- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 19, 2005

“Fuoco amico” is the Italian term for friendly fire. Those words appeared often in Italian newspapers last week as Rome buried a hero, Nicola Calipari, the Italian intelligence agent shot to death by American troops at an Iraqi checkpoint after he freed an Italian hostage earlier this month.

News accounts reported the tragic death increased anger toward America and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for sending 3,000 troops to Iraq. Vacationing in Rome last week, I decided to go to the location of Calipari’s funeral. As an American, I wanted to thank Calipari for his sacrifice, and I wanted to hear what Italians had to say.

As I arrived at the Piazza della Repubblica, I saw thousands of people who, like me, walked to the square in silence and alone, then found a place to stand and quietly thank a man they had never met. There were no chants, no shouts, only polite applause when the casket arrived, when they saw Calipari’s family and when the entourage drove away.

I experienced the quietest two hours I have ever spent in a crowd of thousands.

When it was over, I asked an American journalist what folks in the crowd were telling her. They are really angry at America, she told me. I was surprised. In the two hours I stood there, I never once heard Italians muttering about President Bush, “Estati Uniti, Americani.” I saw not one political sign. In fact, I saw only one sign, written by a woman who saluted Calipari as “nobile” and “valoroso” and placed him among the angels.

Several times, I overheard Italians use the word “journalista,” though my Italian wasn’t good enough to figure out what they said about my profession.

The most relevant “journalista” wasn’t there. Giuliana Sgrena, who became a hostage in Iraq as she covered what she called “that dirty war” for the communist daily Il Manifesto, was in an Italian hospital recovering from a shrapnel wound.

Be it noted, I saw only three copies of Il Manifesto at the piazza. This was not a gathering of Sgrena groupies — though Miss Sgrena had spent the weekend posturing as Calipari’s champion. She boasted she told Calipari’s widow she would get to the truth of what happened. The truth.

As soon as she returned from Iraq, Miss Sgrena penned a piece for Il Manifesto on the incident — “La mia verita,” or in English, “my truth” — thus confirming my rule to never trust anyone who claims ownership of The Truth with a capital T. (Or V.)

Miss Sgrena wrote that her captors warned her to beware of the Americans, who “don’t want you to go back.” In a later interview, Miss Sgrena said she could not rule out she was the U.S. troops’ real target.

Miss Sgrena also wrote she spent her early days in captivity “simply furious” and confronting her kidnappers because they snatched her even though she opposed the war. “It’s easy to kidnap a weak woman like me. Why don’t you try with the American military?”

A Defense Department source later told The Washington Times: “We had [counter-terrorism] people looking for her. They were willing to risk their lives, and all you hear from her is criticism of American troops.”

With Calipari’s corpse still warm, Miss Sgrena couldn’t find it in herself to criticize the men whose acts led to Calipari’s death — other than to berate their choice of hostages and note that “sometimes they made fun of me.” Her Truth takes no notice of the brutality of Iraq’s terrorists, of their many victims. If America isn’t to blame, then it is not an outrage.

Nor did she seem bothered that her kidnappers may have emerged millions richer. Eight million dollars, $10 million or “niente,” as the Italian government says? — a nice reward that can only encourage more kidnappings.

You’ve heard the reports of how Italians are skeptical of the initial U.S. version of events. I, too, have trouble believing the checkpoint guards gave sufficient warning to the Italians, who oddly chose to ignore them and speed toward the checkpoint. Besides, no matter what the details turn out to be, there can be no satisfactory explanation for “fuoco amico.”

Italians also are skeptical of Giuliana Sgrena. Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini dismissed her talk of being the target of an ambush as “groundless,” while other officials suggested she was mistaken due to the stress of being kidnapped.

I think an Eric Hoffer quote says it best: “People who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the boot that kicks them.” Worse, when she licked her captors’ boots, she called it Truth.

Clarification: Debra Saunders’ March 7 column (Commentary, Page A16) on Border Patrol funding may have left the misimpression Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican, supports administration-proposed cuts. He does not.

Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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