attack.
Last month, a judge in Rome ordered New York Army National Guard soldier Mario Lozano to stand trial in Italy on murder charges, but Washington has refused to hand him over, considers the case closed. Lozano will be tried next month in absentia.
Giuliana Sgrena wrote about her experience in her book, Friendly Fire: The Remarkable Story of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq. She is a veteran foreign correspondent for the Italian newspaper, Il Manifesto, has reported frequently from Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon. She joins us now in our firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!
GIULIANA SGRENA: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: I look forward to seeing you tonight, by the way, at the Judson Church here in New York at 7:00, having a conversation. Let’s start with this trial in absentia of Mario Lozano, who is based here in New York, the Army National Guardsman. How do you know he is the shooter?
GIULIANA SGRENA: From the report of the U.S. military commission, the U.S. military commission that did an inquiry in Iraq after the abduction. So they said that Mario Lozano was the man in charge of the shooting inside the patrol that shot to us. So it is the one that shoot —
AMY GOODMAN: Was there only one shooter?
GIULIANA SGRENA: They say that he’s the only one, but some experts, my experts, and one of —- the wife of Calipari found that maybe there was another man shooting, because they found in the car, where we were traveling to the airport, one piece of bullet that was not the same as the others. So a different screening, and so -—
AMY GOODMAN: For listeners and viewers who aren’t familiar with your case, explain exactly what happened. The date was March 5?
GIULIANA SGRENA: Four.
AMY GOODMAN: Four. March 4, exactly a month to the day that you were abducted, February 4.
GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes. Exactly, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: The Italian intelligence agency, Calipari — is that how you pronounce it, Calipari?
GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — comes to work on your release.
GIULIANA SGRENA: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: He secures it. You’re in the car together. You two are in the back seat, and the driver is in the front seat?
GIULIANA SGRENA: No. Nobody was in the — when we left from the place where I was released, yes, Calipari was beside me, and the driver that was another agent of the Italian intelligence, it was driving, it was in front.
AMY GOODMAN: How fast were you going? Did you feel that you were in danger? You were on a dangerous road, is that right, to Baghdad International Airport?
GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes, of course. And we wanted to arrive to the airport. But, anyway, in the moment in which the car went more fast, it was going at 65 kilometers per hour. This is the result of the inquiry of the verified Italian expert named by the judges to verify the speed of the car, because they could calculate through the bullet, the sequence and through other things, the speed of the car.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, the U.S. military says that your car was signaled to slow down, that warning shots were fired, but that they were ignored.
GIULIANA SGRENA: No. No, we have not seen any warning, because the patrol was not on the street. The patrol was outside the street, behind a curb. And we have not seen any warnings, because if not we could be stopped, there was no problem. But we have seen no warnings. And when the light arrived to us, immediately with the light arrived the bullets.
AMY GOODMAN: And Nicola Calipari laid down on top of you or fell down on top of you after he was shot?
GIULIANA SGRENA: No. He pushed me down between the two seats and to protect me, he was up to me.
AMY GOODMAN: On top of you.
GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes. And then they continued to shoot, and —
AMY GOODMAN: How many shots fired?
GIULIANA SGRENA: Against the car, they found 58 bullets, and 57 were against the passengers of the car. Only one, the last one, was against the engine of the car. That’s why the Italian judges, they will put on trial Lozano for voluntarily killing, because if he wanted to stop the car, he has to shoot to the engines before or to the wheels of the car, and not on the majority, the great majority of the bullets against the passengers.
AMY GOODMAN: You speak English. When the car stopped, when the agent was dead, Calipari, you two were injured, the driver and you. What were the soldiers saying? Did they know who you were? Did you warn in advance that you were coming on this road?
GIULIANA SGRENA: I think that they knew. I am not sure if this patrol knew, because all the communication between the patrol and the commander were destroyed just after what happened. And so, it was —
AMY GOODMAN: Repeat that.
GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes. All the communication between the patrol and the division commander were destroyed, because when the two Italians that took part of the military commission, they went to Baghdad and they asked for the communication, because there was some differences between the testifying of the different soldiers in the patrol. But they said —
AMY GOODMAN: How could the documents be destroyed? I mean, this is an extremely high-level case. You have Calipari, who is personally close to the Italian prime minister at the time, Berlusconi, who is a close Bush ally — there was a massive celebration prepared for your return to Italy.
GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: How could these documents have been destroyed?
GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes. That is one of the point that we can’t understand, why they destroyed. Because there was something to hide and to cancel. Because, if not, why they destroyed all the communication just after the shooting, after the killing of Calipari. This is very strange, isn’t it?
AMY GOODMAN: So what would you like to see happen right now?
GIULIANA SGRENA: I want to know what happened that night in Baghdad. So I would like to have some people testifying what happened. I know that is very difficult, because if there is no cooperation of the United States authorities, it’s very difficult to know what happened. But maybe there is some people that have news about that and some news we had during this period, because there was, for example, one that was before an agent of the national security of United States that said that they knew what happened in Baghdad, who were in the car, because they always control — they are always controlling all the communication between satellite telephones and cell telephones, and so, because they are in a situation of war. So in war, they use to control all the communication, because, of course, there can be some communication interesting for the occupying forces. So they knew, and I think that they knew, because why to destroy total communication if there is nothing to hidden?
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you quickly about another kidnapping: the kidnapping of the Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo in Afghanistan right now. What is the situation?
GIULIANA SGRENA: The situation is that he was kidnapped by the military structure of Taliban.
AMY GOODMAN: How long has he been held?
GIULIANA SGRENA: Ten days. It was Sunday, Sunday before —
AMY GOODMAN: Do you know him?
GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes, I know him, because we were together in Iraq. And he’s a friend, he’s not only a colleague. He’s a friend. And now, they say, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that there is a communication with the kidnappers through a humanitarian —
AMY GOODMAN: Gino Strada, Emergency.
GIULIANA SGRENA: And they think that probably because —
AMY GOODMAN: The doctor who sets up emergency rooms in conflict zones.
GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes, because they have an hospital in Lashkargah, that is the capital of Helmand, that is the province where Daniele was kidnapped. So, for them, it’s easy to be in touch with the people of this area. So it’s the most probably think that will be Emergency, the connection.
AMY GOODMAN: You have been covering Afghanistan. You have been to Afghanistan. What is the most significant thing to understand about what is happening in Afghanistan today?
GIULIANA SGRENA: I think that is to understand that there is no peace, no democracy in Afghanistan now, because when started the war in Iraq, Afghanistan was presented as a model to follow. There was working, and so we can follow this model. But the model was not a good model, because in the south we have still Taliban, or not only Taliban because now we call Taliban all the people that are against the government of Karzai. But they are very hostile to the occupation forces, because the majority of the attacks are in the south of the country.
And in the north and in Kabul, in power are still the people, the jihadists that did the war before against the Soviet Union when it was occupying Afghanistan. And then, after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces, they started to fight each other, and they destroyed Kabul. And these people that are military people with militias, armed, they are controlling the north of Iraq piece by piece. And they have also the control with the Taliban of the drugs traffic. So they have a lot of money, and the people, they have no money at all. And all the economy, half of the economy of Afghanistan is based on the drug traffic, the opium traffic.
AMY GOODMAN: Giuliana Sgrena, tell us about this mass protest in Italy on February 19. Over 100,000 people took to the streets of Vicenza, protesting the plan to double the size of the U.S. military base. Over 2,700 U.S. forces are already based there. Critics of the plan say the plan will be used as a staging post for the U.S. military to attack Iraq and Afghanistan. I think it was February 17, where the protest took place.
GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes. There was a big protest. It was not only of the antiwar movement, but this time along with the antiwar movement there was also a lot of people living there in Vicenza, because the base that we have now is already a very big base that is entering in the town. So it’s not out of the town. It’s in the town. And the town is a very historical place with a lot of monuments of Palladio. So if they double the base, it will be something unacceptable for the people.
And overall, in some cases, you know, when there is a military base, they say we’ll have some business and so, but it’s not the case of Vicenza, because the U.S. military, they bring all what they need from outside, even the Coca-Cola. And so people — and there is a lot of pollution because of the flights of the plane that do a lot of exercise. So there is a lot of pollution.
But for the antiwar movement, it’s a question of principle, because if we withdraw the troops from Iraq, we can’t offer the platform to the United States to strike Iraq. It’s a contradiction. So for the antiwar movement, it’s a very important question, the one of Vicenza, because it’s really situated in a place from where you can leave to go and strike Middle East, all Middle East, and particularly Iraq and Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about another case, where Italian prosecutors are asking for extradition of more than two dozen Italian agents — rather, U.S. CIA agents involved with the kidnapping of Abu Omar off the streets of Milan. He says he was taken to Egypt, he was tortured there. He has just come out and spoken about his experience.
GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: How much is there an awareness of this in Italy? And talk about this case.
GIULIANA SGRENA: About this case, there are a lot of people say that they know this story, because it was a story that was important also for the development of the Italian Intelligence Service, because we discovered that some agents were linked to the U.S.A. intelligence, and others they were not, so there was a lot of discussion inside Italy about this case of Abu Omar.
AMY GOODMAN: And the head of Italian intelligence was forced to step down around this.
GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes, yes, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, but we will continue this discussion tonight in New York at Judson Church at 7:00, and I look forward to speaking with you there.