WASHINGTON - Perhaps Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was not the right person to telephone Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi to convey this country's condolences for the killing of Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari and the wounding of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena by U.S. troops at a military checkpoint. During an otherwise cordial conversation yesterday, Rumsfeld suddenly remarked, "This whole mess could have been avoided if your intelligence people would start using the goddamn EZ Pass like everybody else does."
Before hanging up on Rumsfeld, Berlusconi responded with a vulgar oath in Italian, then he reminded Rumsfeld in English that Sgrena had suffered less harm at the hands of her Iqaqi captors, who detained her for a month, than she had from "you trigger-happy American cowboys."
According to military officials who asked not to be identified, the car carrying Calipari and Sgrena, who writes for the communist newspaper Il Manifesto, had been waiting in a long line at a security checkpoint when the driver of the car suddenly pulled into the EZ Pass lane and attempted to go around the line. The soldier in the EZ Pass toll booth sounded an alarm as he saw the car approaching, but the car did not slow down. U.S. troops then opened fire at the vehicle, pumping hundreds of rounds into its tires and engine block.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, stopping short of defending Rumsfeld's comment, did point out that other member nations of the Coalition of the Willing have been using EZ Passes "without incident" for some time now.
"We don't have to apologize to anyone for our EZ Pass record," said Rice. "No vehicles properly displaying an EZ Pass have ever been fired on by U.S. forces at a checkpoint. We regret having to kill Iraqi teen-agers and the occasional driver of a mule-drawn vehicle who try to exit a checkpoint in the EZ Pass lane illegally, but that's just one of the hard lessons of democracy. Freedom isn't always free. The sooner people learn that, the longer they'll be free."
Reaction to Rumsfeld's comment was swift in Italy. Italian drivers, their car windows rolled down half way in tribute to Calipari and Sgrena, drove past American consulate general offices in Florence, Milan, and Naples honking their horns and making obscene gestures.
In related news, bootleg EZ Pass boxes have surpassed handicapped parking stickers as the most sought after motor vehicle accessories on the Iraqi black market.