April 10, 2007 / 3:06 PM / 12 years ago

U.S. soldier causes Italy furore before murder trial

ROME (Reuters) - A U.S. soldier who goes on trial in absentia next week in Rome for murder caused a furore in Italy on Tuesday for defending his fatal shooting of an Italian intelligence agent in Iraq.

Mario Lozano, of the U.S. Army’s 69th Infantry Regiment, is charged in Italy with voluntary homicide for killing Nicola Calipari as the agent was escorting a newly freed hostage, reporter Giuliana Sgrena, to Baghdad airport in 2005.

Lozano broke his two-year silence by telling a U.S. newspaper in an interview published this week that he had no choice but to fire and “take them out”.

Lozano said Calipari’s vehicle had come too close to the military checkpoint.

“You have a warning line, you have a danger line, and you have a kill line,” he was quoted as saying by the New York Post.

“Anyone inside 100 metres is already in the danger zone ... and you gotta take them out,” he said.

“If you hesitate, you come home in a box — and I didn’t want to come home in a box. I did what any soldier would do in my position.”

His comments upset Sgrena and Calipari’s widow and were widely reprinted in Italian newspapers. La Repubblica newspaper noted his explanations were “striking for their total absence for any expression of remorse”.

The agent’s widow, Senator Rosa Calipari, criticised Lozano for talking to the press instead of Italian magistrates, who have been unable to speak to or even locate Lozano despite requests from Rome for judicial cooperation.

“There’s a trial. He should come and make his statements at the trial,” she told Reuters.

That is not likely to happen. Washington has cleared its forces of any wrongdoing despite complaints from the Italian government. It has also refused to hand over Lozano, who is living in New York, and said it considered the case closed.

SHE’S “MAKING MONEY”

Lozano also upset the woman he shot and wounded, Sgrena, by saying that she had done well for herself after the incident by becoming famous and writing a book: “Friendly Fire: The Remarkable Story of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq, Rescued by an Italian Secret Service Agent, and Shot at by U.S. Forces”.

“I’m sure her life isn’t like mine,” said Lozano, who the Post added was taking medication for post-traumatic stress disorder. His marriage has also broken up, it said.

“She’s making money. She’s famous. Meanwhile, I gotta live with the fact that a guy got killed because he didn’t comply with orders and I was that guy who pulled the trigger.”

Sgrena responded: “Even I can’t sleep. Even I have had nightmares and I am still badly off because of the injury.

“I think he’s playing the victim a bit,” she told Reuters.

Lozano works for his father’s construction company when not on duty with the National Guard, according to the Post.

The Calipari shooting has strained relations between Rome and Washington and is one of two high profile Italian court cases involving U.S. suspects.

A Milan court starts a trial against CIA agents and Italian spies in June charged with kidnapping a Muslim cleric in Milan and flying him to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. The U.S. citizens in that case will be tried in absentia, too.

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