- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

International furor over Giuliana Sgrena, an Italian communist writer who claims American troops in Iraq may have deliberately shot at her car after she was released by kidnappers, misses the bigger scandal.

The scandal is not that an antiwar propagandist has accused the U.S. of targeting journalists. That’s par for the course. (Yes, hello again, Eason Jordan.)

The scandal is not that mainstream media sympathizers are blaming our military and dredging up every last shooting accident along the treacherous routes to Baghdad Airport. Again, no surprise here.

The scandal is that Italy, our reputed ally in the global War on Terror, negotiated with Miss Sgrena’s Islamist kidnappers and may have forked over a massive ransom to cutthroats for her.

Where is the uproar over this Islamist insurgency subsidy plan?

Iraqi politician Younadem Kana told Belgian state TV he had “nonofficial” information Italy paid the terrorists $1 million in tribute. The Washington Times, citing the Italian newspaper La Stampa, pinned the ransom figure at $6 million. Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported the Italian government gave $10 million to $13.4 million to free Miss Sgrena.

Whatever the final tally, it’s a whopping bounty that will undoubtedly come in handy for cash-hungry killers in need of spiffy new rocket-propelled grenade launchers, AK-47s, mortars, landmines, components for vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, and recruitment fees. (To put this windfall in perspective, bear in mind that the September 11, 2001, plot was a $500,000 drop in the bucket for Osama bin Laden.)

Or maybe Italian advocates of this terrorist get-rich-quick scheme think the thugs will spend their money on Prada handbags and Versace couture.

Both the Italian government and members of the Iraq Islamic Army who abducted Miss Sgrena vehemently deny money was exchanged. Yet, even as his government officially rebuffed reports of a Sgrena ransom arrangement, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was quoted by the newspaper Il Messaggero conceding: “We have to rethink our strategy in dealing with kidnappings.” A little late for a do-over, don’t you think?

According to the New York Post, Lucia Annunziata, former president of Italian state television RAI, said government sources estimate Italy has paid kidnappers nearly $15 million for hostages in the past year alone. Indeed, last September, Gustavo Selva, chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, confirmed two Italian aid workers — who praised their kidnappers as “resisters” — were freed after the government paid at least $1 million to their Iraqi captors.

The admission came after heated denials by top government officials. Mr. Selva, auditioning Italy for a spot in the Axis of Weasels pantheon, mused at the time: “In principle, we shouldn’t give in to blackmail, but this time we had to, although it’s a dangerous path to take because, obviously, it could encourage others to take hostages, either for political reasons or for criminal reasons.” How do you say “No duh” in Italian?

To be fair to Italy, which continues to keep a 3,000-troop presence in Iraq despite enormous antiwar pressure, its reported payoffs to terrorists are dwarfed by the mollycoddlers in Manila and Malaysia, who have fed Abu Sayyaf’s head-chopping kidnappers tens of millions in tribute over the past several years — money now reportedly being channeled to worldwide al Qaeda operations.

Yet one would expect a country that once embraced the defiance of Fabrizio Quattrochi — the Italian security guard taken hostage in Iraq last year who stoically told his assassins, “I’m going to show you how an Italian dies” — to resist the Quisling impulse with every fiber of its collective being.

The consequences of capitulation are bloody obvious. When you allow your people to be used as terrorist collection plates, the thugs will keep coming back for more. Might as well hang a sign around the neck of every Italian in Iraq: Buon appetito.

Michelle Malkin is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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