Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Sgrena Sets the Record Straight


/ fatal / accidents? /
Let me say this in advance: my initial reaction to the shooting of Giuliana Sgrena by US troops, was not that it was an assassination attempt. I thought that this was an example of the absolute desperation (and viciousness) with which US troops are facing any perceived threat, no matter how remote: Shoot first, ask questions later. Indeed, had a similar "accident" happened with some unfortunate Iraqi family, you can pretty much bet that it would be a non-event (unless captured in gory detail). It seems natural that the occupation forces can shoot anyone they please with near-total impunity.

That, I thought, was the real scandal behind the shooting. I couldn't believe that the US would (at any level of decision making) actually proceed to murder such a high-profile western journalist and knowingly cripple Il Duce II's already problematic presence in Iraq against most of Italian public opinion.

Why would the US government (or even the US military, if one accepts that you have rogue American commanders in Iraq setting their own agenda), want to alienate one of the few actual allies that the US has in this criminal mess?

Sure, the republican dumbfuckery that seems to be the voice of the Bush administration's psychoanalytic Id in these matters, was quick to jump in and suggest all sorts of conspiracy theories (my favorite was that she staged her own abduction - it requires colossal voluntary suspension of higher brain functions, or complete cluelessness to suggest as much), or just screamed ACCIDENT!!! ACCIDENT!!! as loud as they could, before the corpse of Nicola Calipari was even cold, in a way that made one want to counter their preposterous claims with exactly what they were anxious to exorcise. But, really, the motive was lacking and without some very serious evidence to the contrary, it was hard to believe that she was in any way deliberately targeted. It made no sense: Whatever she had from Fallujah was either already known and dismissed anyway by the reality-impaired thuggery and their faithful following or unlikely to top the gruesomeness that already has emerged from that particular war-crime scene. The idea that this was punishment of the Italians for paying a ransom was disproportionate: a deliberate shooting of a high ranking intelligence officer would certainly jeopardize Italy's involvement in general - forget about ransom paying...

Well, apart form the fact that Berlusconi himself has stated that the Americans had been notified about the vehicle carrying Calipari and the driver of the shot vehicle has confirmed that there was communication with their superiors, or the issue of US occupation forces barring Italian policemen from examining the destroyed vehicle we also have from the title link, Sgrena telling Naomi Klein in an interview something that sort of complicates matters even further:

"This is treated as a fairly common and understandable incident that there would be a shooting like this on that road," Klein says. "I was on that road myself, and it is a really treacherous place with explosions going off all the time and a lot of checkpoints. What Giuliana told me that I had not realized before is that she wasn't on that road at all."

According to Klein, when Calipari was killed and Sgrena wounded, they were on a secured road that can only be accessed through the heavily-fortified Green Zone and is reserved exclusively for top foreign embassy and US officials. "It's a completely separate road, actually a Saddam-era road, it would seem, that allowed his vehicles to pass directly from the airport to his palace," says Klein. "And now that is the secured route between the U.S. military base at the airport and the U.S. controlled Green Zone and the U.S. embassy."

"It was a VIP road, for embassy people, not for normal people," Sgrena told Klein. "I was only able to be on that road because I was with people from the Italian embassy"...
..."It was not a checkpoint. Nobody asked us to stop," Sgrena told Klein "All the streets we were on were USA controlled so we thought they knew we were going through. They didn't try to stop us, they just shot us. They have a way to signal us to stop but they didn't give us any signals to stop and they were at least 10 meters off the street to the side."

Sgrena also says that the US soldiers fired at them from behind, which of course contradicts the claim that the soldiers fired in self-defense. "Part of what we're hearing is that the U.S. soldiers opened fire on their car, because they didn't know who they were, and they were afraid," says Klein. "The fear, of course, is that their car could have blown up or that the soldiers might come under attack themselves. And what Giuliana Sgrena really stressed with me was that the bullet that injured her so badly came from behind, entered through the back of the car. And the only person who was not severely injured in the car was the driver, and she said that this is because the shots weren't coming from the front..."" [emphasis mine]


Well, I'm sure that there is a good explanation for all this, but the least conspiratorial theory I can come up with right now is that bored soldiers simply shoot at any car they feel like shooting, never mind whether its a threat or not, knowing that they will get away with murder.

Anyway: It's slowly dawning on me that this reality-based thinking of mine might not be the appropriate means of figuring out the current US leadership's motivations... Any other ideas?

6 comments:

evan jones said...

reality-based thinking.
which reality?
The Bush administration has its own reality that requires the construction of a consistent 'information' and the obliteration of inconsistent information.
Embedded journalists; attempted destruction or marginalisation of independent sources, etc.
The attempted assassination of Sgrena is entirely compatible with attempted conmprehensive information control. They stuffed up.
The notion that we already know everything about Fallujah is nonsense.
Once one gets over the notion that the good guys are all on our side then the prospect of alternative realities is self-evident.

Anonymous said...

reality-based thinking.
which reality?
The Bush administration has its own reality that requires the construction of a consistent 'information' and the obliteration of inconsistent information.
Embedded journalists; attempted destruction or marginalisation of independent sources, etc.
The attempted assassination of Sgrena is entirely compatible with attempted conmprehensive information control. They stuffed up.
The notion that we already know everything about Fallujah is nonsense.
Once one gets over the notion that the good guys are all on our side then the prospect of alternative realities is self-evident.

Anonymous said...

The Sgrena episode is still baffling; none of the various explanations is particularly satisfying.

That said, it is a little amusing watching (some of) the European left suddenly discovering that Berlusconi's word is good.

(Thought experiment: suppose Berlusconi's people /hadn't/ notified the Americans. Would he be saying so, now? Or would he be lying his ass off?

(Well, let's see... when was the last time Il Cavaliere screwed up and then publicly admitted it? Okay, how many times has he screwed up, lied about it, been found out, and then lied about that?)

It's a minor point. And I'm not seizing on it to discredit one version or another. I'm just saying... If anyone should have perspective here, it's you Euro-lefties. Come on, guys. It's /Berlusconi/.

Meanwhile: there are a couple of posts I never got around to responding to... see my own blog for why not. But, briefly:

1) It has become a standard trope of the European left that socialism never succeeded in the US because it was brutally beaten to death by Pinkertons and whatnot. This is, alas, simply incorrect. The reasons for the failure of socialism in North America (not just the US) are complex, but the severity of capitalist response to it is a very minor factor.

2) There's a lot to be said about Chavez' Venezuela but, as is often the case, it's one detail that niggles: the "Bolivaran Revolution" and Chavez' deliberate identification with Simon Bolivar.

Have you ever read a good biography of Bolivar? He was a cruel, arrogant man-on-a-horse who was fascinated by personal glory. Once he was in charge, he quickly evolved into an erratic megalomaniac. South American historians have done their best with him (while downplaying more attractive characters like Bernardo O'Higgins and San Martin) because he was, like Napoleon, good theater. But he was a deeply unpleasant man -- narcissisticly self-obsessed, carelessly cruel --and no more a revolutionary than Napoleon himself.

So, Bolivaran Revolution... uh huh.

3) I can't remember offhand whether our Cyprus bet ended in March or May of this year.


Doug M.

talos said...

Doug: the bet was up March 1st. I lost, I was way too optimistic. I'm trying to find some time to post about what's happening in Cyprus, and officially concede the bet.
Re: Berlusconi: It is indeed possible that he lied about contacting the US authorities. Yet, keeping in mind that the claim did much to damage any remaining support the Iraq involvement had in Italy, surely he could have blamed a minor functionary for "failing" to inform the "allies" and use him as a scapegoat. Yet for reasons mentioned elsewhere, it doesn't matter: it's improbable that the US wasn't following and intercepting the developments on the ground as far as Sgrena's abduction is concerned. So, while I agree about the untrustworthiness of Berluconi, I find little to suggest that he wouldn't have come up with less damaging lies if he had to.
...Skipping the huge issue of the American labour movement....
to Bolivar: surely you realize that Chavez's is a reference to the mythical (and popular) persona of Bolivar and not to the actual character of the man, which I doubt that Chavez even knows about.

evan: I'm not sure we disagree much: realism in the old fashioned geopolitical sense would require not to piss off your few remaining allies. This administration has, as you say, a different concept of reality.

About Fallujah: while there might be more information coming out of the rape of Fallujah (an atrocity of Congo-level depravity), I find it hard to believe that:
a. Dubya's supporters would be affected by anything Sgrena would have to say.
b. It would top, atrocity-wise, an already documented and monstrously atrocious act. The cold-blooded execution of a wounded insurgent, caught live on camera, didn't seem to really bother too many in Bush country.

Διπλωματικός Λαθρεπιβάτης said...

The Sgrena incident is indeed one of the most puzzling. Although we may not learn the truth for some time yet, in my personal experience I cannot count out the simple explanation of US soldiers just shooting whatever moves for the fun of it or because they are simply scared.

I was for a few days in Bahgdad a little after the invasion and I have first hand experience of how the US soldiers react -even at the time that the main thrust of the resistance movement had not started yet.

I was stopped on gunpoint because I was filming, as US soldiers were already very nervous and I was released after explanations were given (being a journalist).

The driver of the Humvee I was in, one night, was just 18 years old -as he joked to me he "didn't have much of a life" out of the army... an 18 year old boy, who started life in "middle America", went through army training, sat in anticipation in Kuwait, fought his way to Baghdad and eventually was trying to police and keep himself safe in an extremely unpredictable city. I wouldn't be surprised if he or someone in his place just shot for fun or because he was scared. Whatever his personal responsibility, there is also lots to be answered for those who trained and sent him there and guided his actions. It was one of the very few times that I felt sort of sorry for the american troops too and not just for the people whose life they were knowingly or inadvertently destroying.

As far as information control is concerned, you don't need to take my word for how happy the US soldiers were for journalists to be embedded (in fact at some point they offered me the opportunity for another mission, themselves. Just have a look at the UK's Ministry of Defence report confirming that "commercial analysis of the print output... produced during the combat phase shows that 90% of embedded correspondents’ reporting was either positive or neutral, although their reporting inevitably lacked the broader context of the overall operation".

It's slowly dawning on me that this reality-based thinking of mine might not be the appropriate means of figuring out the current US leadership's motivations...You are probably right to an extent as american politics have been (and are too much now) working on a symbolic level apart from a "real" one (a look at the institution of the US president might give you an idea of what I mean). There is of course a very concrete and real level at which this policy is formed (corporations, lobbies, interest groups etc playing a big part).

As a bitter consolation, my friend talos, let me assure you, that I sometimes feel as helpless as you in reading the situation.

Anonymous said...

surely you realize that Chavez's is a reference to the mythical (and popular) persona of Bolivar and not to the actual character of the man, which I doubt that Chavez even knows about.




"Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez praised Zimbabwe's embattled President Robert Mugabe as a 'freedom fighter,' bestowing the visiting African leader with a replica of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar's sword.

'I give you a replica of liberator Simon Bolivar's sword,' Chavez said Thursday after the two leaders signed an energy co-operation agreement.

'For you, who like Bolivar, took up arms to liberate your people. For you, who like Bolivar, are and will always be a true freedom fighter,' Chavez said. 'He continues, alongside his people, to confront the pretensions of new imperialists.'

Maybe.


Doug M.