March 26, 2008

ALDO MORO, THE OUIJA BOARD, AND ROMANO PRODI: New Revelations About Italy's Most Significant Political Assassination

The following article was written specially for DIRELAND by this blog's Rome correspondent, veteran expat journalist Judy Harris; she previously wrote about the still-powerful legacy of the Aldo Moro assassination in her March 16 dispatch, "The Ghosts that Haunt Italy's Elections":

Rome – Three decades after the murder of Aldo Moro (right), the magistrate who wroteAldo_moro_headshot  the indictments for three Red Brigades trials has charged that the government willfully withheld evidence from both the judiciary and from a Parliamentary commission.

Imposimato_3_17 Judge Ferdinando Imposimato (left) was assigned to the case on May 18, 1978, just nine days after Moro was killed. He personally interrogated public officials and Brigatisti and interviewed Moro family members and government figures. As the inquiring magistrate, he was entitled to receive all available information from investigators, including from the ad hoc governmental “Crisis Committee” set up to manage the hostage situation.

“When the documents surfaced more or less by chance twenty years later, I was deeply shocked,” said Imposimato, speaking at a press conference March 17 at the Foreign Press Association in Rome. “We had already been able to find and have released other hostages. I couldn’t help but ask what had gone wrong now. Plainly, a political choice had been made, with the result that the inquiry was handicapped by asphyxiating political control.”

The missing information meant accumulated delays in the judiciary inquiry. Crucial arrestProspero_gallinari  warrants were left dangling, including one for Brigatista Prospero Gallinari, who participated in the kidnapping of Moro and the killing of Moro’s five bodyguards on Via Fani in Rome on March 16, 1978. Gallinari (left, as he appears today) was also one of the guards in the Roman apartment building where Moro was held until he was savagely murdered by the Red Brigades on May 9.

Imposimato believes that Moro’s release was possible, he says in his new book, Doveva Morire, Chi ha Ucciso Aldo Moro (He Had to Die, the Killers of Aldo Moro), written together with veteran journalist Sandro Provvisionato. In the Vatican, Pope Paul VI’sMons_pasquale_macchi_paul_vi  personal secretary Mons. Pasquale Macchi (right, with Pope Paul VI) was involved in negotiations (although perhaps through a phony mediator). Another working Bettino_craxi against the government’s official line barring negotiations was the Italian Socialist party of  Bettino Craxi (left). According to Imposimato, on May 6, fifty-two days into the kidnapping, these secret negotiations were sufficiently advanced that it was “widely believed that Moro would be released within days.

Ouija_board Even among these mysteries, the Affair of the Ouija Board stands out. In sworn testimony to the Parliamentary Commission (see the appendix of Doveva Morire for the text), that bizarre story begins in a country house near Bologna, on April 2, 1978, a rainy Sunday. Moro had been in the Brigades’ hands for seventeen days. As children played in the background, a dozen bored grown-ups—mostly professors from the famous University of Bologna and their wives—decided to while away the time by holding a séance with a Ouija Board.

In this game, popular with adolescents, players gather round the Board (™ Parker Bros.) and place fingers on a sliding panel, called a planchette. In response to such questions as, “Does he love me?” departed spirits move the planchette across the board to spell out an answer, in this case usually “y-e-s.” In Victorian times this and other versions of spiritualism—rapping, woodland fairies, clairvoyants—were popular; Arthur Conan Doyle was among the many true believers. Even today, a Gallup poll of 1995 indicated that oneRomano_prodi  out of four Americans believes in reincarnation and communicating with the dead.

The august assembly in the Bologna country house, which included Romano Prodi (right; today, Italian Premier) and his wife Flavia, thus asked the spirits to reveal the address of the Red Brigades hideout in Rome. Lo and behold, the planchette spat forth a name, “Gradoli” and the numbers 6 and an 11. Don_luigi_sturzo Evidently the spirit life does not overlook politics, for the spirits speaking in the séance were a much admired anti-Fascist priest, Don Luigi Sturzo (left), who founded Moro’s own Christian Democratic party, and the mayor of Florence Giorgio La Pirra, a famously progressive Catholic politician.

The information obtained from the departed spirits about Moro’s detention seemed important enough that Prodi passed along the information to those in charge of the investigation (although not to the judges, by the way).Francesco_cossiga

This governmental inquiry and the crisis committee were controlled by Interior Minister Francesco Cossiga *(right), subsequently president of Italy. Informed of the séance and its dramatic revelations, Cossiga leapt into action, sending hundreds of police and paramilitary into upon the dank medieval town of Gradoli North of Rome on April 5, thirty-one days before Moro was killed.. Scattering chickens and poking into every house, the police searched Iraq style, while all was filmed for state TV.

Alas, the spirits had sent hundreds of troops to the wrong Gradoli—even though, as the ever more desperate Mrs. Moro suggested to Minister Cossiga, “Gradoli” may have been a street in Rome. No, Cossiga replied (so declared Mrs. Moro), there is no such road in the Yellow Pages.

Via_gradoli_apt_11 But there was a Via Gradoli in Rome, a short street; and at number 96 was apartment number 11 (left), as the Ouija Board had said. Living there under a fake name, traveling almost daily to another Brigades hideout to interrogate Moro, was the organization’s top leader, Mario Moretti. If spotted, therefore, Moretti could have been tailed directly to Moro himself.

In fact, the police in Rome did know that a Via Gradoli existed. On March 28, two days after the kidnapping, a busybody  living in that very building had spotted three suspicious-looking young people on the usually tranquil street who seemed to be keeping the building under surveillance (they were). Five policemen responded to the summons with signed orders from the judiciary to check every apartment, with no exceptions. When nobody answered their knock at apartment number 11, they ignored their orders and did not break down the door, explaining lamely afterward that everyone they had met told them all the residents were trustworthy folks.

But not even this was true, for subsequently one couple swore that they had formally filed a report to police saying that the night before the kidnapping, they had heard sounds from apartment number 11 like a Morse code being tapped out. Somehow their complaint was lost, even though they supplied the name of the policeman who had taken their complaint.

When the Parliamentary Commission turned its attention to this complicated affair, all participants in the séance save Prodi and his wife Flavia answered the summons, and all repeated the same, memorized story of the séance and the talking-spirits.

This obvious lie meant that all risked arrest for perjury, as I learned. No one was arrested, however, perhaps because all those involved on both sides understood that the séance story was never meant to be believed. Possibly, some on the extreme left in Bologna had begun to realize that the government, in refusing to negotiate for Moro’s life, was following its own agenda, and that Moro’s death was not in the Brigades’ interest. Bologna had no dearth of radical leftists, such as in Autonomia Operaia, and one of these presumably had tipped off a faculty member.

For the recipient of the tip, this presented a problem. He could send an anonymous letter, but this was easily overlooked. He could refer the information to someone in charge, but then the source could be identified, at deadly risk. Hence the Ouija Board charade. Who can murder spirits which are by definition already dead?

Other explanations are possible, of course, but this makes it all the more important that, now that he has announced his retirement from politics after mid-April’s elections, Premier Prodi should break whatever omertà explains his continued silence.

The hideout was eventually found, in yet another mysterious sequence of events. On April 18, 1978, water dripping from a ceiling at Via Gradoli 96 persuaded an infuriated neighbor to call the fire department. In apartment number 11, according to the financial daily Il Sole-24 ore of March 16, 2008, someone had intentionally left water running in the bathroom in such a way  that it would flow into a crack in the wall, so that the apartment would be raided at last: “Attached to a flexible tube, the shower head rested atop a toilet brush holder, in turn placed into the tub. Did the occupants want water to be directed toward a crack in the wall?” the newspaper asked coyly.


An adviser to the crisis committee was the Harvard-trained psychiatrist Steven Pieczenik. Pieczenik specialized in hostage negotiations and was sent by the U.S. State Department to advise the Italian government during the kidnapping. Interviewed by  RAI radio March 16, Pieczenik said that the United States had encouraged Italian decision-makers to abandon Moro, a decision he now regrets. In a rebuttal, Richard N. Gardner, who had been the U.S. ambassador at the time, scoffed that, “After one month I asked for him to go back to America. He is not a reliable man.”  Reliable or otherwise, Pieczenik served as deputy assistant secretary and/or Senior Policy Planner under four U.S. secretaries of state (he later went on to write psycho-political thrillers, including a number co-authored with Tom Clancy).

Rosy_bindi Pieczenik is not the only one with regrets. In an interview in l’Unità March 17, Rosy Bindi (left), who is Prodi’s Minister for the Family, said, “Moro’s assassination still conditions Italian life. We have yet to compensate for the delay our country began to accumulate when we lost the architect of the project for a mature democracy, meaning alternating powers…. For thirty years we have been paying the consequences.”

For bibliophiles, the new Moro books (right) include: Moro_books_2

  • Abbiamo Ucciso Aldo Moro (We Killed Aldo Moro, including interview with Pieczenik), Emmanuel Amara (Feltrinelli);
  • Il Golpe di Via Fani (Coup d’état on Via Fani), Giuseppe De Lutiis (Sperling e Kupfer)
  • .Un Affare di Stato, Il delitto Moro e la fine della Prima Repubblica (A State Affair, the Moro Crime and the end of the First Republic) by Andrea Colombo (Cairo);
  • Il Caso Moro, Un dizionario Italiano, by Stefano Grasso (Mondadori);
  • Il Cinema e il Caso Moro by Francesco Ventura (LeMani-Micorart’s);
  • Moro Rapito! Personaggi, testimonianze, fatti by Ivo Mej (Moro Kidnapped! People, Documents, Facts, Barbera);
  • La Pazzia di Aldo Moro (The Madness of Aldo Moro) by Marco Clementi (BUR);
  • Il Libro nero delle Brigate Rosse (The Black Book of the Red Brigades), Pino Casamassima (Newton Compton)
  • Lettere dalla Prigione (Prison Letters) by Aldo Moro himself, edited by Miguel Gotor  (Einaudi).

            Director Giuseppe Ferrara’s carefully documented 1996 movie Il Caso Moro, starring Gian Maria Volonté, and based on the book by Robert Katz, The Days of Wrath, published in 1990, has been reissued as a DVD. -- by JUDY HARRIS in Rome

Judith_harris_large DIRELAND's Rome correspondent, Judy Harris (left), is a veteran ex-pat journalist who used to write from Italy for TIME magazine and the Wall Street Journal, and now writes for ArtNews. She's the author of the recently-published book, Pompeii Awakened: A Story of Rediscovery. You can visit her website by clicking here.

Read Judy's previous March 16 dispatch on the Moro assassination and the coming Italian electoral contest, "The Ghosts That Haunt Italy's Elections,"   as well as her other recent  Letters from Rome for DIRELAND: "Prodi's Contradictions," February 26, 2007; "Rome's Anti-Gay Family Day," May 12, 2007; "An Agenda for Bush's Italian Visit," June 8, 2007; "Rome's Gay Kiss-in Protests Arrests," August 3, 2007; "Italy's New Left Party, Old Divisions," October 23, 2007; "Pope Charged With Heresy by Rome University," January 17, 2008

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