The Magazine

A Defamation Is Born

Another left-wing Iraq obsession.

Mar 26, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 27 • By LISA SCHIFFREN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Who can doubt that this was a brutal experience? And it would have been rude to ask if she still thought it was brave to "embed with the victims" in a war zone and in a culture where noncombatant journalists are not given a pass, where her reporting cost the life of a government agent, and put the government of Italy in a position where it had little choice but to pay ransom to terrorists.

Anyway, that's how I see it. But neither she nor her supporters share that view. They blame--yes--the U.S. government. After investigating the incident, the U.S. forces reported that the car had been speeding, and sped up further at the roadblock. She says that didn't happen. Sgrena believes that the grunts at the roadblock knew precisely who was in the car and fired because they wanted her dead.

Have you ever wondered where all of those very earnest, comprehensive left-wing conspiracy theories come from? The ones that posit the worst conceivable motives of the U.S. government in even the most trivial sequence of events? Book tours like this are where. An alternative version of events is being established and rehearsed. And it will go out, repeatedly, as it has for the past two years, over alternative radio stations, and in alternative newspapers.

But on this one night, unless I miss my guess, the audience didn't seem to be buying. One middle-aged man, dressed like an academic, asked, "It seems that you are claiming that the U.S. military behaved either with complicity or incompetence. Which is it, do you think?"

There was the nut of it. Sgrena sidled into the answer. "Well," she whined hesitantly, "I don't think it was incompetence. They were high-ranking soldiers." Yes, they were high-ranking members of a New York National Guard company doing thankless night patrol on a rainy airport road in Iraq. Even the stern, far-left interlocutoress, Amy Goodman, felt compelled to ask what motive they might have had.

To summarize the answer: The United States doesn't like negotiations with terrorists. Italy had paid ransom. They must be taught a lesson. (By the way, this rationale cleverly answers the critical question of why the Italian government had not notified its American allies that they were springing their national and heading to the airport that night--behavior that was both incompetent and costly.) As for evidence, Sgrena claimed as fact that 58 bullets w ere fired and a later examination of the vehicle showed that 57 of them were aimed at the passenger seat, and only one at the engine. Which, she feels, "proves" they were trying to get her, and only the sacrifice of the brave Nicola Calipari saved her from the American death squad.

(It is worth noting that a U.S. investigation showed none of this. The Italian government did not accept the investigation report.)

Since we know all too well that "no negotiations with terrorists" has proved a pretty flexible rule for all recent U.S. administrations, it is ludicrous on its face as a reason for the U.S. military to execute a high-ranking intelligence officer of a staunch ally. Much as I respect our military, the case for error--incompetence if you must, or perhaps merely adherence to normal rules of engagement in a hot war--is open and shut.

Because, if 57 shots were, indeed, fired at a targeted passenger, and she is still alive--now that is incompetent indeed.

Lisa Schiffren, a writer living in New York, is a contributor to the Commentary magazine blog, Contentions.