Hostage-takings in Iraq typically end one of two ways: the hostage is murdered or released. The former typically involves a gruesome videotape, the latter a seven-figure ransom – after a videoed plea.
Now, there’s a tragic variation on that brutal, endgame theme.
A ransomed hostage, Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, was wounded after her release – by U.S. soldiers. It happened at night at an ad hoc checkpoint along the main road to the Baghdad Airport, a thoroughfare infamously known for suicidal car-bombers. That’s why it was checkpointed in the first place; it’s arguably the most lethal stretch of highway in the country.
And the enemy, it should be noted, is not averse to using ambulances or Allied-marked vehicles in their suicide missions. That’s why there’s a stop-or-be-shot order on the mean streets of Iraq. Nothing can be assumed – except that life is everywhere imperiled – and no place more than the treacherous road to the Baghdad Airport.
Worst yet, an Italian intelligence officer who had negotiated Sgrena’s ransomed release, was killed in the hail of fire from those guarding the checkpoint.
But even worse, the tragic accident – in a venue where split-second decisions, including miscommunications, can literally mean life or death – has been called intentional by Sgrena. Even after the trauma of the incident had subsided and her pain meds had worn off, Sgrena still maintained that the Americans were sending a message with the fusillade: This is what happens when you disregard our no-ransom-for-hostages policy.
That’s beyond wrong. And it should be beyond Sgrena’s own anti-war agenda. It’s an obscene cheap shot to say that U.S. soldiers – in premeditated fashion – fired on her vehicle knowing that she was in it.
Friendly-fire misunderstandings are nothing new in war; in fact, they have been tragically frequent in the confusing cauldron that is Iraq under insurgent siege. Human beings under the ultimate duress making instantaneous, life-and-death decisions based on less than perfect intelligence is a formula for an awful result. Normally, it’s not this high a profile incident.
There’s a reason, however regrettable, that such accidents sometimes happen. But there’s no excuse to fire off a cheap shot because it fits one’s political agenda.