Interview with Giuliana Sgrena
Did you expect to be freed the day of your release?
No. I just knew it was Friday. When I was kidnapped, I began to keep a calendar. If my kidnappers gave me any information, it was always on a Saturday. That was the day of the week when they filmed my video and had me write a handwritten letter proving I was alive. But I did notice that my two "guardians", whom I always saw without a face mask, were joking between themselves. That struck me as odd. After lunch, around 3 in the afternoon, I asked them why they were in such a good mood: So, am I staying or am I going? For days they had been telling me I would be released. One of them clammed up, but other told me to relax--it was not going to be today.
Then what happened?
In the afternoon, as usual, I went back to my room. For the first time, I noticed Western clothing there--a flannel shirt and pants. I tense up. Congratulations! You're going to Rome. Hurry up and get dressed!
Were you told anything that seemed threatening to you?
Yes. In the house where I was staying, one of my guardians handed me a pair of sunglasses wrapped in gauze and asked, Are you feeling sure of yourself? You're not nervous, are you? This is going to be difficult. If something goes wrong, we could all get killed. If we're stopped, don't act as if you are an American. I asked why they didn't give me Arab clothing because that's what le due Simone were wearing. All they said was, "No".
Did you then leave the house?
Not yet. First, they gave me back my purse. That's it. Two hundred of the one thousand dollars I was carrying were missing as well as a couple of notebooks. But I found all my documents, including my passport. I also found the three official passes issued to me for elections coverage, one of which was issued by the Americans. They kept my satellite phone and my digital camera. When we stepped outside, it seemed to me that it was dark.
How many people were with you?
I'm certain my usual two guardians were there plus another person at the wheel. The cellphone they had rang continuously. I heard them talking in excited tones. I thought the conversations were with the car in front of us.
How long did the trip last?
At most 20 mintues. Then I heard the tires splash through a puddle and we came to a halt. One of them tells me not to move, then they leave. I heard the sound of passing cars and noticed headlights. I began to understand that we were parked on a busy street. I heard a helicopter overhead. That made me think of Mogadiscio, when I was interviewing a Somali warlord as US helicopters hovered overhead. I told myself, I hope they won't get us this time, either. Some cars pulled up alongside, then they left. I couldn't have been waiting more than a half an hour.
Is that when Nicola Calipari arrived?
No. The car door opened on my side but it was just one of my guardians. Ten more minutes they told me, then they left. I began counting from 1 to 60 to guage a minute. I started again. After ten counts, the door on the other side of the car opened. It was Nicola Calipari.
What did he say to you?
Don't be afraid, you've been rescued. He walked around the car, opened my door and pulled me out. Trust me...now follow me. He led me a few steps away. I'll be sitting on the seat right next to you, he told me. We left in a car. After a few minutes, he told me to remove the gauze from my sunglasses. In the front seat there was another person--the driver.
Was yours the only car, or was there another?
I think we were alone, but I cannot say for certain that there wasn't another car.
How fast were you going?
Not very fast--about 30 or 35 MPH.
Do you remember the sequence of phone calls placed from the car?
The first call was made by the driver. He composed a number. I had the feeling he was talking to someone in Baghdad. We're on our way and there are three of us. He repeated that several times.
And Calipari, what about him?
He was looking around for his phone and couldn't find it because he had forgotten his glasses. The driver then turned on the overhead light.
Did the overhead light stay on?
Right until the end. They had cellphones as well as a satellite phone. Calipari became angry because one of the phones didn't work, but I don't remember which one that was. They had several phone conversations in Italian.
There's a lot of polemic over the phone calls.
I never said any of the calls were in English. In fact, I'm certain all of the calls were in Italian.
Were you able to recognize where you were?
Yes, because I recognized the road. It was an alternate route to the airport, one which goes through the American-controlled Green Zone and which bypasses populated areas.
Did you encounter any checkpoints?
None. We were never stopped. Of course, I was euphoric and I didn't notice any soldiers along the road. But I certainly would have remembered a checkpoint.
By this time, you had to be close to the airport.
At a certain point the driver spoke to Nicola. We are 700 meters away, almost inside the airport. We made it! I remember thinking that our safety was relative.
Why did the driver say, "We made it"? One version from the Pentagon says you were going 100 MPH.
That's absurd. A few moments after the driver said this, he slowed down because there was an elbow curve to the right. He slowed down considerably. As he was finishing the curve, there was gunfire. From the right and from behind. Bursts, not single shots. It's not true that they fired at the engine block or from in front of the car.
The Americans say they only shot in the air after shining a spotlight on you.
No. All the car windows shattered at the same time. I'm certain of one thing: there was no firing in the air. I heard the shooting and the car windows shattered into a thousand fragments. There was no spotlight, not even a tiny little light. It was dark as I looked around.
Then what happened?
The driver said, They're attacking us, they're attacking us! as he picked up his cellphone and stopped the car. I didn't hear Calipari at all. I had the sensation he was on top of me. I spoke to him. All I heard was a moan. I then understood that he was dying.
What did you see from the car?
An armored vehicle, which was stationary on the side of the road, on the right. From above, a light was shining on us. A soldier opened the door on the right side. When he saw us, I had the feeling that he felt mortified. He swore. I remember that he said, "oh, shit". Even when the others got there, 7 or 8 from behind the armored vehicle, it seemed to me that they were ashamed.
You had previously spoken of a "hail of fire" and picking up bullets by the handful. It seems that things really weren't that way.
I saw those bullets. I don't know if there were really three or four hundred, but the interior of the car was filled with them. I remember wondering how in the world I was still alive with all those slugs around me.
What about the driver?
I saw him on the ground and he was talking on the phone. I heard him shouting into the phone: Nicola is dead! She's not next to me but I can see that she has her eyes open.
At the hospital you were taken to--did they know who you were?
They asked me a lot of questions right away, but I did not note any surprise. A long while afterwards, while I was on a gurney, an American came up and asked me, You're the Italian reporter who was kidnapped, right?
There is a lot of mystery surrounding the necklace the kidnappers gave you. What happened to it?
I had it on. A nurse took it off, saying she'd give it back to me. The next morning I asked her if she would get it for me. She said she had it, but then she didn't give it to me. Then we left.