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The Man Who Killed Aldo Moro

Spring is finally arriving in Italy. Alighting from the heavens with attitude (as if it were not insufferably late as always) its showy splendor of rebirth and renewal conquers all. It is a season, however, that harbors a far less comely season of its own, known as le ricorrenze, the recurring commemorations of past events that remind us of mortality. Of the several such ricorrenze, none is nearly as long as the period from mid-March to mid-May when memories return of the 1978 kidnapping, imprisonment and murder of the nation’s five-time prime minister, Aldo Moro. Elsewhere among these Time Capsules the reader will find, both in English and Italian, the preface to my book Days of Wrath: the Ordeal of Aldo Moro. It was written barely a year after the stunning escalation by a band of home-bred terrorists who went by the hackneyed name Red Brigades. It was a time of darkness and confusion, much of it nurtured by what seemed like inchoate forces that included evil spirits and the CIA. But Moro, in one of his final letters from his place of captivity, foresaw his death as inevitable, the outcome of his own party’s ruthless political opportunism. “Things will be clear,” he concluded, “they will be clear soon.” Indeed the mysteries of the case began to pale shortly after his death, but slowly, extremely so. As will be seen in this ongoing Time-Capsule series, conspirators in the highest echelons of state power were driven out of their hiding places by investigative bodies during the 1980s; elements of their nefarious agendas were pieced together jigsaw-puzzle style,1 but it was not until the 1990s that some of the simplest truths could replace unsubstantiated conjecture.

Consider the man who killed Moro.Mario Moretti In 1994, Red Brigades chieftain Mario Moretti, serving a life sentence for his role as the leader of Moro’s captors, admitted in his memoirs that he had been the prisoner’s sole interrogator in the “people’s prison” and that he alone had fired the 11 bullets that killed him. I was able obtain a copy of his closely guarded manuscript before publication as well as an interview. I published excerpts in an op-ed article I wrote for The New York Times. Titled “The Education of an Assassin,” it appeared as follows on April 23rd of that year. The education was a complete success, but the teacher died - RK

The Education of an Assassin

"Aldo Moro’s political allies let him die. Why?"

One of the most dramatic events in postwar Italy was the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro, the five-time Prime Minister, by the Red Brigades in 1978. Like the Kennedy assassination’s hold on the American psyche, the Moro case haunts Italians. A book published yesterday In Italy seems likely to deepen the phenomenon.

Although the key terrorists were captured and convicted a decade ago, the case is far from closed. A fourth trial is now unfolding In Rome and three more judicial inquiries are under way. They reach beyond the defunct Red Brigades, probing Government misdeeds in the Moro affair and criminal activity by civilian and military intelligence agencies. In one inquiry, Giulio Andreotti, Prime Minister at the time of the kidnapping, faces murder charges in the death of a journalist investigating the case.

Mario Moretti, author of the new book, “Red Brigades: An Italian Story,” is among the 20 or so ex-members of the Red Brigades serving life sentences for the assassination. Breaking a silence since his arrest in 1981, he speaks as the mastermind of the crime. The terrorists’ leader, he seized Mr. Moro from among murdered bodyguards on March 16, held him captive 54 days, was the only person to talk with him the whole time, then killed him on May 9 with 11 bullets in the chest.

His manuscript has been closely guarded by the publishers since October when parts of his confession of the killing became known. (A copy of the text was given to me in Rome.) Its most striking feature is his introspective rendering of his experience at the core of a wrenching predicament.

Mr. Moro, in a series of letters, spoke out almost daily. Acknowledged as his country’s greatest political mediator, he conducted an impassioned war of words, with his life in the balance. Rome’sstaunch refusal to negotiate with the terrorists was seen worldwide as exemplary courage, but Mr. Moro proceeded relentlessly as if he suspected less honorable intentions, targeting his party, the then all-powerful Christian Democrats.

Mr. Moretti begins his account with an admission that he found himself in an arena for which he was unprepared. (I have translated the excerpts that follow.)

Moro left the “people’s prison” – a partition in a Roman apartment; he was led into the garage and slain in the back of a car. Four Red Brigade members were present, none of whom admitted pulling the trigger, until now.

“We didn’t know a thing about how the power game is played. Moro taught me to understand it a little, clarifying what immediately became his battle against his party, the battle that in the end he’d lose. We were on opposite sides, but we worked together. I would pass along some information, a newspaper; all he would need was a few details, often a mere remark, to grasp what was going on. This was his universe, and he knew it to perfection.”

What surprised the Red Brigades most was how quickly the hard-liners coalesced in an uncharacteristic united front. As for Mr. Moro: “At first, Moro was surprised, then incredulous, nonplussed, then irritated, but always crystal clear in his thinking. He was convinced that the hard-line bloc would be broken if the Christian Democrats would make the first move, Moro was the miracle worker of Italian politics, even in this circumstance. This was Moro as we had never known him, and we discovered many things about him. Here was naked power, bared as never before. His friends and his party might not agree with his position, but how could they ignore it?”

Giulio Andreotti’s Government, however, decided from the very first of Mr. Moro’s letters that they would be treated as extorted and “not morally imputable” to him. Moretti goes on: “Sure, he was motivated by his dire situation, but that was only part of it. He explained to me that the hard line was something alien to his nature, and he believed that the same was true for the [Christian Democrats]. The D.C, he said, is not a party like the others. He described it as a composite of special interests held together by thrust and counterthrust, every decision taken by a series of small compromises. In short, a continuous negotiation on everything. So why shouldn’t it be that way this time?”

But Mr. Moro’s letters were countered by reinforcement of the hard line. Government-hired experts said he was tortured and wrote under the influence of mind-altering drugs. Mr. Moretti says Mr. Moro thought his party had been neutralized “by someone or something.”

In the end, Mr. Moretti wrote, the Red Brigades were ready to release the prisoner, even without negotiations. “We had wanted to demonstrate that we could attack the D.C. and make our accusations known. In this we had succeeded. A solution could have been found — if it were wanted. We would have been content with mere words, but those were the words no one wanted to say.

“When Moro saw the affair moving toward its inexorable conclusion, he wrote yet another letter telling [the D.C,] that he did not want anyone from the party at his funeral; perhaps he hoped to at last shake some sense into them. At this point, he knew nothing could save him. He knew he was going to die. Those final words to his party were written from the depths of his soul.

“I’m not trying to minimize our responsibility for our political choices, but in that moment I felt Infinite compassion for Moro. Nobody in the world should ever have to feel as alone as he did. Here was a man who knew the most powerful people on earth; the men in the Government were his men, the Minister of Interior his friend, and not a single one of them lifted a finger to help him, or made the slightest move to step forward from the pack. This was what Moro could not accept.” Meanwhile Red Brigades members argued for Mr. Moro’s release. Mr. Moretti makes no claim to have been among them. Their arguments, he writes, “were not unreasonable, but at that moment undoable. When we decided to carry out the death sentence, it was done with the awareness that from that moment forward our struggle would be one of desperation. I had a sense of doom.

“He knew it was over. I didn’t deceive him. All I told him was to got himself ready because we had to go out. You can’t imagine what you feel. I told myself over and over that it was a political choice, that it was unavoidable. that it was taken collectively, that we’re not the ones to blame for the failure to negotiate. But the time for reasoning had run out. Now it was the time to pick up a gun and fire,”

The day Mr. Moro left the “people’s prison” — a makeshift partition in a middle-class apartment in a nondescript part of Rome — he was led into the garage and slain in the back of a car. There were four Red Brigade members present, none of whom admitted pulling the trigger, until now.

The central conundrum remains: Why, alone among all the terrorist crimes in Italy, was no effort made to obtain Mr. Moro’s release by force or negotiation? What the Government may have feared was that he had carried out a threat, implied in his first letter, to tell his captors secrets that would compromise those in power. Sixteen years later, their deepest secret has become unmistakably clear: a web of corruption at the top on a scale so large that it brought down the long-reigning power elite, including Mr. Andreotti, in last month’s national elections.

1 See footnote 1 of related Time Capsule "The Death of a Statesman."

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