An Escalation of Force

Two articles published this morning provide additional information about the deadly incident involving Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena last Friday on the Baghdad airport road. According to Rowan Scarborough in the Washington Times,

Italian security forces failed to make arrangements for safe passage out of Iraq for a freed Italian reporter, whose car was fired on by U.S. troops, killing intelligence agent Nicola Calipari who brokered the reporter’s release, according to an internal Pentagon memo.

The memo says checkpoint soldiers are trained to deal with erratic speeding vehicles whose drivers ignored warnings — a profile that matches the Army’s version of events in Friday night’s shooting.


According to the division, the patrol attempted to warn the driver to stop by hand and arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots in front of the car.

The details of the warnings given to the Italian vehicle before the final shots had not been released previously, and are still classified — the US military does not want to reveal the exact procedures required under its ROE, for fear that the terrorists will learn to game the system or otherwise gain advantage from it.

Writing in Newsday, Craig Gordon provides a similar account:

The U.S. soldiers at the checkpoint say they did what they were supposed to do.

The hand and arm signals, the flashing white lights and the warning shots — all were steps designed to halt a vehicle like the one carrying a freed Italian journalist Friday night in Iraq.

But the vehicle kept coming and, within seconds, they took aim again, this time shooting into the engine block to stop it. Instead, they wounded journalist Giuliana Sgrena and killed her rescuer, an Italian intelligence agent, who died instantly from a bullet to the head.


“I hate to say it, but there’s not much time to say, you stop or you don’t. And if you don’t, I have to put you in the category of enemy, and I have to try to kill you,” a senior defense official said Monday.

The principle behind the rules is that an “escalation of force” should give an innocent driver ample warning to stop — first through signs posted outside the checkpoint, then physical and verbal warnings and finally warning shots.

Based on the military account, the response of the soldiers was regrettable, but understandable, and carried out exactly according to the procedures designed to protect our military and the Iraqis from deadly car bombs. No one wants innocent people to die, but neither does anyone want to see more headlines such as “Car Bomb Kills 40 On Airport Road”.

The question that comes to mind is: Why did the Pentagon and the Administration allow the story to be defined by the Italian communist press and the major media for four days? An Italian journalist with an anti-American agenda was ransomed; the Italian government eschewed an American security escort and failed to notify the US military of what it was planning; the Italians approached the checkpoint at speed in a non-descript unmarked pickup truck. Nothing about the story, when released in its entirety, reflects badly on the United States military. Yet the sensationalist European press was allowed to control the coverage over the weekend.

Why only an internal Pentagon memo? Yes, certainly, the classified procedures had to remain obscure, but surely the story could have been released prominently with such details redacted.

Over and over again the Bush administration fails to make the case for its actions against the Great Islamic Jihad in a compelling — or even competent — fashion. Any blogger in his pajamas could take the same information and do a better job.