Checkpoint Death Stirs Safety Debate||
Thousands of people lined the streets of Rome Monday for the funeral procession
of Nicola Calipari, the Italian intelligence officer who was killed last week
by U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint while driving to the Baghdad airport with a hostage
he'd just freed.
Printer-friendly version: PDF
The highly publicized death raised questions about checkpoint safety and damaged
U.S. relations with Italy, which has 3,000 troops in Iraq.
and U.S. soldier accounts differ|
Giuliana Sgrena, a journalist for an anti-war communist paper who was held
hostage for a month in Iraq before Calipari masterminded her release, said the
U.S. troops purposefully targeted her because the military opposes Rome's practice
of negotiating with kidnappers. Italian newspapers have reported that between
$6 million to $8 million was handed over to the hostage takers. The Italian government
has neither denied nor confirmed any ransom.
understand what's an ambush, when you're driving on a road and there are people
who are supposed to be aware of the fact that you are coming and you find a tank
in front of you shooting hundreds of bullets against you without any warning,"
Sgrena said in a television interview.
White House officials called that
claim "absurd," and said that soldiers fired on the Italians' car after
it approached a checkpoint at high speeds and failed to heed signals to slow down.
The Army general commanding forces in
Iraq said he had no indication
that U.S. officials had been advised of the rescue mission beforehand.
Italian government said that while the incident was most likely a deadly mistake,
a full investigation was necessary to learn what happened, punish those responsible
and make sure that steps are taken to prevent similar occurrences.
Military checkpoints -- roadblocks where vehicles are screened for Iraqi insurgents
and wanted criminals -- have been dangerous places throughout the U.S. occupation.
Many U.S. soldiers have been killed by suicide bombers in approaching cars. An
independent group, iraqbodycount.org, reports that more than 170 innocent Iraqi
civilians also have been killed at checkpoints -- by bombers and by U.S. soldiers.
hearing about this case today because the victims were Italians. But Iraqis face
this type of violence on an almost -- I can't say daily but on a frequent basis,"
said Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch.
Military analysts say there
is a big safety difference between permanent checkpoints and mobile ones. Checkpoints
that have been in place for a while have a series of road signs in English and
in Arabic that alert drivers that a checkpoint approaching. There may also be
lights to signal drivers to stop.
Mobile checkpoints can be set up in
a matter of minutes, and rely on smaller signs and sometimes hand signals. The
checkpoint in question was set up 90 minutes before the deadly incident. It is
not yet clear what signs or signals were used to alert drivers, but a joint U.S.
and Italian investigation is expected to reach some conclusions in the next four
soldiers under pressure|
Abrahams says there is also a problem with not holding soldiers accountable
for civilian deaths.
"I'm afraid that we could say there is a kind
of climate of impunity in which soldiers feel like they can use lethal force without
coming under review. That puts civilians at risk," he said.
Paul Rieckhoff, a platoon commander who left the Army and now runs Operation Truth,
a nonprofit group that advocates on behalf of U.S. soldiers, disagrees.
He says scandals like the prison abuse at Abu Ghraib have heightened the level
of accountability in practice and also in the minds of every soldier.
"These are young kids who are in tremendously difficult areas. Many of them
are probably retrained in the last few months to do these jobs. So you've probably
got a young guy who is 19 years old on that checkpoint who may have been a truck
driver a few months ago," he said. "And the last thing he wants to do
is shoot some civilians."
Compiled by Leah Clapman for Online NewsHour Extra