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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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March 16, 2008


The following article was written specially for DIRELAND by this blog's Rome correspondent, veteran expat journalist Judy Harris, who meditates on the complicated and dark political history shaping Italy's coming elections next month:

Of emperors, murders and the Ides of March

On the ancient Roman calendar the Ides of March fell on our March 15. On that day in 44Julius_caesar  BC the political problems of the Roman Empire were neatly resolved with the brutal assassination of the man who considered himself not only godly but indeed a god, the emperor Julius Caesar (right). The Roman senate building had burned and the Senate was temporarily meeting in the vast stone theater which General Pompey had built near today's Campo de Fiori in Rome, and so the self-anointed emperor Caesar died in what we would call today the lobby, at the foot of Pompey's statue. His murderers were his disgruntled fellow Roman senators, which is to say his political friends as well as enemies, united in their fear and loathing of him.

Aldo_moro_headshot It is a bizarre coincidence that the kidnapping on a suburban Roman street of the most powerful Italian political leader of his era, the mildly progressive and astute Aldo Moro (left), fell nearly on the same day, March 16, just thirty years ago. Especially in Rome these days that kidnapping, with the professional-looking murder of Moro's five bodyguards, and Moro's own brutal murder fifty-five days later, are cause of serious reflection and commemorations, interesting if without any hint at a revival of investigations into whether among his disgruntled fellow Roman political aristocrats one may have had a hand in sponsoring the kidnapping.

In an interview which ran in La Repubblica on March 23, 1978, Leonardo Sciascia,Aldo_moro_under_kidnappers_poster  whose novel Todo Modo foreshadowed the self-destruction of the Christian Democratic party, was asked by Alberto Stabile how he interpreted the kidnapping. Sciascia's reply: "The Red Brigades can be a monad [in biology, a mono-cellular organism] without a window, made up of violence and idealogical folly, but they can also have doors and windows. If they have them, the problem is to see with whom they communicate; that is, to raise the question that Italians asked some years ago but which now they don't seem to ask any more: who benefits from this?" In my own interview with Sciascia, ever skeptical of power, ever curious, he said something of the same. (Above right: a photo of Aldo Moro in captivity released by his Red Brigade captors)

Eugenio_scalfari_cartoon "Moro mattered to Italy. For twenty years he represented the democratic continuity of the Christian Democrats, " synthesizes Eugenio Scalfari (left, the publisher of La Republicca, the respected center-left daily he founded in 1976) . "With all his slow ways and the mistakes he made, Moro was the man who transferred the centrist party into its first alliance with the Socialists, and then made possible today's parliamentary majority which includes the Communist party" (by which Scalfari presumably meant the Rifondazione Comunista).

The Moro kidnapping was carried out by a handful of Red Brigades fanatics, and it wasFranceso_de_martino  preceded by what is now a forgotten Brigades kidnapping, that of the son of the late Socialist leader Franceso De Martino (right). At the time Professor De Martino was aligned with Moro in promoting some form of an opening to the Italian Communist party, dubbed the historic compromise, in order to end a decade-long, frustrating political stalemate in government.

The legalistic and professorial Moro, notorious for both his subtle mind and the ambiguity of his political slogans, was a devout Catholic, but his party incorporated a strong Catholic farm worker and labor movement, with which Moro, who straddled the center, had some sympathy. His formula for suggesting discussions of an opening to the Communists was to counsel "parallel convergencies," a fuzzy phrase which puzzled and amused some observers at home, but absolutely terrified others outside Italy (read: Washington).

De Martino, like Moro, was a distinguished law professor noted for his personal honesty, and his version of the historic compromise was to urge "more advanced equilibriums," a phrase every bit as fuzzy as Moro's, but again, as with Moro, perfectly clear to those who made politics their business. In 1971 De Martino was a candidate and indeed the front runner to become president of Italy. He had the backing of the Communist party and the Socialists, but to be elected would have required a two-thirds vote in Parliament; without the Christian Democratic vote, he could not have been elected. So what would the Christian Democrats do, when it came to a vote? Many wondered: the party's left wing might split with its right and vote with the Socialists and Communists in favor of a Socialist president who, like Moro, was already advocating "more advanced" political agreements that would bring the Communists a share in power.

No one will ever know whether or not leftish parliamentarians within the Christian Democrats would have broken party ranks to vote with the Communist-led left, for it did not come to a vote. The Red Brigades kidnapped De Martino's son, who (like Moro later) was held for ransom. De Martino resisted for a time, but in the end he felt obliged to save his son's life by paying a ransom. Having little money of his own, he was offered and then accepted gifts of vast sums of cash from "friends." ThisBettino_craxi obliged De Martino to withdraw his candidacy as president of Italy. Not long afterward he was replaced as General Secretary of the Italian Socialist party by leaders of another stripe, culminating in the corrupt Bettino Craxi (right) and the demise of the party itself, just as the murder of Aldo Moro began the process of destroying the Christian Democratic party.

P2_lodge_logo It was subsequently revealed that De Martino's staff had included a number of junior members of the notorious renegade P2 Masonic Lodge (logo left), whose other members included 40 individuals of high rank in the Italian military and intelligence. In short, the 1970s were not noted for their limpid politics. And, in the end, both the Italian Socialist party and the Christian Democrats, forged out of the collapse of Italian Fascism and the desolation of war, can be said to have died with De Martino and Moro.

What is the connection? Like most others who lived through the Italian "years of lead," I can only guess, but the fact is that guessing is not good enough. That said, to the historical record I wish to contribute two small items of evidence. The first is that De Martino whispered, just once, to a close colleague, "They took money out of one drawer and put it into another." Who "they" were he did not say, but by this he meant those "friends" who had given him the ransom money which then financed the Red Brigades future activities. My second small contribution to the record is that a source deeply involved in investigations into the terrorism of those years said purposefully after due thought, "The De Martino kidnapping was a trial run for the Moro kidnapping."

Think about it.

Unlike Professor De Martino, those in charge in both party and government determined that it was unacceptable to negotiate with the Red Brigades for Moro's life because doing so would give the terrorists recognition and authority. A minority thought otherwise: Aldo_moro_paul_vi among those favoring negotiations was the Socialist leader Bettino Craxi. Most importantly, Pope Paul VI (left, with Aldo Moro) made an appeal to the Brigades, irritating many in the no-negotiations camp by addressing them as "Men of the Red Brigades," since to call acknowledge them as " men" was seen by many as the pontiff's giving "monsters" (as a lot of people even on the left thought of the kidnappers) undue recognition of a common humanity. And perhaps some negotiations were afoot, or at least contacts, for a cache of copies of letters from Moro, which turned up mysteriously many years later in Milan, suggested that contacts with his family may have existed. A go-between therefore existed: who? Presumably a clergyman. But if one person could find Moro, so, it can be argued, could others.

Not long before Moro was murdered I received a telephone call with an offer of an interview with a Brigatista. I replied that of course I was ready and willing, but that I would not come alone: I would come with half the Italian army. The phone went dead. So, of course, did Moro. Who was the "terrorist" I was to interview? I never knew.

Not long afterward I was again contacted, this time by an America who occupied an official position. Could I kindly, he asked, "for a journalistic friend," arrange an interview with a Brigatista? Before I had time to think I snapped, "Sure. It will take place in my living room and I will wear a ski mask. It will cost $10,000. You get half." Again, the phone went dead.

But elsewhere the voices were speaking: the voices of children in the park, playing the Aldo_moro_corpse_in_trunk_2 kidnapping of Aldo Moro. The voices of people frightened in the streets. To recall the collective fear of those long days still leaves me gasping. And the day in May when Moro's body was found in a car parked only a few blocks from my own home I knew what had happened immediately because a thousand sirens were screaming at once. Like others I ran as fast as I could, and, since I was only blocks away, I was there to see the end of his personal drama -- but not the end of Italy's, which is still recovering,  (Above left, Aldo Moro's corpse in the back of the van in which it was found.)

And so to the present. Wreaths and conferences and press symposia on the significance of these three post-Moro decades have, yes, commemorated Moro, but above all have asked whither the Roman Catholic vote in the forthcoming elections, scheduled for April 13-14, to take place, shamefully, after less than two years since the last elections. Those Romano_prodi_2 of Spring 2006 were won, all too narrowly, by a helter-skelter, fractious coalition of leftists, including a miniscule if noisy Communist party plus Greens and Radicals and Social Democrats, all supposedly unified, but in fact increasingly at war among each other, under the leadership of two who in a way reflected the Moro dilemma: the devoutly Catholic Prime Minister Romano Prodi (left) and Fausto Bertinotti, the head ofFausto_bertinotti  the Rifondazione Comunista party (right). It simply did not work. The economists involved did their best and have improved Italy's situation, but other forces did their best to tear down whatever reforms were attempted.

So now what? The Italian Church appears to have been quarreling with the Vatican itself over the degree of interference to be tolerated, with the Vatican trying to Walter_veltroni calm over-excited local bishops. As for the Roman Catholic voters themselves, their vote is split. Walter Veltroni (left), until last month the Mayor of Rome and now the leader of the new Democratic Party (which supplants the Party of the Democratic Left), is working hard to forge a coalition that embraces ardent Catholics as well as libertarian feminists, among other unlikely bedfellows, resulting in a schizophrenic politics in which making abortions tougher to get is high on the agenda and any notion of gay rights is dropped.

Will the new elections bring change? It is sad that the logos of twenty-seven parties will Galileo appear on the ballot, but some here believe that "eppur si muove," to Silvio_berlusconi synthesize in the words of Galileo (right). By this is meant that it is positive that Veltroni, a moderate progressive, and media emperor Silvio Berlusconi (left), the former conservative prime minister, are forcing creation of two strong parties to replace the thirty-some ever quarrelsome groupuscules of the outgoing Parliament. It is eagerly to be hoped that it will work.

However, among the crucial elements missing from the programs of both these leaders is any proposal for an all-out battle against the ever more powerful forces of organized crime and its attendant political corruption. Since crime here still defines the political class (to wit., the garbage of Naples), this oversight, as we shall call it to be polite, is deadly serious--literally. Whatever the memorial wreaths symbolize, it does no honor to the memory of Aldo Moro or of De Martino either. -- 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 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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