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Wounded and Sought By U.S. Forces, Italians Gave Medical Care to Iraqi Terrorists

A firestorm had erupted in Italy over an admission by the commissioner of Italy's Red Cross that the Americans were kept in the dark about negotiations to free Italian hostages, and that after having been wounded in a shootout with U.S. Troops, terrorists were treated in exchange for the captives' release.

By Andrea Garibaldi

August 27, 2005

Original Article (English)    

ROME: Maurizio Scelli [acting commissioner of the Italian Red Cross] described how Iraqi terrorists were given medical treatment in exchange for freeing Italian captives Simona Pari and Simona Torretta. He also claimed that [Undersecretary to the Prime Minister] Gianni Letta had agreed that the United States not be told of the hostage negotiations. Now, the former Scelli’s sensational allegations have cast a shadow over Rome’s relations with Washington.

Scelli Embraces Simona Torretta After Her Release

Gianni Letta

The Prime Minister’s Office was keen to distance itself. “These recollections fall within the scope of the national and international autonomy of the Red Cross.” And as Mr. Scelli points out, “It was our operation. I only notified the authorities unofficially.”

Magistrates in Rome investigating the abduction now want to question Scelli again. COPACO [the Committee of Secret Services Control], the Parliament’s security service watchdog, will also interview him over the next few days. Opposition MPs have asked the government to report to Parliament, while members of the majority accuse Mr. Scelli of seeking the limelight. The ruling majority was nominated as acting Red Cross commissioner in April 2003, but for months he has been straying off-message. Elections for a new Italian Red Cross president will be held in December, when Scelli will have to look for a new job.


The storm erupted in yesterday’s La Stampa newspaper, when Mr. Scelli gave journalist Guido Ruotolo new details about his activities in Iraq and said that negotiators demanded treatment for “four alleged terrorists critically wounded in combat and wanted by the Americans” in return for the release of Simona Pari and Simona Torretta. ... Keeping the Americans in the dark was an essential condition for guaranteeing the safety of the hostages and ourselves." The Red Cross commissioner said that right from the first kidnapping of Italians in Iraq, he had systematically failed to inform the Americans about negotiations, a policy that, “Deputy Minister Gianni Letta endorsed.”

Simona Pari and Simona Torretta

The reaction from the Prime Minister’s Office arrived before lunchtime. A statement pointed out that the Red Cross is an independent organization that is neither controlled nor directed by the Italian authorities, and that the government has never “influenced or controlled the commissioner’s activities.”

Referring to the United States, the statement says that “frank, fair collaboration has never been interrupted, and intentions to the contrary, or simply of a different nature, have never been expressed.” It was then Mr. Scelli’s turn again.

In an RAI television broadcast, Scelli claimed that the release of the two Simonas was “an operation we [the Red Cross] claimed as our own. We managed the negotiations the Iraqis, including the mediators and all of those who acted, laying down specific conditions about which I notified the authorities only informally, to enable the episode to be concluded in the way we know it was.”

There is no clear explanation of the most controversial phrase, according to which Mr Scelli’s fellow Abruzzan [inhabitant of Abruzzo] and sponsor Gianni Letta endorsed the decision not to tell the Americans. In Washington yesterday, a State Department spokesperson said that the entire issue was a matter for the Italian Government.


Doubts remain over what it was that prompted Mr. Scelli to reopen the hostage issue. He said nothing to magistrates about treating terrorists after the the two Simonas were released, but restricted himself to references to the treatment of Iraqi children suffering from leukaemia. But in “Storia d’Italia da Mussolini a Berlusconi” (The History of Italy from Mussolini to Berlusconi), Mr. Scelli may have dropped a hint when he told author Bruno Vespa that during the negotiations, an intermediary said, “We need medicines and treatment for two people whose lives are at risk.”

Massimo Brutti, of the Democrats of the Left Party (DS) and a member of COPACO, says that he detects in Scelli’s words what appears to be an “attempt to protect his back.” For Gigi Malabarba, of the Communist Refoundation Party and another member of COPACO, Scelli has merely stated, “what everyone knows: that the U.S. had to be kept in the dark about Italian initiatives to prevent them from being blocked. The policy was contested by the Baghdad Hostage Center, which was closely controlled by the U.S. Embassy. This policy of ambiguity ended after the ambush during which Nicola Calipari was murdered.”

Opposition parliamentarians, including Minniti (DS), Pecoraro (Green) and Lusetti (Daisy Alliance), asked the government to report to Parliament. It fell to Minister Carlo Giovanardi [Minister for Relations with Paliament] to make the denial. “It’s all been cleared up” he said.

However, the irritation of ruling Parliamentarians was obvious. Deputy Foreign Minister Alfredo Mantica (National Alliance) pointed out that, “with Scelli, there have been problems of limelight-seeking in the past,” and Forza Italia’s Alfredo Biondi, deputy speaker of the lower house, maintains that “the breach of confidentiality that has occurred for vanity or whatever other reprehensible reason is very serious.”

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