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Monday, March 07, 2005

The Italian hostage travesty and the matter of ransoms 

Michelle Malkin has a lengthy round-up of what she calls the "Giuliana Sgrena debacle." Newshounds know that the basic story is that a staunchly anti-American Italian journalist, apparently held hostage by Iraqi insurgents, was freed last week, perhaps after a ransom was paid, perhaps by the government of Italy. As an Italian agent escorted her out of captivity, American soldiers fired on her car as it approached a checkpoint. The agent was killed, and the journalist was wounded. The Americans and the journalist are serving up very different accounts of the encounter at the checkpoint, and the truth remains obscured by the fog of war.

Whatever the screw-up at the checkpoint, however, the payment of a ransom under these circumstances would be an atrocity. If one were paid, the Italian government owes the United States an apology, rather than the other way around.

Money is the fuel of this insurgency. Saddam stashed millions in cash around the country before the fall of his regime, and millions more have been collected by insurgents who have kidnapped members of wealthy Iraqi families. This money is spent on weapons to kill civilians and Coalition soldiers. There is no justification for paying a ransom to secure the release of any Westerner who has been kidnapped inside Iraq. Morally, it is precisely equivalent to supplying the insurgents with weapons, ammunition, and explosives. Indeed, it is even worse than merely supplying the insurgents with arms out of sympathy with their cause, because it deepens the incentive to kidnap innocents, or even the not-so-innocent. If Italy paid this ransom at Sgrena's behest, I'm sorry that the American soldiers didn't finish the job. It was within their rights, for if she collaborated in the payment of a ransom she made herself a combatant.

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