Italy blames 'stressed' US soldiers over agent's death

Italian investigators have blamed US military authorities for failing to signal there was a checkpoint ahead on the Baghdad road where American soldiers killed an Italian agent, saying in a report that stress, inexperience and fatigue played a role in the shooting.

Italian investigators have blamed US military authorities for failing to signal there was a checkpoint ahead on the Baghdad road where American soldiers killed an Italian agent, saying in a report that stress, inexperience and fatigue played a role in the shooting.

The investigators found no evidence, however, that the March 4 killing of intelligence agent Nicola Calipari was deliberate. The Italians also did not object to many of the findings in a separate American report made public on Saturday.

But they refused to back the US conclusion that the soldiers bore no blame for Calipari’s death, and the two sides issued separate reports after a joint investigation.

The Italians contended that the whole truth about the shooting would never emerge.

The Italian report, written by a diplomat and a general assigned to Italy’s secret services and released yesterday, said no measures were taken by US officials to preserve the scene of the shooting.

It said the car carrying Sgrena and the agents was removed before its position was marked, for example. The soldiers’ vehicles were also moved.

It also noted that an Italian general was denied access to the shooting site immediately after the killing and that duty logs were destroyed after the soldiers’ shifts.

That assessment could fuel calls by Italians, who largely opposed the war in Iraq, for conservative premier Silvio Berlusconi to end the deployment of the country’s own troops there.

Calipari was hailed as a hero in Italy.

Less than an hour before the shooting, the veteran SISMI secret services agent had secured the release of an Italian hostage, journalist Giuliana Sgrena.

The two were in the back seat of the Toyota Corolla and another intelligence agent was driving them to the airport for a flight to Rome when they were shot at.

Sgrena and the driver survived their wounds, and some of their testimony clashed with the US military version of the shooting, including over whether there was adequate warning and the speed of the car.

The US military report said the American soldiers gave enough warning, beaming a light and firing warning shots as the car approached.

The Italians concluded that “it is likely that the state of tension stemming from the conditions of time, circumstances and place, as well as possibly some degree of inexperience and stress might have led some soldiers to instinctive and little controlled reactions.

“On the other hand, the lack of formal references to clear rules that could have and should have been observed renders problematic precise pinpointing, attribution and weighting of specific individual responsibility.”

The US report, in a portion that was blacked out in the version made public, said the checkpoint had been the site of 13 attacks between November 1, 2004, and early March 2005.

It also said that two soldiers from the same unit had been killed at another checkpoint by an improvised explosive device two nights before the Calipari shooting.

The 52-page Italian report was posted on the Italian secret services website. There was no immediate comment from Berlusconi, a staunch backer of the US administration.

Berlusconi is due to address parliament about the case on Thursday.

The Pentagon did not immediately comment. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, speaking before the report was issued, said Italy and the US still had “excellent” relations.

“I think it’s important to remember that we and the Italians did conduct a joint investigation, that we reached agreement on many, many points of fact and the circumstances of the very tragic events in which Mr Calipari lost his life,” Boucher said.

From the first hours after the shooting, both sides clashed over whether there was adequate warning before soldiers opened fire, on the speed of the car and whether US authorities knew of Calipari’s mission.

The Americans insisted the Corolla was going fast enough to alarm the soldiers, but the Italians insisted the car was not speeding on the dark, rain-slicked road.

However, both reports agreed that about 20 minutes before the shooting, an Italian officer who was the coalition forces’ second-in-command in Iraq confirmed to his American aide that the flurry of activity along the airport road had something to do with the Italian journalist.

The Italian then told the American that it was best that no one should know. The American interpreted that statement as an order not to divulge that information.

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