The police street violence at the Genoa G8 summit against the peaceful protesters and the raid at their headquarters – the Diaz school – in July 2001 is one of those episodes a country must be deeply ashamed of
It was the Berlusconi government’s deliberate plan to discredit and eliminate the anti-globalization movement which left a trail of blood behind.
It was also a metaphor of the relationships between Power and People to come.
It was a pre-emptive use of State torture that anticipated the ‘legal’ C.I.A. cruelty in the after 9.11 ‘war on terror’.
The perpetrators of the ferocity at the Genoa G8 summit have remained almost unpunished because of the omertà (the code of silence) of the police officials and of the authorities and because the crime of torture does not exist in Italy – until today! In April 2015 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that those atrocities “amounted to ‘torture’”.
This is the story of those three days in which the Constitutional State was suspended, and Italy went back to the fascist regime, the way I lived and ‘felt’ them.
The raid on the “Armando Diaz” school took place during the 27th G8 meeting in Genoa in 2001… The school building was the temporary headquarters of the Genoa Social Forum, led by Vittorio Agnoletto. A nearby building, housing the anti-globalization organization Indymedia and lawyers affiliated with the Genoa Social Forum, was also raided. On July 21, 2001, shortly before midnight, mobile divisions of the State Police of Genoa, Rome and Milan attacked the buildings, with the operational support of some battalions of the Carabinieri.
The raid started a few minutes before midnight, when policemen massed outside the school. A police officer attacked British journalist Mark Covell, who tried to tell them he was a journalist. Within seconds, more policemen joined in the attack, beating him with nightsticks to the ground. According to Covell, one policeman kicked him in the chest, breaking half-a-dozen ribs whose splintered ends then shredded the membrane of his left lung, and laughed. Other policemen kicked him around, breaking his hand and damaging his spine. The police then used an armoured police van to break through the school gates and 150 policemen, wearing crash helmets and carrying truncheons and shields, entered the school compound.
For the raid, police wore masks to hinder identification. Most occupants of the building were in their sleeping bags, and many raised their arms in surrender when they realised the police were breaking into the building. However, police attacked the crowds with truncheons, beating everyone indiscriminately. A 65-year old woman’s arm was broken. Melanie Jonasch, a 28-year-old archaeology student from Berlin, was attacked by officers set upon her, beating her head so hard that she rapidly lost consciousness. When she fell to the ground, officers circled her, beating and kicking her limp body, banging her head against a nearby cupboard, leaving her in a pool of blood.
All occupants of the ground floor were seriously injured. In the first-floor corridor, some occupants decided to lie down on the ground to show that they offered no resistance. Nonetheless, police beat them and kicked them when they arrived. Soon, there were police officers on all four floors of the building, kicking and battering prone occupants.
In one corridor, police ordered a group of young men and women to kneel, so that they could batter them around the head and shoulders more easily. Here, Daniel Albrecht, a 21-year-old cello student from Berlin, had his head beaten so badly that he needed surgery to stop bleeding in his brain. The police also used humiliation to cow the occupants of the school. An officer, who stood spread-legged in front of a kneeling and injured woman, grabbed his groin and thrust it into her face. Another paused amid the beatings and took a knife to cut off hair from his victims, including Nicola Doherty; there was constant shouting of insults; a officer asked a group if they were OK and who reacted to the one who said “No” by handing out an extra beating.
A few escaped, at least for a while. Karl Boro made it up on to the roof but then made the mistake of coming back into the building, where he was treated to heavy bruising to his arms and legs, a fractured skull, and bleeding in his chest cavity. Jaroslaw Engel, from Poland, managed to use builders’ scaffolding to get out of the school, but he was caught in the street by some police drivers who smashed him over the head, laid him on the ground and stood over him smoking while his blood ran out across the tarmac.
Police officers found a fire extinguisher and squirted its foam into the wounds of an injured occupant. Other occupants were thrown down the stairs head-first. Eventually, they dragged all occupants into the ground-floor hall, where they had gathered dozens of prisoners from all over the building in a mess of blood and excrement. They threw her on top of two other people. They were not moving, and Lena Zuhlke drowsily asked them if they were alive. They did not reply, and she lay there on her back, unable to move her right arm, unable to stop her left arm and her legs twitching, blood seeping out of her head wounds. A group of police officers walked by, and each one lifted the bandana which concealed his identity, leaned down and spat on her face. Many victims of the raid were taken to the San Martino hospital, where police officers walked up and down the corridors, slapping their clubs into the palms of their hands, ordering the injured not to move around or look out of the window, keeping handcuffs on many of them and then, often with injuries still untended, shipping them across the city to join scores of others, from the Diaz school and from the street demonstrations, detained at the detention centre in the city’s Bolzaneto district (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001_Raid_on_Armando_Diaz).
7.21.2001 is one of those days you don’t forget: Berlusconi’s Mousetrap takes Italy back to fascism
7.21.2001 is one of those days you don’t forget. People my age know exactly what they were doing on the morning of 9.11 of the same year when the Twin Towers collapsed (while the US defense system was strangely still sleeping the big sleep), or remember themselves as teenagers as they were watching man landing on the moon (or a fictional Hollywood set up of the event) on TV on 7.20.1969. Some probably even remember 11.22.1963, when Lee Oswald (maybe with somebody else’s help) shot JFK in Dallas. On 7.21.2001 I was in London. It was a very hot day like the one that had greeted the 200,000 demonstrators from around the world two days before in Genoa, where I had planned to go to join the peaceful protesting crowd before duty called me to the UK’s capital and, probably, enabled me to tell you now about the three days in which Berlusconi’s Italy went back to pure fascism.
On that evening my wife called me to tell me that the day before a 23-year-old boy, Carlo Giuliani, had been killed by the police during the riots that had taken place throughout the day in the street of Genoa because of the protesters’ violent behavior that the police had tried to stop for everyone’s safety. And how lucky I had been not to be there now that, thank God, it was over. My wife, like the rest of the Italians and of the world that was following the Genoa G8 summit, had got the news from the Italian media, without keeping in mind that they were owned or controlled by Berlusconi since its ascent to power in 1994 and that they had become one the most powerful weapons of mass deception in hand of il Cavaliere. She did not know that the violence at the summit was Berlusconi’s Mousetrap, as Irish Indymedia would later call their documentary on the Genoa protest march I strongly recommend, an independent account of the events that tries to establish what really happened. According to the documentary presentation, Silvio Berlusconi, wanting to impress his new best mate George W. Bush, orchestrated a brutal Media/Police preemptive strike on the Anti-Capitalist Movements during its biggest First World mobilisation to date … Was it all a setup? If Seattle was ‘Star Wars’, then this was ‘The Empire Strikes Back’.
One more thing my wife did not know: the police brutality was not over, its most vicious part was about to begin. In a few hours’ time, the police would assault the Diaz school, where peaceful protesters slept, and the Indipendent Media headquarters in the building next door, would take part of the tortured people they arrested to the Bolzaneto prison and part to hospital for a second round of crazy violence before planting false evidence to justify their actions. It took fourteen years and the European Court of Human Rights to state, on April 15, 2015, that the actions of Italian police officers who stormed the Diaz school on 21 July 2001 “amounted to ‘torture’”. Up to then, the officers responsible for the tortures had never paid for the crime they committed.
The state officers’ behavior in Genoa, a key part of Berlusconi’s mousetrap, was the realization on a small scale of the Berlusconi government’s half-hidden non-confessable dream, the return to a new kind of fascism, a willing suspension of the Stato di Diritto, the Constitutional State. In general, the realization for a very limited time span of that nostalgic dream to bring back the old regime tells us of the fascist nostalgia that Italian society has always secretly hidden under its skin. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was a P2 member, Gianfranco Fini, deputy Prime Minister, was the leader of Alleanza Nazionale, the party which spread directly from Mussolini’s Fascist Party. The Masonic lodge Propaganda 2 – P2 – was the middle-man between fascist terrorists and the political institutions in the ‘lead years’ of the 70s in which bloodshed was not spared in the attempt to get back to a fascist new age. Even a traditional golpe was planned to reach the same goal in those days, but, luckily, it failed. The police savage behavior that emerges from the first part of the report of the events I quote in the beginning, and from the second part I cite forward in this article, reveals that in that climate the cops felt free to follow their basic instincts, they breathed an air of impunity that allowed them to fulfill the impulse of inflicting pain to others and feel pleasure out of the act, a basic Freudian principle upon which, after all, fascism has based its philosophy.
“The actions of Italian police officers who stormed the Diaz school amounted to ‘torture’”
The European Court of Human Rights ruling is summed up in the April 15, 2015 English edition of the Corriere della Sera :
The actions of Italian police officers who stormed the Diaz school on 21 July 2001 “amounted to ‘torture’”, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled. The Strasbourg court ruled against Italy over the ill-treatment of a single applicant and for inadequate criminal legislation on the punishment of acts of torture. Italy was held to have violated article 3 of the European convention on human rights, which prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. The ruling is uncompromising. The Italian authorities did not react “sufficiently in response to such serious acts” and the Italian police refused “with impunity, to provide the competent authorities with the cooperation necessary for the identification of officers that might have been involved in acts of torture”.
Demonstrator’s application upheld
(…) The ruling published by the ECHR condemns Italy for ill-treatment received by the applicant, G8 protester Arnaldo Cestaro. From Vicenza and born in 1939, Mr Cestaro was inside the school when police officers stormed the building. He was beaten repeatedly and suffering multiple fractures as a result. Mr Cestaro was sixty-two at the time.
Mr Cestaro is the white-haired man referred to by deputy police chief Michelangelo Fournier in his evidence to the court at the Diaz school trial. Mr. Fournier called the attack a “Mexican massacre” and told judges he had screamed “That’s enough!” at officers who were beating an elderly man. During the police raid, ninety-three activists were detained and sixty-one taken to hospital, two of them in critical condition and one in a coma. One hundred and twenty-five police officers were investigated, including senior officers and squad leaders.
“Inadequate criminal legislation”
“The Court found that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention on account of ill-treatment sustained by Mr Cestaro and of inadequate criminal legislation concerning the punishment of acts of torture which was not an effective deterrent to prevent the repetition of such acts”, says the ECHR report. “After emphasising the structural nature of the problem, the Court pointed out that, as regards the remedial measures to be taken, the State’s positive obligations under Article 3 might include the duty to introduce a properly adapted legal framework, including, in particular, effective criminal-law provisions”.
What really happened at the Genoa G8 summit? How can we establish the truth? What are the fascist elements that characterized the officers’ behavior? Are there any characteristics typical of Berlusconi’s rule in this matter?
First of all today we are in a position to determine what happened at the Genoa G8 summit thanks to the various witnesses and victims who gave their testimonies in the different court cases that followed throughout the years and in various interviews. Moreover, independent media has produced documentaries and a feature film that helps us understand those events:
- Berlusconi’s Mousetrap is a starting point, made from a combination of footage shot by 10 members of Independent Media Centre Ireland, material from the Italy IMC archives and from various other sources. It is visible on VIMEO, here is the link. As far as torture is concerned, the testimony given by an Irish Journalist in the video (running from 1h.25m to 1h.35m approximately) is particularly shocking.
Two works produced by the Italian film production company Fandango are also fundamental:
- Black Block, a 2011 documentary featuring interviews with seven activists who experienced the Diaz raid that was shown at the 2011 Venice Biennale. The testimonies are shocking and very difficult to describe in words. Here is the trailer in English;
- Diaz, don’t Clean up This Blood is a feature film shown at the 2012 Berlinale, here is the English trailer.
- In 2011 Vittorio Agnoletto and journalist L. Guadagnucci wrote a book which tells the Genoa G8 summit events from ‘within’, and documents the various trials that followed, titled L’Eclisse della Democrazia
In the run-up to the summit, Italian media, Berlusconi owned or controlled, built up a terror preemptive climate around the city. A few months before 9.11, an international terror attack was feared from outside while, from inside, the splendid Renaissance city centre, where the meeting would be held, became a so-called Red Zone, a fortified off-limits citadel surrounded by barricades to keep the meeting separated from the announced street protest. Symbolically, this seemed to be the future of the relationships between people and power. Fears of a terrorist attack led to an air exclusion zone around the city, as well as the stationing of anti-aircraft missiles. Aircrafts patrolled the sky, warships patrolled the sea, police tanks patrolled the streets, as if in a modern version of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. There were also several border riots ahead of the summit, as police attempted to prevent suspected activists from entering Italy. The Italian government suspended freedom of movement entitled by the Schengen treaty for the duration of the G8 summit, in order to monitor the movement of the many protesters arriving from across the European Union. This terror climate was due in part to the paranoid fear that had taken hold of the authorities but, If we stick to the ‘mousetrap’ scenario, it was also made up on purpose in order to justify the violent repression to come, a technique as old as the world itself. Many protesters later reported that in certain moments they had the impression to be ‘trapped on stage’. Berlusconi’s media empire, one of his many conflicts of interests, once again were decisive in the manipulation of the truth.
The first climatic moment was the march on Friday afternoon. Since the morning, TV channels had shown the Black Block ‘terrorists’ smashing windows, assaulting banks, setting fire to cars and other amenities of the kind. They actually were 2% of the protesters but the impression from the small screen was that they ‘were’ the protesters. Their acts of vandalism were done in strategic points, undisturbed, with no police in sight. From crossover examination of pictures and of footage we have the undisputable impression of a police-Black Block collaboration, a pre-set script, a planned performance, reinforced by the fact that police officers and violent protesters were filmed talking together, that some Blockers are seen springing from police battalions and by the discovery that activists of the neo-fascist group Forza Nuova had joined them.
Obviously, all this was preparatory to the afternoon events. The 200,000 peaceful protesters took to the streets shouting and chanting their slogans against globalization when all of a sudden the riot police appeared and began to beat everyone they met savagely, as if under a spell, like official clockwork oranges. The word we use for this kind of activity is squadrismo. Squadra means team, with reference to the special police force (team) of the fascist regime that was used to suppress dissent with violence. Obviously, some protesters reacted to the police brutality with other acts of violence which were shown on TV without contextualization, together with the Black Block actions that continued for the camera’s sake. On TV, you could only see some protesters attack the police which had, from the viewer’s perspective, the right to fight back. Needless to say, those trying to film police violence were attacked by the police and the Black Block viciously, while the footage showing the preceding police attacks was absent from the mass media. From Italian homes, the picture was clear, but it was completely fake. It reminds me of the sequence of the police manhunt broadcast live on TV at the end of Bradley’s Fahrenheit 541 in which the protagonist, who rebelled against the rules of society, manages to escape and so the police have to kill an innocent passer-by, pretending he is the drifter, to show the audience that ‘wrongdoers’ are always trapped. The infiltration technique to discredit the whole movement was enacted once again, and once again it worked: the Black Block violence and the reaction to the not shown police cruelty was perceived as the endemic violence linked to all the protesters. Not only it justified the police brutality, it also discredited the whole movement and alienated people’s support for their causes which were initially seen as right social issues. Friday afternoon was an escalation of violence. The hostility seemed to grow by itself, uncontrolled, like a fire widened by the wind, until it reached the climactic moment of Carlo Giuliani’s killing. At the end of the march, and at the end of the summit, the Black Block disappeared, vanished in the air the way they had materialized the day before, while the protesters arrested by the police were almost all released by the judges for not committing any wrongdoing.
Carlo’s death is a direct consequence of the terror atmosphere that hung over Genoa G8 summit, an environment full of stress and fear, too strong to stand for two young adults who happened to find themselves on the opposite sides, in the wrong place at the wrong time:
On July 20, a 23-year-old activist Carlo Giuliani from Genoa, was shot dead by Mario Placanica, a Carabiniere, during clashes with police. Images show Giuliani throwing a fire extinguisher at the carabiniere’s vehicle before he was shot and then run over twice by the Land Rover. Placanica was acquitted from any wrongdoing, as judges determined he fired in self-defence and to the sky but a flying stone deflected the bullet and killed Giuliani.
Many demonstrators were injured and dozens more arrested over the course of the event. Most of those 329 arrested were charged with criminal conspiracy to commit destruction; but they were in most part released shortly thereafter because judges declared the charges invalid. Police continued to raid social centers, media centers, union buildings and legal offices across Italy after the summit as part of ongoing investigations. Over 400 protesters and about 100 among security forces were injured during the clashes (Wikipedia)
The following day was really the day after. Carlo’s death seemed to have brought a sort of mournful silence over the city. The noise of the violence had slowly faded away as the evening shadows and the stars appeared. On Saturday a quarter of a million people marched peacefully in an almost unreal atmosphere. The Black Block had vanished and the police just patrolled, as if the cops had already given vent to the adrenaline violence they had carried inside the previous day and now the hangover had taken over.
So when my wife called me on that evening and sighed in relief, nobody knew that the Diaz raid was about to begin and that that silence at dusk was just the peace before the final storm. The police fascist squadrismo continued after the Diaz raid when the people they had arrested inside the school were taken to Bolzaneto prison and to the emergency room of a nearby hospital. Here is the second part of the report to complete the picture. On that Saturday night, as throughout the whole event in which the dark night of dictatorship stepped in once again, we saw ‘the most serious violation of democratic rights in a democratic country since WWII’, as Amnesty International later declared. Not only symbolically, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Secretary Gianfranco Fini, leader of the post-fascist Alleanza Nazionale, was supervising the whole operation inside the police headquarters in Genoa.
Treatment of prisoners at Bolzaneto
Prisoners at the temporary detention facility in Bolzaneto were forced to say “Viva il duce” and sing fascist songs: “Un, due, tre. Viva Pinochet!” The 222 people who were held at Bolzaneto were treated to a regime later described by public prosecutors as torture. On arrival, they were marked with felt-tip crosses on each cheek, and many were forced to walk between two parallel lines of officers who kicked and beat them. Most were herded into large cells, holding up to 30 people. Here, they were forced to stand for long periods, facing the wall with their hands up high and their legs spread. Those who failed to hold the position were shouted at, slapped and beaten. A prisoner with an artificial leg, unable to hold the stress position, collapsed and was rewarded with two bursts of pepper spray in his face and, later, a particularly savage beating.
Prisoners who answered back were met with violence. One of them, Stefan Bauer, answered a question from a German-speaking guard and said he was from the European Union and he had the right to go where he wanted. He was hauled out, beaten, sprayed with pepper spray, stripped naked and put under a cold shower. His clothes were taken away and he was returned to the freezing cell wearing only a flimsy hospital gown.
The detainees were given few or no blankets, kept awake by guards, given little or no food and denied their statutory right to make phone calls and see a lawyer. They could hear crying and screaming from other cells. Police doctors at the facility also participated in the torture, using ritual humiliation, threats of rape and deprivation of water, food, sleep and medical care. A prisoner named Richard Moth was given stitches in his head and legs without anesthetics, which made the procedure painful.
Men and women with dreadlocks had their hair roughly cut off to the scalp. One detainee, Marco Bistacchia, was taken to an office, stripped naked, made to get down on all fours and told to bark like a dog and to shout “Viva la polizia Italiana!” He was sobbing too much to obey. An unnamed officer told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that he had seen police officers urinating on prisoners and beating them for refusing to sing ‘Faccetta Nera’, a Mussolini-era fascist song.
Ester Percivati, a young Turkish woman, recalled guards calling her a whore as she was marched to the toilet, where a woman officer forced her head down into the bowl and a male jeered “Nice arse! Would you like a truncheon up it?” Several women reported threats of rape. Finally, the police forced their captives to sign statements, waiving all their legal rights. One man, David Larroquelle, testified that he refused to sign the statements. Police broke three of his ribs for his disobedience.
Attack on the Indymedia building
On the night of the raid, a force of 59 police entered the building opposite the Diaz Pertini, where Covell and others had been running their Indymedia centre and where, crucially, a group of lawyers had been based, gathering evidence about police attacks on the earlier demonstrations. Officers went into the lawyers’ room, threatened the occupants, smashed their computers and seized hard drives. They also removed anything containing photographs or video tape.
The mousetrap was not over, a final touch had to be added to complete the swindle. In pure fascist style, the police planted fake evidence:
While the bloody bodies were being carried out of the Diaz Pertini building on stretchers, police told reporters that the ambulances lined up in the street had nothing to do with the raid. They also claimed that the school building was being used as a makeshift hospital by anarchists who had attacked policemen, and many of the injured in the building had pre-existing injuries.
The next day, senior officers held a press conference at which they announced that everybody in the building would be charged with aggressive resistance to arrest and conspiracy to cause destruction. Later, Italian courts dismissed all charges against everyone.
At the same press conference, police displayed an array of what they described as weaponry. This included crowbars, hammers and nails which they themselves had taken from a builder’s store next to the school; … they also displayed two Molotov cocktails which had been found by police earlier in the day in another part of the city and planted in the Diaz Pertini building as the raid ended. (Wikipedia)
State omertà and impunity
Throughout the years many trials were celebrated against those officials responsible of the violence that could be identified. Generally speaking, almost nobody was condemned because of the wall of silence that the authorities built, a kind of omertà mafiosa, because of the absence of laws for torture offences and, last but not least, because of the statute of limitations that, thanks to Italy’s well known snail justice, killed some proceedings. As my readers know well, the statute of limitations has always been Berlusconi’s best friend in cancelling many of his crimes. It took a pensioner in his eighties to reestablish justice, an incredible example of giustizia dal basso (justice coming up from ‘below’), a glimpse of democracy amid those dark days (see Wikipedia for the Diaz raid charges).
I still very clearly remember me reading the Guardian report on the Diaz incident the following Monday in the quiet shade of the park of my college. And I still remember how clear it seemed to me what had happened on that night from that article, being an Italian who had lived through the ‘lead years’. I still have that newspaper, a yellowed piece of paper I keep with my personal belongings.
C.I.A. torture in the ‘war on terror’: “There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11… after 9/11 the gloves come off”
The ‘Seattle protest movement’ was at its peak in Genoa and the No Logo generation was a serious menace to neo-liberal dominant thought, tied to the globalization process, which was invading Europe from the U.S.A. It was the first time in history that a protest group had become a worldwide organization thanks to the new communication technology. The anti-global movement was paradoxically a globalized group that was using its enemy’s tool and whose social instances were easy to sympathize with. They fought in favour of human rights, sustainable growth and the cancellation of the debts of the African nations and against a world where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. They were against the disappearance of local identities, pollution, war, violence and, above all, against multinational corporations that were shaping the world taste with their invasive branding, their greed for profit and their exploitation of workers outside the West. The Big Brands were actually considered the entities holding the real world power. The anti-globalization movement was often compared to the juvenile anti-capitalistic rebellions of the 60s, which in Italy is known as ‘the 68’ because it developed in France and Italy in that year. Similarities and differences are easy to spot, first of all the fact that the anti-global movement was much less politically oriented than the extreme left-wing collocation of the 68’s one.
Looking back, in anger, it is now easy to see that Berlusconi did everything he could to flatter President Bush and to establish himself as an affordable international partner of the neo-con inner circle… and not be considered just an old megalomaniac charlatan, a media tycoon with mafia connections, a criminal record and an addiction to prostitution. He found fertile ground there, since the tortures that took place at the Genoa G8 summit may have seemed something new for our country, but not for the U.S.A., as if they were something under the neo-cons’ skin.
9.11, just behind the corner, would reveal the world the fact that the C.I.A. and the White House had often authorized torture techniques that were officially condemned both at home and in other countries. “There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11… after 9/11 the gloves come off” the C.I.A. told the Washington Post in 2012, when questioned on the first torture scandal in Afghanistan which were to be followed by the infamous Iraqi and Guantanamo torture pictures that shocked the world and that would remain basically unpunished like the Genoa cruelty (U.S. Decries Abuse but Defends Interrogations, Washington Post, 12.26.2002). In the ‘moral clearness’ of the ‘war on terror’, based on pre-emptive wars, torture was accepted as part of the Machiavellian philosophy that the goal justify the means. It would take the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture to prove that the torture provided no useful intelligence and information to fight terrorism. Like Shakespeare’s Macbeth’s Jacobian milieu, if the improper comparison will ever be excused, those dire times deeply inspired me and resulted in the writing of the darkest noir novel I have ever written, Dark City. Set in a post-9/11 background and drenched in terrorism and violence, the novel deals with a worldwide permanent conflict between Western and Oriental civilizations.