Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Italian hostage blasts US report


Italian hostage blasts US report

An Italian journalist who was held hostage in Iraq has criticised a US military report into the killing of the agent who helped secure her release.

Secret agent Nicola Calipari was shot by US forces as he escorted Giuliana Sgrena to Baghdad's airport.

US investigators are said to have found that the troops were "not culpable", in a report which Italy has not endorsed.

PM Silvio Berlusconi refused to comment on the report because he said the inquiry was not complete.

Mr Berlusconi apologised in a speech in front of the Italian parliament for what he called "an unfortunate leak" suggesting that the investigation into the shooting of Mr Calipari was completed.

He said contacts were continuing with US officials to try to reach agreement on what happened.

US military : Car approaches checkpoint at high speed
Troops attempt to tell driver to stop with arm signals, lights and warning shots
Soldiers shoot into engine
Italian government : Italy makes all necessary contacts with the US for safe
The driver stops immediately when a light flashes 10m away
At the same time, shots are fired into car for 10-15 seconds

Ms Sgrena described the conclusion of the leaked report as a "slap in the face" and urged the Italian government to react.

"The greatest disappointment would be if our authorities were to accept this insult without reacting," Ms Sgrena wrote in a front page editorial in her newspaper, Il Manifesto.

"All the words said about Calipari would turn into hypocrisy... and Nicola would have been our government's hero, just for one day."

Although Mr Berlusconi has been a staunch US ally in the conflict in Iraq, the war is very unpopular with the Italian people.

A report exonerating the soldiers involved in the shooting could prove inflammatory in Italy, and damaging to Mr Berlusconi.

Correspondents say attempts may be made to agree on a mutually acceptable version before the report is published.

Events unclear

Mr Calipari was hailed as a national hero after he was shot while trying to protect Ms Sgrena from gunfire.

Rome and Washington have differed over what led to the incident in March.

A US army official said on Monday that they still disagree over the speed at which the vehicle approached the checkpoint where the shooting occurred and how much communication there was between those in the car and the checkpoint guards.

"The United States is ready to release the report but Italy has more questions," the official said.

The US military said the car carrying Mr Calipari was speeding as it approached the temporary checkpoint in western Baghdad.

They said the soldiers used "hand and arm signals, flashing white lights and firing warning shots" to get the driver to stop.

However, Ms Sgrena, who was hurt in the incident, said the car had not been speeding and that there had been no warning before the troops opened fire.

'Feel terrible'

The US military said it had had no knowledge of the rescue mission, dismissing as "absurd" Ms Sgrena's suggestion the troops may have deliberately targeted her car.

Just after the incident, she said it was possible the soldiers had targeted her because Washington opposed the policy of negotiating with kidnappers.

"The soldiers were only complying with the standard operating procedures for those checkpoints, so therefore are not culpable to dereliction of duty [charges]," the US army official told Reuters news agency.

"Everybody feels terrible about it," he said.

The soldiers involved will reportedly face no disciplinary action.