Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Liberals Must Be Cautious on Italian Shooting Incident

I yield to nobody in my total disregard for the Bush administration and, as the 9/11 Commission and Senate Intelligence Committee have ratified, the needless and costly war in Iraq. And my gut tells me that many of the support-the-troops crowd are of the very hypocritical type, who would not be willing to truly support our troops by demanding that they be brought home and that Bush apologize for the deaths that have already taken place.

But, as a veteran who understands the terror and confusion of being under fire, I take issue with publicly castigating the troops involved in the death of an Italian intelligence officer near the Baghdad airport. We liberals need to tread carefully on this subject.

It is natural that Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini would be skeptical of U.S. accounts of the shooting that occurred when soldiers opened fire on the car, carrying the Italian agents and Giuliana Sgrena, the journalist abducted by Iraqi gunmen. Our government has lost most of its credibility in the world and we should expect to be questioned on any account we give on either intelligence or battle actions.

According to the Pentagon, U.S. soldiers fired on the car after it approached a checkpoint at excessive speed and failed to heed signals to slow down. Fini dismissed those accounts, saying that the Italians were driving slowly and received no warning whatsoever.

"It is our duty to demand truth and justice,'" said Fini.

Fair enough. But Americans – especially those of us on the left – should be careful in demanding too quickly that the soldiers involved in the shooting be accused of any criminal wrongdoing.

War is indeed hell. Horrible things happen and sometimes, in the fog of war, mistakes occur and innocent people die. This is among the many things our non-battle-tested Commander in Chief did not consider before invading Iraq. Soldiers involved in any war, and especially guerrilla wars like Iraq and Vietnam, operate in a constant state of fear. When that happens, survival instinct kicks in and you begin shooting far sooner than later.

While I'm no fan of this war, I understand the psyche of the troops. The men involved in this shooting immediately realized that a mistake had been made and, according Fini, showed immediate remorse for what happened when they encountered the survivors of the shooting.

"Two young Americans approached our officer and, demoralized, they repeatedly apologized for what had happened,'' Fini said.

What happened was terrible, but you can add it to a long list of bad things that have occurred during this ill-advised campaign. If it is found that the troops acted in a malicious and criminal way, they should be brought to military justice. But that's not going to happen – not because of a sinister Washington cover-up, but because I strongly suspect this will turn out to be a simple and unfortunate accident of war.

The soldiers who tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib deserve everything they got and more. But the bar needs to be raised much higher when pointing the finger at young soldiers, in an active war zone, who live in constant fear for their lives.

If you want to blame someone for this shooting, talk to the people who placed these soldiers under these circumstances in the first place. Point your pen at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and begin writing. But don't give us liberals a bad name by being too quick to demand military justice for the troops involved.