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Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Virgil Johnson

From what I have read Ms. Sgrena was told by her captors that she was going to be set free. However, they had warned her, in her own words "the Amricans don't want you to go back."

At first she had thought that those words of warning were "superfluous and ideological," but that at the moment of the attack they (the words) had aquired "the flavor of the bitterest of truths, at this time I cannot tell you the rest."

From what I can see she has real gritty stuff, from the bloodbath that went on in Fallujah in the words of the refugees. She claims that her work is a witness, first hand, of what became of Iraq regardless of the elections. Whether it is the stuff that govenments kill for remains to be seen.

Virgil Johnson

In my opinion, before you get carried away by the heat of war argument, I suggest you weigh the death toll of "non-embedded" journalists in Iraq.

jim hitchcock

It's clear that the message given to Ms. Sgrena by her captors was just basic propaganda that were given weight by the way things played out. The terrorist could have had no knowledge of the way things played out.

Are these checkpoints set up nightly at different locations to keep the terrorist guessing? If so, isn't there a better way of warning motorists that they are approaching a checkpoint, as well as provided better security for our troops that that would necessitate?

Virgil Johnson

Sometimes things just happen....


sometimes not...

Marc Cooper

Virgil.. I am not carried away. I have also been an unembedded journalist in war zones so I know what the dangers are. In El Salvador in 1982 a Chilean reporter standing no more than 8 feet from me was shot through the throat and killed when we were reporting on a street gun battle.
The number of reporters who have been killed in Iraq is very high. Too high. That is clearly a result of a jumpy US military which cant distinguish between friend and foe. That's unfortunate enough. To go from there to an assumption that reporters are targeted is about three bridges too far.

Hitchcock: I dont know the answer to your question. I do agree that whatever Sgrena's captors told her is useless.. why she is quoting them is a but beyond me.. these are the same people who had her on video crying and pleading for her life under threat of beheading.

Marc Cooper

Well Virgil, with that post about HST "being suicided" I think you pretty nuch shot your own credibilty. I also dont mind saying that I find tales of the WTC downing to be an "inside job" to be rather repugnant.

John Moore (Useful Fools)

Marc, thanks for the balanced viewpoint. I find it interesting that the US press doesn't mention her political affiliation (Communist - not unusual in Italy) and seems to hold to the fiction that she is merely reporting the truth with no agenda (just as they pretend to do the same thing themselves).

We have only her word that her captors warned her about the Americans. We have only her word on all of this.

One is forced to wonder if there are ways to do checkpoints that will result in fewer deaths. The terrible toll on families, and frankly on those who kill them, is a sad but intended side effect of the guerilla suicide bombing attacks. How would you like to be 19 and discover you just killed a father, mother and a kid or two?

Could the military do better? I should think so, but we are far from the scene. Are they going to do better? I would hope so. Certainly somebody should ask and investigate whether there are better ways so fewer inappropriate shootings take place.

Sadly, the death of the security official is being used as political fodder within Italy. Thank you for pre-empting that here.

Virgil johnson


This is no attempt to belittle what you said above, but some journalists agree with your view, and some don't - in the sense that they believe there is some targeting going on:


You cannot see the rabid control of media coming from US sources in Iraq, and not believe there is malice in regard to any jounrnalism which does not tow the line. Yet, at the same time I know there are probably many accidents. But you have far more experience in that area than me.

Michael Balter

If anyone can come up with real evidence that journalists are being targeted by the U.S. in Iraq, by all means they should pursue it and publish it. In the meantime, it is becoming easier to understand why there is no real anti-war movement: Too many Leftists chasing too many fantasies on too many computer screens.

Sean Guillory

Mr. Cooper,

Forgive the length of this post. I don’t make a habit of writing and I rarely read the comments to your blog.

I’ve always found your opinions, even when I’ve disagreed with them, worth reading. So much so, I was an avid listener to your afternoon show on KPFK (and since you were driven out, the quality of the programming has suffered); and since I’ve been here in Russia for the last few months, I’ve taken to reading your blog everyday. I appreciate your efforts to remain rational in the most irrational times; and your fending off the many conspiracy laced thinking that, unfortunately, inhabits the minds of many well-intentioned leftists. At the same time, I think, we should not let that strive for rationality cause us to fall into legalistic debates when legality itself has so wholly been perverted.

Take for example, the glaring irony of your current blog post when juxtaposed to the previous one. In the latter we have you agreeing that the Bush administration has a policy of torture; that it has no problem whisking innocent people to countries who are willing to be the US government’s torturers. In the greatest of ironies, one of these countries is Syria. In addition to the policy of torture, the Bush administration is seeking ways, through legal means mind you, to detain American citizens indefinitely without charges under the vague label of “enemy combatant”, as they’ve done with Jose Padilla. As I spend my days here in Russia looking at archival documents of the Young Communist League in the 1920s, I can’t help seeing parallels between current events and the Soviet’s attempts to label people “alien elements” and of course “enemies of the people.” I don’t mean to conflate our current system with theirs. It was different time under different historical and ideological circumstances. However, it can prove to be instructive. People should be reminded that these categories were applied within the boundaries of Soviet law. Stalin and his cronies however didn’t bother with the farce of legal appeals in a court system (though there were other legalistic mechanisms people could and did take advantage of, sometimes with success). My point is, though this extreme example of the Soviet Union, that to make legalistic arguments when the courts are so firmly in the hands of the State (and when the courts rule against the State, it just ignores them) is to make the discussion of human rights and Enlightenment values purely academic.

Which brings me to your most recent post. When juxtaposed with your blog on torture I can’t help wonder why debate the she said, the soldiers said points of the checkpoint shooting of Giuliana Sgrena? Isn’t this what always happens when one of these incidents occurs? The debates about the unintentionally or intentionality of the American soldiers becomes the focus of discussion; a discussion which usually hovers around the legalistic question of blame. Is there enough evidence of intentionality? Was there warnings given to the approaching vehicle? All of these questions turn the incident into more a question of legality and procedure rather than the fact that people were injured, or worse, killed. Sometimes there are investigations and sometimes blame is applied, yet the incidents continue to occur. After all it is a war zone and given the methods in which it is fought, humanity has obviously escaped the consciousnesses of both sides. But, if we must apply legality to the situation then all actions in Iraq by American military personnel and their proxies are illegal because the whole damn fucking war is illegal. My point being, when we deliberate over the various incidents of this illegal war, we should not work from a premise that there is any legality in operation. In addition, we should certainly not chop, isolate, fragment, and individualize incidents from the over arching context of the war in particular and the Bush Administration in general. So in my view, whether Giuliana Sgrena, her bodyguards and negotiator were attacked intentionally or not has no importance. In fact, the question is a rather mystifying one because it serves to give us the belief that there is some semblance of legality in operation.

It is my hope if that legality based on human rights and Enlightenment values ever return, it will return with a vengeance. My hope is that every incident like Giuliana Sgrena’s and the countless of incidents against Iraqis will be investigated, flied, and numbered for use in a trial against Bush and his cronies. When America loses this war, which I believe it surely will (in fact perhaps it already has), I hope the American people are brave enough to allay the shock to their national consciousness with an trial to hold these American fascists to a legality that will wipe their fascistic legality into the dustbin of history.

If people thought the Vietnam syndrome was a weight on the national consciousness, the Iraq syndrome is going to tear America at its political, cultural, and economic seams. I doubt our society has seen such polarization since the Civil War.

Thank you Mr. Cooper for your solid journalism. No matter how much at times it makes me cringe, it is always thought provoking and thus I continue reading.

From Riazan, Russia.


Jim R

Like GM, I hope the least that will come out of this is an investigation by our military how this accident happened and what might be done to limit accidents.

My understanding is this checkpoint was a temporary (impromptu?) one, not a standard checkpoint on the way to the airport, and that the Italians had already passed through one or two standard checkpoints on the way to the airport they knew existed.

Why the American forces were not made aware of the freeing of Ms. Sgrena, but journalists with cameras at the ready at the airport were, needs answering by the Italians.

too many steves

Checkpoints are moved around as a matter of normal procedure lest they become targets for planned assaults. My understanding, though, is that they are very hard to miss, especially at night, given the number of troops, Coalition & Iraqi, and equipment present.

Another aspect of this story that I find interesting/troubling is that the Italians apparently paid (as much as $6m has been reported) for her release. Because of this there was unusual secrecy surrounding the operation to secure her release.

A thorough investigation is absolutely necessary.

Keith, Indianapolis

Good editorial, Marc. My heart goes out to the family of the Italian agent who died.

As to Giuliana Sgrena, does "Stockholm Syndrome" ring any bells?

And if the US military wanted her dead, she and everyone else in that car would be dead.

Occums Razor applies here folks. The soldiers fired on a car in the middle of the night (after curfew) that wasn't stopping. The fact that the car passed through other checkpoints means nothing.

As of yet, I've only heard Giulianas story. Have the other people in the car given statements and do they match? It is likely that they're accounts will not match perfectly.

And the military will be investigating this, although they probably wont find anything "out of the ordinary" with this incident.

Keith, Indianapolis

The fact that someone actually paid ransom to these terrorists is the most disturbing part for me.

Do they not think this puts everyone in Iraq in more jeaporday?

The terrorists wont stop kidnapping people if you pay them ransom. The ransom will then be used for more death and destruction in Iraq.

Keith, Indianapolis

Another article about the Airport Road...


Bad things happen on the airport road — all the time. Many people who travel it on a regular basis have a personal horror story, a moment when they thought, "This might be it." Everyone else has a friend who has had one.

Since the war, the airport road has not been any ordinary highway. It is a battleground; a place without rules or certainties, a place where there are no guarantees of safety for civilians or soldiers of any nationality.

For the ordinary traveler, there are two hazards: the wary, short-fused American troops who have lost dozens of their comrades to roadside bombs and ambushes, and the insurgents who target the U.S. military convoys that ply the route.

It is a road to be approached with caution, with a plan, with wariness of every other car and every American convoy.

About five hours before Sgrena was shot, I was on the same road, traveling in the opposite direction from the airport into Baghdad with what has become routine unease. Rather than looking at the scenery, I stared straight ahead and felt a faint nausea.

Anthony Nassar

Marc, may I ask how credible you consider the claim that Hunter S. Thompson was *claiming* to have evidence of a conspiracy re: WTC? I'm not asking what you think of HST's claim, only if you believe that he was so claiming.


Giuliana Sgrena has absolutely no credibility with her wild claims about U.S. motives and actions--based solely upon what she thinks and without offering any substantiaion. If anyone wants to believe her, it's because they already hate the U.S. In her case, her affiliation with communists should be enough to make anyone suspect that her comments are purely anti-U.S. propaganda--unless they think communism is centrist.

What did she have to say about the terrorists who kidnapped her, threatened to cut off her head, used her for their propaganda, and released her only upon being paid millions of dollars? I haven't heard her say one thing bad about them. Her first instinct was to criticize America! Unbelievable. One might excuse her actions as the Stockholm Syndrome, but her political agenda and background indicate political reasons instead. And, apparently she has succeeded in turning Italians against us.

She and the media in general have let her story against the U.S. become the focus rather than the actions of the other side--which kidnaps and decaptitates innocent people. Yep. No bias or agenda there.

Here's more information that's coming out:
--The "Washington Times" reports that the Italian security force did not tell others what it was doing and failed to request American security. It was a poorly planned and botched effort.
--The Pentagon reports that 500 American soldiers have been killed along the roads in Iraq. I think that I would be very careful approaching troops sensing the danger that they feel. You don't mess with nervous people holding guns--whether they are friendly or not.
--A lot of cars passed through that checkpoint that night, but only the Italians received fire. This, certainly, suggests that they were doing something out of the ordinary.
--The Italians claimed that their car wasn't speeding, but later the the story was that the driver floored it when he saw the soldiers.

This is supposed to be our fault?!

The White House properly responded calling her statments "absurd." Marc, to his credit, sees it the same way. I may be sitting far away in the bleachers, but I can make the call that her pitch is wild and outside.


I don't think it's confounding, Marc. Each of these horrible but anecdotal stories serve as mirrors that all of us can then project our own prejudices upon. They become propaganda, for both sides. To that extent, I agree with Sean. Illegal or legal, it's a war and it's gruesome.

The millions that Berlusconi pays to kidnappers ensures that more Italian journalists and aide workers will be kidnapped. Sgrena was freed because her hated PM paid for her freedom and the others before her. I'd like to hear what she has to say about that.

John Moore (Useful Fools)

I would like to see articles from trusted sources about these checkpoints, and an investigation of this particular case is needed no matter what - for international relations if nothing else.

Keith, can you add more detail? Also, can you tell us about yourself (as much as your feel you can reveal) to give us a context for your reporting? That the Airport Road is very dangerous is well known. Why people travel it is a question I have. Was this checkpoint on Airport Road?

One wonders if the Italian agent had any in-theater expertise, or was sent there with little or no experience and a suitcase full of money.

Keith also raises the issue of paying kidnappers. This is a serious problem. It funds more terrorism, and encourages kidnapping by bandits. The alternative is death of a hostage. The line between the two is often blurred in any case.

Is kidnapping a place for the KGB Beirut approach?

Keith, Indianapolis

Another article on checkpoints and the rules of engagement. Pretty balanced.

The Gray Zone Between War and Peace


A quarter century ago, I learned in my military ethics class that soldiers have a duty to minimize non-combatant casualties even at the risk of their own lives. Soldiers can't, for example, simply burn down a village with dozens of civilians in it to avoid the risk of getting soldiers killed taking out a sniper. In conventional combat, though, we at least have a situation where identifying the enemy is relatively easy: they wear a different uniform. In counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism, that's seldom the case. One rather has to presume that a car coming to a checkpoint that isn't stopping is hostile.

The presumption of which Dauber writes shifts depending on the circumstances. At, for example, a police roadblock in the United States, we would expect the rules of engagement to require the officers' shooting at the last moment, after having taken heroic measures to get the car to stop otherwise. In a pure war zone, we would expect the soldiers to shoot at the slightest hint of danger. In post-election Iraq, our forces are in a gray zone between war and peace.

For both humanitarian and practical reasons, we need to take all reasonable measures to make the roadblocks more obvious, especially at night. That should include, immediately, a serious media campaign within Iraq to make sure people know what the procedures are. While keeping the rules of engagement secret likely adds some small measure of safety for our forces, since this knowledge would allow the terrorists to know how far they can go before getting shot, this advantage is far outweighed by having legitimate innocents confused.

Beyond that, though, I expect the ROE to be set to maximize the safety of our soldiers. If you're in Iraq and come to a checkpoint manned by uniformed soldiers, you stop. That much should be obvious in any language.

Marc Cooper

Thanks Sean for such a thoughtful comment fron Russia. Please continue to join us.

Anthony: Im allergic to conspiracy theories. period.

Even for those of us worry that our military isn't showing enough concern for the lives of jounalists should approach this skeptically. I just can't imagine the US Government ordering a hit on such a high-profile escapee. Nor can I imagine the US Army attacking her with regular uniformed soldiers and bungling the job so terribly.

I get the basic idea that paying for the release of hostages encourages kidnapping, but these days the kidnapping seems to go on regardless.

According to Doug Ireland, one of the agents corroborated Guliana's story.

Mavis Beacon

Last post belonged to me.


"I find it interesting that the US press doesn't mention her political affiliation (Communist - not unusual in Italy) and seems to hold to the fiction that she is merely reporting the truth with no agenda (just as they pretend to do the same thing themselves)."

JM - Do you really read the press ? Because Il Manifesto has been identified as "Communist" and/or "left-wing daily" quite clearly in the papers I read (the New York Times and SF Chronicle - both very liberal by your lights.) Maybe you are just reading papers that don't tell you much of anything in detail - which is true of most dailies in the U.S. I'm appalled when I spend time visiting family in Springfield MO - the local paper barely has news of any sort. This, of course, is the true face of the "MSM" across the U.S. - near-empty journalism, not the nonsense about liberal conspiracies.

"Why the American forces were not made aware of the freeing of Ms. Sgrena, but journalists with cameras at the ready at the airport were, needs answering by the Italians." According to at least some accounts - including that of the pro-Bush Berlusconi government - the Americans were well aware of her release - so perhaps they're the one's who need to come up with some answers. Of course, we can always blame the victims. (Woody's Washington Times "news" report, incidentally, is a Pentagon memo - doesn't mean it couldn't be true, but it's not what I would call "objective" reporting. Typical Moonie Times approach to news...official government information passed along as the facts with no counter-reporting. The Gannon school of journalism. And they complain about the "liberal" media!) As to Woody's question, "Is this our fault?", the answer is a pretty obvious "yes". Most everything that's happening in Iraq these days is in a very real sense "our fault" because we decided to take full, de facto responsibility for the country when we invaded. You can't kick down the door, take over and - two years down the road - complain that you're being treated unfairly by the inhabitants or percieved as a bully by observers. Price of "doing business"...

I'm with Marc in finding it unimaginable that this was any kind of deliberate targeting - but it's another indication of sloppiness and incompetence in the way some basic stuff is being handled. The amount of stuff that has to be simply shrugged off as the cost of doing business when you invade countries is piling up. (I would suggest that anyone who still isn't convinced that the Pentagon neo-con faction launched this war in a state of nearly total cluelessness read the in-depth report on the armoring debacle in yesterday's New York Times, incidentally. Shocking...if liberals had subjected our troops to that kind of slow-motion strategic and bureaucratic screwup, the right-wing would be calling for their heads and labeling them traitors.)

Also, I would hope that the huge demonstrations in Lebanon yesterday that Hezbollah pulled off - larger than the anti-Syrian - are giving pause to folks wedded to the "regime change" euphemism for touting the efficacy of simply installing new political systems at gunpoint across the Middle East. The appointment of John Bolton to the U.N. makes me worry that there are still folks with influence in this administration as far off the deep end as Tom Grey.
(Incidentally, I will state for the record - and at the risk of sounding as foolish, self-important and globally regal as the Hitchensesque blowhard faction - that I refuse to endorse "regime change". Regime change is one of the dumbest verbal sleights of hand I've ever heard. It means nothing. For what it's worth from the vantage point of my armchair, I'll support any people anywhere who are fighting for more human rights, more liberal "regimes" and more democracy. But "regime change" is an empty concept - in current parlance it's just a euphemism for what pleases the biggest kid on the block.)


It seems to me the only thing significant about the shooting is that the person shot at was Italian and a member of the Italian secret services. Otherwise it would be like the hundreds (or more, who really knows, cares?) of Iraqis who have died under similar circumstances, a matter to be ignored.

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