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Giuliana Sgrena – The recently freed Italian hostage

As regular readers will have no doubt observed I do not often make comments about things in the news, but I’m going to make an exception with regard to the Giuliana Sgrena case.

Giuliana Sgrena you may remember is an Italian journalist who was taken hostage in Iraq by some group identified as being religious extremists. You may also have heard that after having been freed and while on her way to the airport with her liberators, mainly members of the Italian secret services, the car she was travelling in came under fire from the US troops manning a road block. The unfortunate outcome of the incident was the death of an Italian secret service agent and the wounding of Giuliana Sgrena, not to mention the resulting diplomatic incident which has blown up.

Various rumours concerning this shooting are now doing the rounds and the journalist herself has not remained quiet either as can be seen from the contents of this article. The Americans as saying that the whole thing was a ‘horrific accident’, but another of the rumours states that the US was out to get this journalist; maybe because of her opposition to the war in Iraq. The journalist was in fact, so it has been reported, told by her captors that the US was indeed after her.

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Two things have struck me. First, the story concerning the shooting goes that the troops shot because of the fact that the car carrying the recently freed hostage was travelling at high speed and refused to yield to various signals to slow down. This is plausible, seeing as Italian tactics for the transfer of important politicians and law enforcement operatives do seem to include driving at high speed. This is presumably a strategy based on the simple enough assumption that a moving target is harder to hit and that even if someone detonated a bomb under a car, by the time it went off, the vehicle would be several hundred metres up the road and out of harms way, theoretically. If this tactic had been employed on this occasion, then it could explain the misunderstanding and reaction of the US armed forces. You would have thought that someone would have informed the US forces about the imminent arrival of this car and its contents. Unless, somebody wanted to keep the transfer quiet for some reason.

Secondly, if indeed the US forces or CIA had been out to get this journalist then shooting at her as she approached a road block would not have been the most subtle way of achieving their ends. I mean, it would have been far easier to have planted a bomb in the journalists car and then laid the blame with some group or other in Iraq, or they could have simply shot her while she was going walkabout on the streets of Iraq and then said that the sniper was some terrorist or other. Both methods would have been much more effective and would have led to fewer diplomatic ructions.

Another ‘strong’ rumour regarding Italy’s methods for dealing with the hostage taking concerns the payment of ransoms. This approach is not popular with the US and neither, I suspect with the UK. These governments seem to have adopted a ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists’ policy and by and large they seem to stick to this. Whether the former or the latter methods are the best way to go is beyond the scope of my comments here. However, trying to shoot someone after they have been freed and in such an open fashion would not seem to be a particularly logical way of convincing Italy to stop paying off terrorists. As to the elimination of an embarrassing journalist, as I’ve already commented, there would have been other more subtle ways to have got this job done.

As is often the case in these situations good hard facts are hard to come by, and it is unlikely that us mere mortals will ever know the full truth.

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