This is an analysis of the mysteries surrounding the killing of the Italian Intelligence agent Nicola Calipari and the injuring of the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena by the US soldiers at the Baghdad checkpoint. It comes from Misteri d’Italia, dated 11 March 2005. I have found some information here, and especially some acute and lucid questions that I haven’t seen elsewhere. It is a long piece, yet very readable and engaging. The translation is mine, and I hope it is as free from errors as possible!
by Sandro Provvisionato, Carlo Bifani, Stefania Limiti
I lost a friend by Sandro Provvisionato
Very, very much has been written about Nicola Calipari. The by now inevitable rhetoric, in this nation of ours without any more certainties to cling to, wasn’t able to avoid a term that is unfortunately sadly overused: HERO.
Whoever dies in dramatic circumstances, almost magically becomes a hero: a policeman during a robbery, a victim of the mafia or terrorism, a hostage who has fallen into the most bloodthirsty of hands.
I don’t know if Nicola (permit me to call him by his first name, because I have known him for a long time) was a hero. I only know that one of the most beautiful persons that I have ever known in my long career as a journalist is dead. A simple, reserved man who did not like the limelight, but most especially a competent man who adored his work.
I met Nicola in the beginning of 2000 when he was at the summit of the SCO (The Operative Central Service of the Police). After the Kossovo War, the “humanitarian war” that the NATO unleashed – with the full support of the Italian centre-left, lead by Massimo D’Alema – to “liberate” the Serbian province, currently in the hands of a war criminal and drug trafficker . I decided to write a book that did not recount my own experiences as a war correspondent, but the reality of a country designed with the vocation to become a “narco State”, a Colombia nestled like a wedge in the Balcans.
The history of these years seems to have proven that book right (It was published in 2000 under the title: UCK, the Shadow Armada. A War Between Mafia, Politics and Terrorism). And Nicola had an important role in that book: he did not want to be cited, but all or almost all of the news on the Albanian drug traffickers of Kossovo came from him, from Nicola, who was an absolute expert on the argument.
In him I found sensitivity and competence, but especially a great willingness to reason.
To my question: Why did the NATO create a war for this gang of criminals and drug traffickers that the UCK was? He responded, “I’ve been asking myself that same question since the beginning of the war”.
Our relationship had continued over the course of the years. In moments of doubt about facts that were unfolding, it often happened that I would call him. And he always had an original and intelligent way to interpret the events. It was never banal, never superficial. He knew how to analyse the events with a lucidness that linked one fact to another, until he had woven a textile worthy of the best of those who today are called with consternation and scorn, “conspiracy theorists”.
We would often joke about that term. I would say, “They call me one, but when it comes down to it, the real conspiracy theorist is you…” He laughed and always repeated, “If you don’t look behind that which is happening, you only have a frontal vision and it gives you only a partial image of reality”.
I had heard from him a few weeks before his death. I expressed my doubts regarding the operation conducted last year by the SISMI (Military Intelligence), and therefore by him, in Lebanon regarding a thwarted terrorist attack against the Italian embassy of Beirut with the support of the Syrian Secret Services (see Misteri d’Italia Newsletter 93 ). He was a bit unnerved by my insinuation, but then, as always, he laughed and told me: “You know, the doubt that the Syrians have played a trick on us had dawned on me as well…”
We promised to see one another soon to better discuss it. There was no time for this to happen.
Still a mystery
I hate to admit it, but even the assassination of Nicola Calipari will remain a mystery.
You can bet on that, the Italian-American Investigative Commission has already got the conclusion in the palm of their hands: incident.
At the very most there will be some throw-away admission: maybe, but don’t expect too much, an inexperienced American soldier, inattentive due to tiredness or from the too many joints he smoked, maybe frightened by the sound of a motor in the night, who had opened fire with too much haste.
But unfortunately, in the reconstruction of the fact, the Americans will absolutely want to insert an element of our responsibility: incident yes, faulty judgement on the part of us Yankee shooters, but you too, damned Italians, you did things with far too much bad judgement. Does one travel around at night, in an anonymous car, without even an emblem to distinguish you?
And you will see that someone, automatically, deviously will try to instil in us the doubt that if that operation was conducted not by any old civilian (Calipari was a policeman), but by a soldier… who knows, maybe things wouldn’t have gone the way they did.
No trial, no real judicial investigation, no debate in the courtroom. The Italian Judge Franco Ionta knows well that his hands are tied. It should be more than enough to remember the tragedy of Cermis to understand that the Americans will never, ever permit us to put one of them on trial, especially if he is in the military.
The curtain will fall also on this heart wrenching death.
But the interrogative that we will be asking will always remain the same. To ever stop listing them, to searching a response to them, this, yes this would be truly criminal.
No, It was not the fault of inexperience. by Carlo Bifani*
Whoever has ever in his life been involved in an activity at risk, in which there is a danger that the irreparable could happen is an integral part of the work one undertakes, knows that it is never over till it is over.
The great quantity of evaluations, of considerations that do not always correspond to the truth that have been accumulating in the media about what happened in the phases that were immediately successive to the liberation of the journalist of Il Manifesto, has motivated the realisation of this page, in which I will try to recount for that small amount of professional experience that I possess, what my opinion is regarding the events.
Let us start with that which we know:
*In the operation of the release of the hostage and the removal of the same and of the operative personnel involved, the best elements that our intelligence has available were used.
*The group travelled in a Toyota Corolla, with standard features.
*The group was using a street which is one of the most dangerous of the area.
* The car was object of action of shooting by American military personnel.In my view, it seems a out of place to form a hypothesis from these elements, along with interpretations and suggestions about the tactical choices that could have been used as an alternative to that which was put in practice by the Coordinator of the mission, who, as it has been many times stressed, was a competent and expert person who had the capacity to be able to choose the best of all possible options.
For that regarding the choice of the car, one can only add to that which has already been said, that if this had happened to a vehicle furnished with a coefficient of an adequate armouring (B5 or superior categories), to acquire one would have meant using one from the car park of our Embassy, involving in a concrete way the security apparatus of the Embassy itself, which evidently had to be kept out of the phase of which we are talking.
It should also be said that, in the case that the firing of bullets of which the car had undergone had been effected by the weapon that the division of the American armoured tank involved in this event was furnished with (12.7 calibre), the armouring of the car would have served little to nothing.
The street that links the capital to the airport is the most dangerous in the area for the characteristics of the surrounding zone, because it is very difficult if not impossible to maintain the terrain sterile in proximity of the road, for the simple fact that it is not possible to impede that along the way cars that have been prepared to explode at one of the checkpoints has not inserted themselves into the road itself. This, together with the doubtful degree of preparation on the part of the United States military personnel located there, explains my way of seeing why the incident could have taken place.
There are those who have asked why Dott. Calipari did not arrange the effectuation of the last part of the transfer of the convoy, safeguarding in that way against surprises such as that which unfortunately had been waiting for him, in a way to make it obvious and evident that the vehicle in movement was part of a group of the Coalition. To respond to this question, let us try to understand what the work that those who are operators in intelligence in the operative zone is comprised of.
That work is made up of waiting, of appointments that are cancelled, of false leads, of movements in which one undergoes surveillance and of phases in which one can only be at the mercy of those who are creating the rules of the game.
What should the personnel employed in that task have done? Ask the convoy to follow him at a safe distance as a sort of caravan, until they obtained the release of the hostage? And if this had then happened in the proximity of the street that is linked to the airport, wouldn’t they have had to await alongside the road, at night, in an unprotected area, for the arrival of the armoured car of the Embassy?
It appears evident, in my view, that only the person on the field and with the knowledge of every aspect of the mission is authorised to express evaluations that are worthy of note.
I believe that the worst thing is that to have lost a man and a professional like Dott. Calipari, who I imagine was happy, but aware of the fact that despite the fact that all of them were returning home, nothing is really over until it is over. * Administrator of Start Security http://www.startsicurezza.com/
Incident or Ambush? By Stefania Limiti
The elements that bring us to conjecture whether the incident in which the car in which the three (or four?) passengers of the Toyota were driving were involved in was an incident or if it was a scientifically studied ambush are decidedly few and fragmented.
Theory of the incident
It is the most easy theory, and also the most simplistic.
Going in favour of this theory are the numerous cases of civilians killed at the American checkpoints.
Syndrome of the Sherrif? That is possible. In substance, that is the culture in which the entire American army is impregnated in. It is a culture that is well diffused even in American society, which is used to buying and carrying weapons with great ease.
It remains to ask ourselves how it is possible to build a planet to suit American standards and not even be able to run a checkpoint. But we are dealing with elements that support this thesis and they are all theoretical.
The only concrete element supporting the incident, that of “friendly fire”, could be the “not elevated” volume of bullets that had hit the car, a dozen shots in all, perhaps even less (eight). But, as we will see, even this concrete element of support is very weak.
Theory of the Ambush
The data that can support this second thesis are rather more substantial, on the other hand.
In the first place, the motivations that can be called “political”, that are macroscopic and much more evident that those which support the incident. We will point them out further in the chapter entitled, “The Italian method…. And the American one”.
There are then the concrete elements:
From the cursory analysis of the Toyota from the photos that arrived in Italy (gift of the Israelis to the TG1 News) one can deduce that the shots were not aimed at the wheels of the car or at the motor, objectives that are requested by any rules of engagement of patrol military or who are stationed at a check point. The bullets were aimed towards the posterior part of the car (where Sgrena and Calipari were seated), some had perforated the glass of the passenger window to the person seated in the front (the fourth man), none were aimed at the driver, third objective, after the wheels and motor, if the purpose is to stop a moving car.
The car will not be consigned to the Italian judiciary authorities, but will be “held” by the Americans in their base which is adjacent to the airport.
Even the satellite telephone will not be consigned, at least not for now, by the Americans to the Italian magistrates. It will be analysed, perhaps with the purpose of acquiring indications on the communication which had gone on between the agents of the SISMI and the kidnappers of Sgrena.
With every probability, another satellite telephone is still missing.
The checkpoints: in one of her first declarations, later faded into the background, Sgrena had spoken of at least three American checkpoints that had been crossed without encountering any problems. It is known that the soldiers of the various checkpoints along the same road communicate with one another. Why was there no communication that a Toyota was travelling towards the airport and not the arrival of an armoured killer?
The fourth man
Parliamentary sources confirm that there was a fourth man along the road to the airport from Baghdad where Giuliana Sgrena would have once again reached Italy: he was an Iraqi to whom it is “necessary to preserve his safety”.
Up until here, nothing extraordinary: that which remains really incomprehensible is the rapid attempt to cancel his existence, which went into play already just several hours from the shooting which had killed Nicola Calipari.
In the very first reconstructions of the facts, the Italian Prime Minister had publicly spoken of “Several shots which had struck the car and the police officer, accompanied by two other functionaries” (other than the freed journalist.) We also know that among the functionaries of SISMI there was Major “Corsaro” (a nickname meaning pirate), former component of the ROS (Special Division of the State Police, known as Caribinieri), and former collaborator with Captain “Ultimo”, a very well known Police Agent involved in Mafia investigation.
The “Corsaro” had descended silently from the airplane which had landed at Ciampino and was medicated at Celio Military Hospital for shrapnel that had hit him in the foot and then he had once again silently disappeared from view.
The latest version which Berlusconi gives, made known to the public during his intervention in Senate on 9 March, maintains that the fourth man was an official of connection who had remained at the Baghdad airport…
The ANSA news service had referred the facts on the basis of the accounts of “qualified sources”, who had immediately confirmed that the “shooting in which Calipari was killed took place along the road for the airport” consisting of a convoy of autos – among which that carrying the just liberated Sgrena” – therefore there was not one single car (version which coincides also with the news diffused by the same agency from Beirut).
“In the shooting, which had cost the life of Calipari, in addition to Sgrena – immediately admitted to the nearby American hospital – there were another two agents who were injured who were in the car carrying the reporter from Il Manifesto”.
Again ANSA refers that one of the two agents of the SISMI who was injured in the Baghdad shooting is in “serious condition. The man was injured by a bullet from a firearm which had hit his lung and he had undergone surgery in the American military hospital”.
If that is not enough: the judge Franco Ionta and Piero Saviotti, of the Anti-Terrorism pool of the Capital, had immediately said that they wanted to hear, regarding the investigation opened for the homicide of Calipari, not only Giuliana Sgrena, but also “the two functionaries of the SISMI injured in the shooting at the checkpoint, as soon as it is possible after their return in Italy”. (The investigation of the Court of Rome had immediately presented itself as being extremely complex, given that the theatre where the shooting took place is a war zone and everything therefore must be subordinated to a possible international rogation against the USA).
For the record, the first report of the Digos (section of investigative police) consigned to the Court of Rome, in the reconstruction of the shooting speaks of a fourth person and 9 March had the notation of the existence of a presumed fourth man in the car aimed at by the USA soldiers at Baghdad with Nicola Calipari, Giuliana Sgrena and a functionary of the SISMI on board that will be further studied by the magistrates that are investigating on the shooting which took place on 4 March.
Further: during the debate in the House of Deputies, the Foreign Affairs Minister Gianfranco Fini had explicitly denied (so much so that many had immediately translated his affirmation as an admission) the existence of the fourth man: “There is no mystery regarding the presence of a ‘fourth man’ in the vehicle that carried the just freed journalist and the two agents of the SISMI, including Calipari, towards the airport”.
Fini said this addressing directly a Parliament member of the Green party, Paolo Cento, who had asked for clear responses on the fate of the person seriously injured and immediately transported to the military hospital of the US Commando.
“It is true”, Fini had explained, “that in the agitated and tragic hours immediately successive to the shooting that had brought about the death of Calipari, there was confusion; it is also true that from the hour 24:05, therefore between midnight Friday and Saturday, Palazzo Chigi (Prime Minister’s headquarters) had made the precision (in the note from Palazzo Chigi, diffused after the encounter between the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the American Ambassador Mel Sembler): “Other than the death of Nicola Calipari and the injuring of Giuliana Sgrena, the fire of the American soldiers at the checkpoint on the road to the airport of Baghdad had provoked the injury of only one single person”. That immediate, too rapid version of the facts which we were speaking of at the beginning.
Minister Fini in his intervention to the Parliament members had clearly stated that all of the Iraqi citizens who had collaborated with the Italian authorities would be safeguarded: at this point another problem arises. It is known that the Italian informative network is based on the role of many Iraqis (so much so that last September in occasion of the hearing before the Parliamentary Commission of Control on the Secret Services (COPACO), the director of the SISMI, Nicolò Pollari said that from the spring of that year no Italian secret agent is present in Iraq explaining that our 007s have left the country for reasons of security. See Misteri d’Italia newsletter 91: yet, if truly an Iraqi informer, or an operative agent is now in the hands of the US Commando, Italy should insist upon being able to guarantee directly his security, rather than to leave him to his destiny
Seeing that the denials resemble confirmations, one or the other must be true: the mystery of the “fourth man” is linked to his first and last name, perhaps that of a person of stature that Italy intends upon protecting (perhaps as a consequence of the dealings for the liberation of Giuliana Sgrena) or the autonomy of Italy in Iraq, that which was claimed by a man like Nicola Calipari, is definitively dead and buried.
The Italian method…. and the American one
There is a hypocrisy that is totally Italian at the basis of this sad event.
The hypocrisy is that of having a mistaken law, unfathomably severe and inflexible on the crime of kidnapping, a law that by now for years has been regularly violated by all and everyone has acted as if they weren’t aware. Hypocritically, in other words.
Italian law, as a matter of fact, considers kidnapping not as a crime against the person, but as a crime against the patrimony. From here the prohibition of paying the ransom to kidnappers, leading to the freezing of the assets of the family members of the kidnapped person.
Therefore, paying the ransom for a kidnapping in Italy is a crime, punishable even if it is committed abroad.
Yet, it is known that the SISMI (in the same way that the SISDE, which mounted in a scandal of secret funds that this service had which was discovered in 1992) possesses secret balance sheets that are not able to be documented, and they also have the availability to use hidden deposits.
With the phenomenon of the kidnapping of Italian citizens in Iraq, the Italian government had given life to a machine which is identical to that in which, ten years ago, the kidnappings in Sardinia and Calabria were resolved, that is, illegally, with the money of the secret services.
Why so much rigor in the law, if violating it, first and foremost, is the Italian government? Wouldn’t it be better to throw off the mask of hypocrisy and pay the ransom in the clear light of day?
Why continue to declare (at right, centre and left) “one does not make deals with criminals (or terrorists)!!!” and then make deals which are then paid? Why continue to not have the courage of supporting ones own actions?
The American method on the other hand is the exact opposite. Firmness is firmness. Period. For the few American hostages kidnapped in Iraq, Nicolas Berg is the prime example the American government has not lifted a finger. The only possibility of intervention, for the Americans, is the blitz, the armed assault.
We, convinced that human life is priceless, prefer the Italian method. But without being ashamed of it. Without hypocrisy.
It is from this philosophy that the shooting in which Nicola Calipari had fallen was born.
For the Americans it is intollerabile that an allied country, paying the ransom (it was that way for Agliana, Stefio and Cupertino, as well as for Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, as well as for Sgrena and it would certainly have been so even for Baldoni) finances the Iraqi resistence.
So, it is in that light that the Italians act in a hidden way. Even to the eyes of the Americans. Those who had set up the fake blitz for the liberation of the three Italian bodyguards and the Polish industrial, just to save face. Those who had faked that the liberation of the two Simonas was fruit of the humanitarian intervention of the Italian Red Cross (who, differently from the other Red Crosses of the European countries, however, is nominated by the government).
The way in which the Sgrena affair had concluded itself , however one wants to intend it, as an ambush or an incident, shows the inversion of tendency of American tolerance that from now on will be equal to zero.
The message has arrived loud and clear to the Italian government from the part of the American government.
From now on there will be no secret dealings, no covert Italian actions for the liberation of other possible hostages in Iraq.
This is the only certainty that we can gather from this horrible story.
The precipitous re-entry
Part of that which we have written up until now explains the reason for the precipitous re-entry into Italy of the mission that had liberated Sgrena. A mission which was certainly at four, and not at three: the hostage, the head of the mission Calipari, the Carabiniere “Corsaro”, alias Andrea and an Iraqi mediator, now perhaps dead, perhaps in the hands of the Americans.
It is evident that the journalist of the Manifesto was not to have been shown to the Americans, or worse, interrogated. The Americans were not to know of the ransom.
But it is also evident that the government wanted to take full advantage of the brilliant conclusion of the affair to gather the optimum results for their image. Even if, as for the liberation of Agliana, Stefio and Cupertino, which took place at the vigil of the European elections, the liberation of Sgrena happened before the imminent Regional elections in Italy.
The announcement of the liberation of Giuliana Sgrena was to appear on all of the news programs at dinner time and in all of the newspapers the next morning.
A stop overnight in the Embassy would have caused the effect of a dilation of time that would certainly have dampened the mass media impact and would have weakened its effect.
Faced with these two “clauses”, we are certain that Nicola Calipari was not in the condition to decide upon a program that was different from that which terminated in his death.
translated from Italian by Mary Rizzo peacepalestine