Thursday, October 25, 2007

The loss of Aldo Moro.

Aldo Moro was a several-times prime minister of Italy who was kidnapped and held hostage by terrorists in 1978. After about 50 days, in which the terrorists alternately interrogated Moro and let him write letters to the outside world begging for his life, he was murdered. Maybe "several-times prime minister" doesn't do his stature justice -- imagine, G-d forbid, that something similar happened to, oh, Bob Dole or Dick Gephardt. An important politician widely recognized as a national leader, taken by terrorists making outrageous demands who could kill him at any moment. Short of an actual nuclear bomb, that's one of the worst things imaginable in a democracy.

At one point in the crisis, General Dalla Chiesa, the head of the team trying to unravel the kidnapping, was asked permission to torture a Red Brigades sympathizer who was in jail, for information that might free Moro. His response? "Italy can survive the loss of Aldo Moro. It would not survive the introduction of torture."
Lionel Artom-Ginzburg. Moro was later found dead.

Moro was prime minister when I left Rome for stateside, and he was by all accounts one of the more competent italian elected officials (admittedly not a high bar).

It's difficult to convey how terrorized Roman citizens felt as a result of the Brigati Rossi's 1970's terrorist campaigns. I was there at the time -- each day my parents would read the paper to see whether they knew the latest kidnap victim, and where the latest body of a former kidnap victim had been found, if the family had been too slow in paying the ransom.

The ex-pat community was fairly small in Rome in those days, so we knew the Getty family, even though we didn't socialize with them. When John Paul Getty III was kidnapped at the age of 16, my friends and I were all terrified we'd be next. When his ear arrived in the mail, we all assumed we'd be eventually cut up and returned piecemeal to our parents.

That the Italian government was unwilling, even in those circumstances, to stoop to torture is a testament to their principles. Whether this administration would take the moral high road in similar circumstances would now seem to have been answered unequivocally in the negative.
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