boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe
H.D.S. GREENWAY

Hazardous assignment

ON ONE thing the Italian government and the White House agree. The killing of intelligence officer Nicola Calipari and the wounding of journalist Giuliana Sgrena by American soliders was a ''horrific accident." But beyond that there is little agreement as to what happened.

The Americans say the car the Italians were traveling in was going 60 miles an hour. The Italians say it was going 25. The Americans say they gave hand signals, flashed lights, and fired warning shots to get the car to slow down approaching their checkpoint. The Italians say there was no obvious checkpoint, no warning shots, and the bright light that illuminated their car came on virtually as the bullets began to pour. The Italians say the Americans were told the car was on its way to the airport. The Americans say they were not.

Giuliana Sgrena's suggestion that the Americans might have targeted her car isn't credible. But given that she had just been released from a harrowing month in captivity only to be shot by Americans, a little emotional hyperbole is understandable. After all, CNN's Eason Jordan made similar charges that the military targeted journalists -- charges that brought about his resignation.

For journalists there is simply no more dangerous assignment than Iraq. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 37 journalists have been killed in Iraq in the two years since we went to war. Only three lost their lives during the invasion itself. The rest were killed after President Bush announced mission accomplished. This compares with 66 journalists killed in Vietnam, according to Freedom Forum, but that was for a 20-year period, 1955 to 1975, not just two years.

In addition, 27 journalists have been abducted beginning in 2004. Twenty-four of them, like Giuliana Sgrena, were eventually released, but two were murdered. One, French journalist Florence Aubenas, is still being held.

The majority of journalists killed in Iraq, 19, have been Iraqis, and they are the unsung heroes of the Baghdad press corps. As the assignment has gotten more and more dangerous, Western reporters, who cannot blend into the scenery, have become almost prisoners in their compounds and hotels, unable to go out and cover stories as much as they used to do. As a result, Iraqi reporters have taken up the slack, going into dangerous situations and reporting back to their home bureaus.

Add to that the deaths of media workers -- 18 Iraqis and one Lebanese -- who have lost their lives as drivers, interpreters, and fixers without whom Western journalists could not operate. Aubenas's interpreter, Hussein Hanoon, was kidnapped with her.

In addition, a lively Iraqi press has arisen in post-Saddam Iraq, and Iraqis have lost their lives reporting for their own media.

But for the purposes of this story the most interesting statistic is that although 20 journalists have been killed by ''insurgent action" in Iraq, which includes crossfires, suicide bombings, and targeted killings, according to CPJ, nearly half as many, nine, were killed by American soldiers in what the military, in that most ironic of euphemisms, calls ''friendly fire." And it was friendly fire that has so injured relations between Italy and the United States, killed a Bulgarian sergeant, and mowed down uncounted numbers of Iraqi civilians at checkpoints and barricades.

''Next to the scandal of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, no other aspect of the American military presence in Iraq has caused such widespread dismay and anger among Iraqis," wrote veteran Baghdad correspondent John Burns in The New York Times.

One has to sympathize that young American soldiers have to make split-second decisions as to whether an approaching car is full of children, an Italian journalist, or a suicide bomber. And the reality is that for much of the country there is no security even two years after Washington's decision to invade Iraq.

The senior US general in Iraq, George Casey, has ordered a review of all the checkpoint incidents in the past six months. He is likely to turn up dozens upon dozens of ''horrific accidents" that need not, and should not, have happened. Whether that will ever be admitted is another matter.

H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.


SEARCH GLOBE ARCHIVES
   
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months