Monday, March 07, 2005


Unfortunately, as an Italian, the occasions to be ashamed of one's fellow countrymen are far too common. The latest instance of this is Giuliana Sgrena, an Italian journalist for the communist daily Il Manifesto, who was kidnapped by insurgents in Iraq and wounded by American soldiers while being brought to Baghdad Airport after she was freed by the Italian secret service. An Italian officer was killed in this incident. See this for an overview.
On the one hand we have Sgrena, who after reaching Italy said:

"The fact that the Americans don't want negotiations to free the hostages is known," the 56-year-old journalist told Sky TG24 television by telephone, her voice hoarse and shaky. "The fact that they do everything to prevent the adoption of this practice to save the lives of people held hostage, everybody knows that. So I don't see why I should rule out that I could have been the target."

The situation is simply surreal. Sgrena and the driver of the car have claimed that all levels of the US command were informed of their movements. However it is now emerging that the US forces were not informed at all, for fear that they would block the payment of the ransom (see here and here).
At the same time Sgrena claims this same opposition of the US to freeing hostages as the proof that they targeted her.
Can you please make up your mind? Was the US opposed to the ransom or not and was it informed or not? You can't have it both ways! According to this thinking, if it was informed (which now seems unlikely) the US would have blocked the transaction, and would have had no need to target Sgrena. If it was not informed (as seems to be the case) they could not have targeted Sgrena, because targeting by definition implies intention - and US forces weren't even aware that she had been freed!
On the other hand we have the Italian government which allegedly payed millions of euros to free Sgrena from her hostages. There are even rumors that the money actually came from the personal fortune of the prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi (the richest man in Italy).
All this while Sgrena is declaring to all who will listen (see this absolutely incredible interview, in Italian, with Corriere della Sera, Italy's largest daily paper) that her kidnappers were not her enemies and that she was treated very well (apparently she even had access to cable news). I wonder how good a continental breakfast was served? Maybe a tour operator could take up the concept: "See Iraq the real way: be a hostage for two weeks!"
At any rate, what I don't understand is, if she was having so much fun with her insurgent buddies in Iraq, why did the Italian government go to such lengths to free her? (That's a rhetorical question: the answer obviously is that if the government had seemed less than keen to free her it would have suffered at the polls).
So in the end I guess this is a rant against Italian public opinion that encourages the government to act in an irrational and counterproductive way. I believe it goes without saying, and all rational people ought to recognize it: if you deal with the terrorists who kidnap people and demand something in return you are validating kidnapping as a means to an end. Kidnappers need to be hunted down and punished, not payed. If the insurgents knew that no government would ever even consider ceding to any demand in order to save a hostage there would be much less hostage-taking.
By the way, isn't it peculiar how these insurgents, with lofty ideas of freeing their suppressed nation from foreign occupation by kidnapping people, will forget about all that as soon as they are offered money? I suspect these may be just a few smart guys who have discovered an easy way to make a buck.

No comments: