ITALIAN JOURNALIST SHOT BY AMERICAN SOLDIERS IN IRAQ
TELLS HER STORY FOR THE FIRST TIME ON AMERICAN TELEVISION
-- ON "60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY"
Journalist Accuses U.S. Military Of Lying About Shooting At Baghdad Checkpoint
Journalist and former hostage Guiliana Sgrena says that the American military is lying about the shooting at a security checkpoint in Iraq that wounded her and killed an Italian intelligence officer. Days before the Pentagon is expected to release the results of its investigation into what happened at the checkpoint, Sgrena tells correspondent Scott Pelley that, just minutes after her release by insurgents, American soldiers in Baghdad opened fire on her car without any warning. Pelley's interview with Sgrena will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY April 13, 2005 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Italian intelligence officer Nicola Caliperi negotiated Sgrena's release from Iraqi insurgents one month after she was kidnapped in Baghdad. On the day she was freed, her captors blindfolded Sgrena and drove her around before leaving her alone in a parked car. The next voice Sgrena heard was that of Caliperi. "The voice was so friendly, really, that all my terror disappeared," she says. Caliperi led her to his car and they, along with another Italian intelligence agent, headed for the Baghdad airport. "�[Caliperi] told me, 'I sit beside you, so you will be more comfortable, so you will�not be afraid,'" says Sgrena. "After a few minutes, he told me, '�Now you are free.'"
But they weren't free. American soldiers opened fire on Sgrena's car less than a mile from the Baghdad airport. "Seven hundred meters more and we are in the airport and we will be safe�and in the same moment, [American soldiers] started the shooting," says Sgrena, who tells Pelley that, contrary to claims by the U.S. Army, her car was not warned by hand signals, arm signals, flashing white lights or warning shots. Caliperi used his body to shield Sgrena from the bullets; she was hit in the shoulder and he was killed.
A former U.S. Marine captain who led an elite combat unit in Iraq says that encounters at military checkpoints are often confusing, sometimes with tragic results. "The hand and arm signals are hard to see -- they're hard to interpret," says Nathaniel Fick. "The warning shots are difficult to see...almost impossible to hear in a speeding car at a long distance and the warning shot into the engine block is�Hollywood fantasy most of the time."
After struggling with the Pentagon's checkpoint procedures, Fick tells Pelley that he improvised a solution -- he stole a traffic sign. "At every checkpoint we set up after that, we put the stop sign down the road near the wire and it was hugely successful," he says. Fick tells Pelley he had to make quick decisions about cars that were speeding toward his checkpoints. "You've got four seconds," he says. "They're snap judgments�You make these decisions and you hope at the end that you've made more right than wrong." Fick remembers his Marines killed one driver who seemed to be charging their checkpoint. "We determined that there were no bombs in the car, no weapons in the car and the other men in the car said that they didn't know why they'd charged at us," says Fick. "They were scared and disoriented and confused�.In hindsight, was it a mistake? I think it was�."
The U.S. Army declined requests for an interview, citing its ongoing investigation. The checkpoint shooting has had a profound impact on relations between the U.S. and Italy. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is now seeking a way to withdraw all Italian military forces from the American-led coalition in Iraq.
Jeff Fager is the executive producer of 60 MINUTES WEDNESDAY and Shawn Efran and Sabina Castelfranco are the producers of this report.