Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Sgrena/Calipari Report: A Juvenile Accounting by the Italians

A hard-hitting opinion piece in yesterday's La Repubblica by Giuseppe D'Avanzo informs us the Italian report, while claiming to refute the findings of the US investigators, is nothing but a whitewash. The “infantile” and “capricious” report was “a cross between a traffic cop’s diary and billed time for a ministerial bureaucrat's input.”

In fact, Italy’s investigating team should not have gone Baghdad to listen to horseshit about highway cones. The team’s brief should have focused on what the US military knew and when did they know it concerning the hostage release and the operations of Italian intelligence on the scene. Whether by redaction or collusion, the report enables a sleight of hand by Berlusconi.

p.s. As a footnote, I glanced over the US version of the report and noted that minutes after the shooting, an individual named Silberstein, qualified to make official death reports, emerged out of nowhere to examine the deceased Calipari.

LET’S BEGIN with the tail end of this report which purports to be – and which was announced to be – a refutation and a report of counter-findings. An analysis and a verification which would not only demonstrate but assign responsibility to the US patrol, that on the night of March 4th, killed Nicola Calipari. The last 67 lines of the report contain four clear, concise conclusions.
  1. The assertions by Mrs. Sgrena and by the driver of the Toyota Corolla are to be considered as in corresponding to the reality of the facts.-->So, Giuliana Sgrena and Major Carpani, behind the wheel of the Toyota, are not lying. “Their reconstruction is coherent and plausible.”
  2. The Italian members of the Commission (Ambassador Ragaglini and General Campregher) did not find any elements to suggest that the actions and events leading up to the tragedy were deliberate.-->The Americans, in other words, did not do it on purpose.
  3. It is likely that tension was heightened due to the duration, assignment and the location- and probably even to inexperience and stress--and may well have contributed to the instinctive and undisciplined reactions on the part of the soldiers.-->Here we have a likelihood. It is neither true nor false, but may be somewhat likely or even remotely possible, that some of the soldiers, through fatigue or through immaturity, lost control of themselves that night.
  4. There are no established rules for a blocking position, that is, a rolling checkpoint, and therefore it is “problematic to come to an accurate identification, attribution or assignment of responsibility in the death of Nicola Calipari.”
If you start byreading the report from the bottom, you’ll understand that the Italian government has not a shred of proof, nor even the will or the opportunity, to accuse anyone. The Italian government agrees that it was a tragic accident. Homicide. No one gets tossed into the dock. It is a conclusion which, if you exclude the statements of Major Carpani and Mrs. Sgrena, is based on the findings of the US investigation team and so close to a carbon copy that we wonder why Palazzo Chigi was determined not to sign off on the Commission’s work.

The reason for the refusal to sign can be traced back--not to Iraq nor to the kidnapping of Giuliana Sgrena nor to the night of her release nor to shifts in our policy towards Washington--but to the political debate in Italy on the suitability of Berlusconi to govern. The government must save face. It gambled by hoisting the banner of “national dignity” and “patriotic pride” and aroused the unexpected support of the radical left. At the same time, the head of government cannot really break with the Americans. He is over a barrel. Does he accept the conclusions of the Americans and distribute a reticent report crammed with word games? Does he stick to the fact-woven plot or adhere to the will-o’-the-wisps of propaganda? And the facts do not offer him a real possibility of forcing a foul on Uncle Sam. If you are compelled to write words down on paper in black and white, then you cannot resort to the poison and the toxic quaff distributed to public opinion these days as information.

It’s appropriate here to briefly mention what was not bundled into the revelations by “intelligence sources” or “sources close to the government” over the last few weeks. There’s no baloney about Nicola Calipari being tailed during his mission in Baghdad. Dissolving back into the venomous fog from which it came is the rumor that a car followed the Toyota Corolla for an hour through the streets of Baghdad. There is no mention of the aircraft said to have shadowed the Italians along the airport highway. There is no trace of the communication in which SISMI informed the CIA station chief of the mission to bring home our reporter. (This would have been a key piece of evidence). Rome, SISMI, the government, the Defense Ministry- we don’t know who - informed US Command that Nicola Calipari would be landing in Baghdad to free our reporter. The leaks suggested a “yes” or an ambiguous “yes, maybe”. The CIA knew. For sure, the newspaper accounts told us, Captain Green, Aide-de-Camp to General Marioli, knew 20 to 25 minutes before the shooting. Unfortunately it has come out that General Marioli told Capt. Green that Calipari and Sgrena would be arriving at the airport but not to pass that information on to anyone.

Neither do we see the theory that the man who pulled the trigger was not a member of the 69th Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard, but a mercenary working for Blackwater Security as security escort to Ambassador Negroponte. All the manufactured bagatelle larded with the usual deliberate disinformation which has governed the war on terrorism sagged like an empty airbag when challenged by entry into official documentation. What remains, written down in black and white--if I may be so bold as to suggest--is a cross between a traffic cop’s diary and billed time for a ministerial bureaucrat's input.

What is a blocking position (BP), anyway? The bureaucrat insists that a BP is not “codified”: it is not covered by military manuals or available in Field Standard Operating Procedures. There is no information on how a BP is composed, organized or managed. Obviously, the bureaucrat must acknowledge that the “blocking position” is a term commonly used in US military jargon to mean one of many duties which may be assigned to a Traffic Control Point. Having established that rolling checkpoints do exist in the US Army, the bureaucrat hands his hat to the traffic cop. How is a blocking position organized? The Italians claim that they can explain it—forget about what happened in Nassiriya. You are required “to provide signs in the local language and in English indicating the presence of checkpoint and the requirement to stop. The signs must be posted at a distance of at least 200 to 400 meters before the checkpoint…steel hedgehogs are needed…reflective cones for canalizing traffic, chemical light sticks illuminating obstacles placed in the road, night vision equipment, concertina wire and caution tape, traffic wands to direct oncoming cars….” Taking a look at what is in the counter-report, “police traffic control” takes top billing.

“The scene of the incident was not preserved after the shooting, despite the fact that the company commander and the soldier in charge of the blocking vehicle were both policemen in civilian life—a police sergeant and a patrol officer.” What follows is extremely embarrassing because it seems that the report author or authors wish to treat Calipari’s death as if it were a road accident fatality along the Rome-Naples superhighway. It is beyond doubt that the gathering of forensic evidence along an Italian highway is possible day or night, but the Italian team (or whoever redacted their work) seems to think that the same is true on a highway “of death” where every mile there are on average twelve attacks a day. Together with the absence of any information given to the Americans on Calipari’s mission, the report proposes a scenario reassembled by a bad mechanic.

“Indubitably, it is certain and corroborated that US command was informed of the arrival of Calipari". Well, we should hope so. They gave him a badge, a pistol and walked him to the car rental counter. But did they know about his mission? No and this is underscored in the infantile and capricious report, “possible knowledge of the SISMI mission would not have had any bearing on the unfolding of events. Short and sweet. Even if the US soldiers manning the roadblock knew of the purpose of Nicola Calipari’ mission, nothing would have changed. They still would have bumped off Nicola. These are answers so embarrassing and contrived and so little reassuring that we wonder if it were worth the trouble of writing a counter-report of in the first place. Does Berlusconi really think that using these arguments he can pass himself off as the champion of “national dignity”?


Blogger Traveller said...

Well, I think much depends on what Italian voters make of this, don't you? Will "cordiality" reign or will they get good and mad? I was so proud of my Spanish buddies when they drew a line in the sand and told the US to stand back. I have no idea why a cross-border solidarity movement hasn't begun -- one which Americans who agree that Bush's America has gone 'way too far -- could support and join. The anger in Britain is growing, too.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

PW, I can tell you that I've seen five or six editorials arguing for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Italian troops are really resentful of the hit on Major-General Calipari and they _will_ get even if I know the Italians.

They weren't born yesterday and as military men themselves, they know exactly what was up.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Mark from Ireland said...

I've served alongside Italian soldiers - there's a "comic opera" stereotype of them in the English speaking world. It's a very wrong stereotype indeed. They're as tough as an old boot planted hard into your kneecap when they think they're fighting for something worth fighting for.

Wouldn't surprise me at all if they do decide to get even. Also (Nur this is apropos your comment on a deal being done that'll stitch up SISMI) I doubt that even Berlusconi is dim enough to really tick them off. They don't get angry they do get even.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Mark. I have a friend who was an Alpini Captain in the Italian military when it deployed to Beirut during the Reagan years. He said they brought extra body bags just in case, which the US had to borrow after the Marine barracks bombing. He related this with much head shaking.

I have read the narratives of the Italian Alpini's debacle in WWII along the Russian front. Whew, they were loyal, cohesive and tough while taking the worst of Russian weather and tanks. Only 6 of one division made it home.

3:54 PM  

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