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Italy Swaps Five Terrorists For Hostage

From who else but the New York Times:

Italy Swapped 5 Jailed Taliban for a Hostage

By IAN FISHER

March 22, 2007

ROME, March 21 — An Italian journalist who was held hostage for 15 days by the Taliban in lawless southern Afghanistan was ransomed for five Taliban prisoners, the Italian government and Afghan officials confirmed Wednesday.

It appears to be the first time prisoners have been openly exchanged for a hostage in the wars that the United States and its allies are fighting there and in Iraq, and the move drew immediate criticism from Washington and London, and from other European capitals…

Though it may have saved a life, the ransom has set off a worried debate in Italy and in other countries with soldiers, reporters and aid workers in danger zones…

The government of Romano Prodi, the Italian prime minister, said the central issue surrounding the kidnapping of Mr. Mastrogiacomo was not complicated.

“We think that the life of a person is very precious,” said Mr. Prodi’s spokesman, Silvio Sircana, who is also a friend of Mr. Mastrogiacomo’s. “So if there is a chance to save a life, we must do all we can do. And this was our very simple line, and not anything more.”

Mr. Mastrogiacomo was abducted as he was driving with an interpreter and a driver to an interview with a Taliban commander near Lashkhar Gah, in southern Afghanistan, he wrote in La Repubblica on Tuesday, the day he returned to Rome.

Dragged from place to place, nearly always in chains, he wrote, he was forced to watch a Taliban soldier decapitate his driver, then wipe the blade clean on the headless body.

“I imagine myself with my neck sliced, the blood splashed from all the arteries drained into the sand, the body committed to the river’s course,” he wrote.

On Monday, he continued, a Taliban commander came into the mud hut where he and the interpreter were being held and proclaimed, “You are free, fly away!” The fate of the interpreter is still unknown.

Italy’s domestic politics seemed to play a role in the decision, in a nation where weak domestic support for foreign involvement had prompted earlier allegations of payments for hostages…

The kidnapping of Mr. Mastrogiacomo occurred at a similarly delicate time for Mr. Prodi’s already fragile government, which fell briefly last month, partly because of a lack of support inside his coalition for the presence of nearly 2,000 Italian troops in Afghanistan.

Later this month, Mr. Prodi faces a crucial vote on financing for the mission there, a vote that might have been more difficult if Mr. Mastrogiacomo had not been freed.

Italy did not — and could not — act alone in the prisoner exchange, and attention was focused on both Afghanistan and the United States, which exerts broad control inside the country.

A spokesman for the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, told reporters in Kabul that the release was an “exceptional measure taken because we value our relations and friendship with Italy.”

Many experts wondered at the precise role of the United States, which has strained relations with Italy on several fronts, including the indictment of 26 Americans, all but one of them believed to be C.I.A. operatives, in the kidnapping in Italy in 2003 of a radical Egyptian cleric.

Diplomatically, the United States could not bar the exchanges, American officials said, given that the Taliban prisoners were being held by the Afghan government and not by the American military or NATO. United States officials have also been mindful of the rising tide in Italian public opinion against the presence of Italian troops in Afghanistan.

Edward Luttwak, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, speculated that American officials made the political calculation that for the sake of good relations with Italy, it was better not to stop the transfer

A former Italian hostage, Giuliana Sgrena, kidnapped in Baghdad in 2005, said she believed that the Italian government was obligated to do all it could to save a hostage’s life. She argued that paying ransom for reporters was a far smaller issue than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“If there is no war, there will be no hostages,” Ms. Sgrena, also a journalist, said in a telephone interview from New York, where she is promoting a book about her experience.

(Her own kidnapping is another source of tension between the United States and Italy: an American soldier shot at her car at a roadblock in Baghdad shortly after her release, killing a top Italian intelligence official.)

Notice how the vaunted New York Times even tries to make the dealings of a foreign (and Communist run) country out to be Bush’s fault.

Italy did not — and could not — act alone in the prisoner exchange, and attention was focused on both Afghanistan and the United States, which exerts broad control inside the country.

Who says? The Afghanis were holding the prisoners. Not the United States.

This is simply a naked assertion on the part of the New York Times. And promoting it appears to be the real mission of the article.

Dragged from place to place, nearly always in chains, he wrote, he was forced to watch a Taliban soldier decapitate his driver, then wipe the blade clean on the headless body.

And yet these are exactly the kind of murderers who have been freed to get this journalist back.

But any journalist’s life is worth a dozen other people’s.

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, March 22nd, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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