- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

It’s still too early to know precisely why U.S. troops opened fire on the vehicle transporting Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, killing the Italian intelligence official who negotiated her release from her terrorist captors. Not only are conflicting accounts by Miss Sgrena, Italian intelligence and the U.S. military adding to the confusion, but political forces are being brought to bear on an unfortunate accident.

From her hospital bed, Miss Sgrena, a self-identified Communist, has helped fan anti-American sentiment within her own country and abroad by suggesting that the U.S. military targeted her for assassination. “The United States doesn’t approve of this [ransom] policy and so they try to stop it in any way possible,” she said. Later, she added, “If this happened because of a lack of information [as the U.S. military has said] or deliberately, I don’t know, but even if it was due to a lack of information, it is unacceptable” — a statement which doesn’t make much sense. The Washington Times reported yesterday that it is likely Italian agents withheld information about negotiating Miss Sgrena’s release.

Without any supporting evidence, Miss Sgrena’s assertion is more than a stretch; it’s absurd, as White House press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday. For instance, if the troops manning the roadblock had been trying to kill her, why did they immediately cease fire once they realized what they had done? Also, killing Miss Sgrena hardly advances U.S. interests in the region, the push for democracy or America’s relationship with Italy, so far a steadfast supporter in the war on terror.

But for the anti-American mindset, this is all consistent. Simmering in the background of this controversy is former CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan’s comments earlier this year that the U.S. military has targeted journalists in Iraq. For some, Miss Sgrena’s account vindicates Mr. Jordan’s unproven allegation, which cost him his job at CNN. It’s usually best to ignore these specious conspiracy theories, but not when they endanger the lives of American servicemen and women.

The worst possible outcome is if Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is pressured to withdraw the 3,000 Italian troops now stationed in Iraq. So far, Mr. Berlusconi has held fast and should be commended for it. Whatever the investigation of this accident reveals, it would be a tremendous blow to the war should Italy withdraw now.

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