The Case of Giuliana Sgrena

Hazards of reporting on the U.S. occupation of Iraq

by W.T. Whitney, Jr.


On 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).

Additional information:

  1. Il Manifesto, the paper Giuliana Sgrena works for, is described as a “communist paper.”
  2. 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).
  3. 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 circles.

Yo, un marine asesino de civiles

(That’s me, a marine, a murderer of civilians)

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, North Carolina. 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?

Twelve.

Had you fought in a war before?

Never.

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 happen?

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 life.

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 after that?

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 Standard.]

Outrage as U.S. soldiers kill hostage rescue hero

Bush promises Italian leader a full investigation

by Philip Willan Rome


The Italian 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.

The shooting 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 Berlusconi.

“The hardest 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.

Berlusconi, a 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.

Berlusconi 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.

Italian 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.

Enzo Bianco, 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 [2005] 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.

Italian 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.