The Case of Giuliana Sgrena
Hazards of reporting on
the U.S. occupation of Iraq
W.T. Whitney, Jr.
March 4, in Baghdad, U.S. soldiers shot the Italian
reporter Giuliana Sgrena.
They shot to kill, and succeeded with Italian Secret Service official Nicola Calipara, who had secured her
release from hostage takers and who was with her.
Witnesses accompanying the pair, who also were wounded,
told reporters March 5 that, contrary to U.S. allegations, the car in which
the four persons were riding was not speeding and that it had already stopped
at several checkpoints on its way to the airport. For more about the case of Giuliana Sgrena, see the article
below from The Observer (London).
- Il Manifesto, the
paper Giuliana Sgrena
works for, is described as a “communist paper.”
- These are the titles of Sgrena’s recent articles for Il Manifesto:
Ten Thousand Iraqis in U.S. and British Prisons (December 29, 2004);
Two Thousand Victims in Falluja (November 26, 2004);
Napalm Raid on Falluja? (November 23, 2004);
The Death Throes of Falluja
(November 13, 2004);
Stop the Massacre (November
12, 2004); Bombs and Tanks: Hell Breaks Loose in Falluja (November 9, 2004); Imminent Attack against Falluja (November 6, 2004); Flight from a Falluja Massacred by Bombs (October 21, 2004). And then there
are these two: Interview with Iraqi Women Tortured at Abu Graib (July 1, 2004); and UN–U.S. crimes in Iraq
(June 5, 2004).
- I learned about Il
Manifesto when I came across the interview reproduced below. That was
the day before Giuliana Sgrena
was released and shot. It’s an interview not calculated to win love and
friendship in official Washington
Yo, un marine asesino de civiles
(That’s me, a marine, a murderer of
This interview with former Marine Sergeant Jimmy Massey, by
Patrizio Lombroso, appeared
March 3, 2005, in
the Italian paper Il Manifesto. (See www.ilmanifesto.it.) The interview was also carried on the Spanish web site, www.rebelion.org, appearing on March 4, 2005. Because no version in English
was available, I translated it in order to make it more accessible.—WTW
“I’ve seen the horror that we were causing every day in Iraq.
I have been part of it. We are all just murderers.
“We kill innocent Iraqi civilians all the time. That’s the
way it is. I believe they need to withdraw all foreign military troops in Iraq
right away. And this is what I say about other American soldiers: to avoid
punishment or reprisals by the military, they don’t want to talk and admit that
killing terrorists is not our mission. It’s to kill innocent civilians.”
That’s the way the Il Manifesto
interview with Jimmy Massey went. He’s from the little town of Waynesville,
He has decided to draw back the veil of silence from the “noble mission” in Iraq.
Discharged from the Marine Corps for medical reasons, he has written a diary,
“Cowboys from Hell,” which will be published at the end of the summer.
What was your
rank in Iraq?
I was a sergeant with the Third Marine Battalion during the
invasion, in the spring of 2003.
How much time did you spend there?
From March 22 to May 15. Four months of hell. They had to send me back to the U.S.
because of a “stress syndrome.” This is the term in military jargon they use to
say that because of the horrors I’ve seen in the war, I’ve lost my mind.
Were you in the
Marines many years?
Had you fought in
a war before?
You are now a
member of the group Iraq
Veterans Against the War?
Yes, I went to Iraq initially with the idea that
weapons of mass destruction had to be eliminated. But soon my experience as a
Marine made me understand that the reality was something quite different. We
were “cowboy murderers.” We killed innocent civilians.
You admit having
killed innocent civilians?
Sure, and lots of them.
How did it
Near my base in the south of Baghdad, our whole platoon attacked a group
of civilians egaged in a
peaceful demonstration. Why? Because we
heard gunshots. It was a bloodbath. The pretense that those
civilians were engaged in “terrorist activities” didn’t work for me. That’s
what our military intelligence wanted us to believe. We killed more than 30
people. That was the first time I had to face up to the horror that my hands
were soiled with the blood of civilians. We laid down cluster bombs on them.
The people fled, and when they arrived at the control points we had set up with
armed convoys, I was supposed to shoot the ones that looked like they belonged
to “terrorist groups.” Those were the directions military intelligence gave us.
And that’s what
you all did?
We ended up massacring innocent civilians—men, women, and
children. When our platoon took over a radio station, we went ahead and put out
propaganda to the population urging them to go on with their daily routine,
keep the schools open, etc. But we knew that our orders were to “search and
destroy.” That meant carrying out armed assaults on schools, in hospitals,
anywhere that “terrorists” could hide. In reality these were traps set up by
military intelligence. We ourselves were supposed to overlook the taking of
civilian lives that were part of these missions.
You admit that
during your mission you carried out executions on innocent civilians?
Yes, my platoon also opened fire on civilians and I too
killed innocents. I too am an assassin.
How did you react
after these operations when you thought about the innocents you had killed?
For a while I kept on going. In my own mind I denied the
reality of me being a murderer and not a soldier who somehow could tell the
difference between who is right and who is wrong. Then, one day I woke up and
there was a young kid inside my head.
Miraculously, he had survived a massacre of passengers in
his car. He was shouting at me and asking: “Why did you kill my brother.” He
became an obsession. I physically lost control of my equilibrium and couldn’t
move or talk. I stayed in one place and looked all the time at the wall. I was
really scared, and lost.
What measures did
your superiors take?
For three weeks in Iraq, they filled me with antidepressants
and psychotropic drugs. That’s the emergency treatment for these cases of
“traumatic stress,” when the idea of refusing to kill takes over a soldier’s
Didn’t soldiers’ training
in the United States
make them usable by the Pentagon by turning them into units that were totally
violent and aggressive?
Yes, in the part called “boot camp” each one of us is
subjected to techniques of dehumanization and desensitization to violence. But
they never told me that this meant killing innocent civilians.
So, three weeks
with antidepressants in Iraq—and
They didn’t know what to do and sent me back. Now I am out
of the military, incapacitated and disabled, with an honorable discharge.
Are there others
in conditions like yours?
Many. And they are still at the front. They stuff them with antidepressants,
and after that they go back and are sent into combat again. It’s a problem that
has become quite worrisome for the military. One must not say anything about it
there in the military. In 2004, 31 marines took their own lives, and 85 made
suicide attempts. Most of those who wanted to die rather than keep on killing
are less than 25 years old, and 16% of them are under 20 years.
[For the information of our readers, we post the following
article, which appeared in The Observer (London) on Sunday, March 6, 2005. It
has been edited for style purposes by Labor
Outrage as U.S.
soldiers kill hostage rescue hero
Bush promises Italian leader a full investigation
by Philip Willan Rome
journalist kidnapped in Iraq
arrived back in Rome
yesterday as fury and confusion grew over the circumstances in which she was
shot and one of her rescuers was killed by American soldiers.
in Iraq on Friday evening,
which occurred as Giuliana Sgrena
was being driven to freedom after being released by her captors, was fueling
antiwar activists in Italy
and putting pressure on Prime Minister Silvio
moment was when I saw the person who had saved me die in my arms,” she said.
Her poignant words and weak, haggard appearance as she had to be helped from
the jet that brought her back from Baghdad
are fueling national rage.
staunch ally of the U.S. who
defied widespread public opposition to the Iraq war and sent 3,000 troops,
took the rare step of summoning U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler
to his office. He demanded that the U.S. “leave no stone unturned” in
investigating the incident. President George Bush called Berlusconi to promise
a full investigation.
Sgrena, 56, a journalist for
the Communist newspaper Il Manifesto, was hit in the shoulder when U.S. soldiers opened fire on the car she was
traveling in as it approached a checkpoint less than a mile from Baghdad airport. The
Italian secret service officer who had negotiated her release was killed as he
shielded her from the gunfire. Two of his colleagues were also hurt.
prides himself on his close personal friendship with President George Bush, but
he was grim-faced when he told reporters that someone would have to take
responsibility “for such a grave incident.”
The U.S. Army
claimed the Italians’ vehicle had been seen as a threat because it was traveling
at [high] speed and failed to stop at the checkpoint despite warning shots
being fired by the soldiers. A State Department official in Washington said the Italians had failed to
inform the military of Sgrena’s release.
reconstruction of the incident is significantly different. Sgrena
told colleagues the vehicle was not traveling fast and had already passed
several checkpoints on its way to the airport. The Americans shone a flashlight
at the car and then fired between 300 and 400 bullets at if from an armored
vehicle. Rather than calling immediately for assistance for the wounded
Italians, the soldiers’ first move was to confiscate their weapons and mobile
phones, and they were prevented from resuming contact with Rome for more than an hour.
the opposition head of the parliamentary committee that oversees Italy’s
secret services, described the American account as unbelievable. “They talk of
a car traveling at high speed, and that is not possible because there was heavy
rain in Baghdad
and you can’t travel at [high] speed on that road,” Bianco
said. “They speak of an order to stop, but we’re not sure that happened.”
Pier Scolari, Sgrena’s partner, who
flew to Baghdad
to collect her, put an even more sinister construction on the events,
suggesting in a television interview that Sgrena was
the victim of a deliberate ambush. “Giuliana may have
received information which led to the soldiers not wanting her to leave Iraq
alive,” he claimed.
Sgrena was kidnapped on February
4  as she interviewed refugees from Falluja
near a Baghdad
mosque. Two weeks later her captors issued a video of her weeping and pleading
for help, calling on all foreigners to leave Iraq. Italian journalists were
subsequently withdrawn from the city after intelligence warnings of a heightened
threat to their safety.
newspapers reported yesterday that Sgrena had been in
the hands of former Saddam loyalists and criminals, and that a ransom of
between 4 million and 5 million pounds had been paid for her release. The
military intelligence officer who lost his life, Nicola Calipari,
51, was hailed as a national hero.